Dr. John Darnell is energy advisor to Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, MD-6th, the only member of Congress who is talking about peak oil and the realities of our dismal energy future. He compared our current energy situation to the Apollo 13 near-disaster of 1970, when that Moon mission suffered a catastrophic explosion and only made it back to Earth safely through training, cooperation, conservation of remaining energy, and innovative thinking on the fly. He called for a similar emergency crash effort to deal with declining fossil fuel resources and the need to move to a sustainable society, both in the short and long-terms.
Several themes recurred among various speakers. Micheal Kane of "FromtheWilderness.com" warned of the big lie of Big Renewables, and the political snake oil sales people pushing them. Mark Robinowitz of "Permatopia.com" also warned of malicious politicians guiding the World to a "Last man standing" scenario in a global struggle for the World's remaining oil reserves while defrauding voters at home in electonically rigged elections, while Jan Lundberg said that if our leaders won't tell citizens the truth, then it's up to us to spread the word. Conference moderator Jenna Orkin, whose child was a high school student four blocks from the WTC on 9/11, added that most Congressional staffers are totally in the dark about our energy problems, and that most people in this Country can't comprehend the coming crisis because they have no reference point for anything this dire in their memory or that of anyone they know.
Three presenters and one video did provide positive visions of a more hopeful future - if we act soon:
Diana Leafe Christian, editor of "Communities" magazine, and a resident of Earthaven Ecovillage in NC, showed how sustainable communities and practices can succeed in rual, urban and suburban settings.
Alternative farmer Joel Salatin explained how environmentally sound agriculture can be sustainable, nutritionally healthier and profitable. He also warned not to believe the "organic" label on food products, since that designation has been hijacked by the corporate food industry. His was perhaps the most uplifting and humorous presentation of the day.
Pat Murphy of Community Service, Inc. presented their video "Cuba After Peak Oil". This look at how Cuba coped with the end of Soviet support of their economy and the U. S.'s virtual blockade of the island nation for trade, by drastically reducing individual energy consumption, implementing local, organic agriculture, and concentrating on local communities and solutions. They went from the most petroleum dependent agriculture in the Caribbean to the least, and are able to sustain a life expectancy as good as ours and an infant mortality rate better than ours while consuming 1/8th the energy per capita as the U. S. does.
After a lunch break and press conference that did not include very many reporters and no TV coverage (just one indication of how much we have to overcome to get the message out), featured speaker Richard Heinberg, the professor and author of "The Party's Over and "Powerdown" presented his take on the Colin Campbell term "The Oil Depletion Protocol". Warning of resource wars and mass die-offs in a global economic collapse if we do nothing, Prof. Heinberg presented a rational plan to deal with declining energy resource alocation on a global basis.
A second video on plastic pollution in the seas painted a grim picture of how universal the problem of petroleum based plastic pollution is to sea life and the other creatures that live off of them. There is virtually no place left in the oceans that has not been touched by this problem.
Allan K. Bates, the final speaker, and a resident of "The Farm" in TN, dealt with what would happen to any country, like ours that tries to go it alone to maintain an oil-intense economy. He suggested that terrorism is a logical outcome of such a policy, as well as accelerated climate change resulting in more intense storms, rising sea levels, and increased release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Several speakers did touch on the very sensitive topic of overpopulation, something either ignored or denied by the mainstream media and commercial interests. They did vary widely in their judgements of how big a sustainable population would be. Mark Robinowitz suggests that as many as 9 billion people could live in a low energy consumption sustainable world, while most who comment at all on this believe that without massive petroleum inputs the world can only sustain a population of less than 2 billion.
The conference ended with a peak oil folk music jam session led by Jan Lundberg on guitar and Richard Heinberg on violin.
All told, the conference left one with mixed feelings of doom at the lack of interest by most of the world at the train wreck we're headed for environmentally and energy-wise, but hopeful that at least some people are working to build a human-scale sustainable future for those willing to change their ways and learn how to survive.