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Earlier today about 100 concerned citizens gathered at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, DC for the second Petrocollapse Conference on surviving in a world with declining fossil fuel resources.

The event was sponsored by Jan Lundberg's organization, CultureChange.org, he of the Lundberg Oil Survey Letter family, although not involved with that publication since the late 1980's.  Nine speakers and two videos were on the program.  They dealt with a variety of topics related to our current energy, environmental, and related political issues.

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.

Originally posted to 1truthteller on Sat May 06, 2006 at 07:57 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  doom? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gegner, One Pissed Off Liberal
    seriously. sorry i missed this event. i'd like to be on email list. please respond to dkos address and i'll reply with a forward. thx.

    Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

    by MarketTrustee on Sat May 06, 2006 at 08:36:50 PM PDT

  •  'Big Renewables'? (0+ / 0-)

    Could you explain what that means?

  •  Good diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gegner

    Thanks for posting. Too bad it's late Sat. night and probably will disappear.
    To Activist Guy: Big renewables are hydrogen, wind, solar, etc. The idea being that when things get to their worst, technology will once again come to the rescue making renewble energy sources a valid replacement for fossil fuels.
    Not going to happen for a huge variety of reasons.

    Impeach and Imprison! -6.63/-6.10

    by FireCrow on Sat May 06, 2006 at 10:29:00 PM PDT

    •  Big Renewables also includes... (4+ / 0-)
      ethanol from corn (the Archer-Daniels-Midland solution; actually it's a non-solution). All the technological solutions proposed don't work: hydrogen, oil shale, tar sands. Because they're all BTU-neutral: it takes as much energy to mine or grow and produce or refine these products as the BTU's you get out of them. Wind power and photovoltaics are not scalable because one third of the electricity produced currently is lost due to the resistance of the powerlines in the national power grid. So, aside from nuclear and coal, there is no 'big.' And there's not enough uranium in the world to power an economy.

      Transitioning to a localized, low power economy is the only way to survive. Mcmansions are out, suburbs are out, skyscrapers are out. Global trade is out. Clipper ships are in.  The Amish community is one approach to how to make it in a low power world. Might be a bit strenuous for some.

      I might mention, insofar as peak oil is concerned, that peak oil happened last year! This year the top 34 oil exporting countries exported 8% less oil than last year, and all the supergiant oil fields, such as Burgan, Cantarell and Ghawar, are in decline. Bicycles, anyone?

      Actually, I am glad to see peak oil discussed here. Kudos.


      -7.25/-6.41 Service [to others] is the rent we pay for the space we occupy. -Rev. M. L. King, Jr.

      by sravaka on Sun May 07, 2006 at 01:26:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  This is a very inaccurate comment (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kd texan, mojo workin

        ethanol, oil shale, and tar sands all have a positive energy ratio.  In fact, Canada is successfully producing petroleum from tar sands and are expanding this industry at a fast rate.  Companies have been slow to produce petroleum from oil shale in the United States because of environmental concerns and because of what happened in the 80s when oil prices went way down making it unprofitable.  It had a positive energy ratio even then, it just wasn't profitable when oil was super cheap.  Numerous studies have shown that ethanol has a positive energy ratio.  More energy efficient agriculture and the fact that we now have processes to make ethanol from cellulose economically have made it even more attractive as an alternative.

        One third of the electricity produced is lost due to line losses?  Where did you get that figure?  Here's a government article that states that "Energy losses in the U.S. T&D system were 7.2% in 1995".  That is a lot less than 33.33%.  Hopefully, advances in high temperature superconductors and other alternatives to copper conductors can be used to reduce line losses further.

        There's not enough uranium in the world?  For one thing, we haven't explored for uranium anywhere near as hard as for other resources like oil.  Also, a lot of uranium-235 goes to waste because when a fuel rod is "used up" there's still quite a bit of fuel left.  The fuel rod can be reprocessed and the leftover uranium-235 used in a new fuel rod.  Breeder reactors are another way to increase nuclear fuel supply.  Uranium-238 is far more abundant than 235.  By designing a reactor so U-238 absorbs neutrons causing them to eventually transmute to Plutonium 239, you can effectively use it as fuel.  I figure this is better than turning it into artillery shells and poisoning our soldiers.  If that's not enough nuclear fuel there is Thorium.  Thorium breeders use the same process where they absorb a neutron forming Uranium-233 which also can be used in a reactor.  There is something like 6 times more thorium deposits than uranium.  So take all that into account and there are easily centuries of nuclear fission fuel available.

        All that said, I think renewables like solar and wind and biodiesel from algae are the way to go.  I really don't think your luddite solution will work too well.  Not unless we reduce the Earth's population to a billion or less.  Maybe that's what George Bush's goal is.

        Fight global warming. Be a pirate.

        by Orangebeard on Mon May 08, 2006 at 03:01:16 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  'Not enough uranium' may not be quite accurate (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kd texan

        In the long run, probably yes.  

        However, as a several comments to earlier diaries on this subject have pointed out, there hasn't been any significant uranium exploration performed in decades, at least nowhere near the level of oil/natgas exploration.

        Moreover, a new reactor concept that remains undeveloped (for lack of government funding) would employ pyrometallic reprocessing of the nuclear waste produced by our current "slow-neutron" reactor designs in a "fast-neutron" plant.  Such a system would use 99% of this nuclear waste to generate energy and could also use the stuff that nuclear weapons are made of (talk about your :swords into plowshares!) while producing nothing that could be used for weapons. The materials comprising the relatively very tiny waste stream (less than 1% of what current reactor designs generate) would remain dangerously radioactive for only a few decades versus 10k years. [NOTE: There's an article in a recent Scientific American about this that, unfortunately, I can't lay my hands on at the moment.  It's probably available online, but it's a paysite.]

        That said, I still feel that nuclear power is a transitional energy source at best.  Unfortunately, becoming at all dependent on a nuclear energy system would lead to a couple of the problems we have now with oil.  Namely, it would create an industry in which a handful of players would control the flow of energy and, these players would become entrenched politically and likely lobby to forestall government funding of research into safer, more sustainable alternatives.

        However, a pyrometallic/fast neutron system could probably be online in a couple of years, if the government created a crash program to do so.  It might even be possible to replace most of US hydrocarbon consumption with such plants within a decade or so (power from such nucler plants could also be used to efficiently generate a supply of hydrogen for motor vehicles).  Again, as with all other alternative energy sources, the success of any such program depends entirely on the political will of our elected officials.

        Private life is all about managing pain. In business and government, this means externalizing and deferring costs whenever possible.

        by sxwarren on Mon May 08, 2006 at 03:03:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There is also an entirely different reactor (0+ / 0-)

          technology based on thorium, not uranium. Don't remember details but IIRC SciAm had an upbeat article on it.

          News is what they don't want you to know. Everything else is publicity. --Bill Moyers

          by RobLewis on Mon May 08, 2006 at 09:21:03 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  ironically, this house.gov 'Earth Day' site (0+ / 0-)

      came up in my search for "The Myth of Big Renewables":

      http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/... :

      MYTH: The evils of oil can easily be replaced with renewable energy.

      FACT: Oil is the lifeblood of the American economy.

      Petroleum is expected to remain the dominant fuel in the U.S. economy maintaining about a 40 percent market share. Oil is used in residential, commercial,industrial, electric utility and transportation sectors. Without this oil supply, the U.S.economy would collapse, as there is absolutely no possible way to make up for the loss of such a large energy supply with any existing and affordable alternative. For example, renewable energy, even subsidized, has enormous difficulty competing with fossil energy fuels as a reliable energy source. Wind and solar power accounted for only 0.14 percent—about 0.1 million barrels of oil per day equivalent of the total energy share in 2000. By 2020 the amount will increase to about 1.2 million barrels of oil per day equivalent or about 1.7 percent of total energy share in that year.**

      (** source: "U.S. Chamber of Commerce website"! Nice to know the House relies on such Scientific Sources for its decision-making, or at least for its propaganda)

      See sravaka's comment above for the essence of the 'myth': that some magic green technology will come along and rescue our current unsustainable lifestyle, whisking us off the tracks before the train runs over us. Part of the work of the Post Carbon Institute, especially the relocalization campaign, is to help get people past the kind of denial embodied in this sort of wishful thinking, and into action.

    •  Big renewables (0+ / 0-)

      "not going to happen for a variety of reasons." The main one being the mindset that it must be big. Bigger=better. The mindset that communities must be served energy, rather than produce their own. The fear of giving "power to the people". As long as sources of electricity are in the hands of corporations, and the masses believe that they must be served it, we will fight an uphill battle to return to a sustainable economy.

  •  Thanks for this (0+ / 0-)

    Keep up the good work, recommend!

    Parties divide, movements unite.

    by Gegner on Sat May 06, 2006 at 10:33:58 PM PDT

  •  I'm glad to see Diana Christian speaking on this (0+ / 0-)

    As a boardmember of the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), publisher of Communities magazine, I should call attention to the current issue (Spring '06) of the magazine (which Diana edits), with a cover story/theme of Peak Oil, and several down-to-earth articles that help debunk the potential false optimism of 'off-the-grid' self-sustaining communities thinking that they've got it made, that peak oil is something to celebrate (a la the post-millenial attitude some had around Y2K -- 'all that nasty mechanized culture will grind to a halt and the people will be freed and will rejoice in our example!').

    Yes, communities are providing models about how 'modern' culture can exist in ways that are more efficient, less resource-consumptive, etc. Yet the rural location and technology dependence of some communities means that they will be disproportionately impacted by transportation and raw-materials and replacement-parts price increases.

    Myself, I'm living in and helping develop mostly-urban cohousing communities (serving on that national board as well), providing a model for embracing some parts of the system (mortgages and independent finances) and gaining the resource efficiencies of density plus urban locations, on top of the shard green values and economies of living in community.

    Raines

  •  Thank you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mrcia

    I appreciate this summary.  Usually I only hear this stuff from podcasts.

  •  See James Howard Kunstler (0+ / 0-)

    on the coming "Long Emergency"

    http://kunstler.com

    News is what they don't want you to know. Everything else is publicity. --Bill Moyers

    by RobLewis on Mon May 08, 2006 at 09:22:16 AM PDT

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