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Hoping to lead Americans to more sustainable future

Pat Murphy, the executive director of Community Service, Inc., which has organized the first peak oil conference in the U.S. this weekend.

Community Services, Inc., is a small organization with a big agenda. Concerned with what it perceives as an impending energy crisis, the Yellow Springs group wants to help lead the country toward sustainable living.

Toward that goal, this weekend Community Service hosts “The First U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions.” The conference kicks off with a keynote address by Richard Heinberg on Friday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m., at Kelly Hall on the Antioch campus. The conference continues with a heavy schedule of speakers and small-group discussions on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 13 and 14, in the Glen Helen Building.

Pat Murphy, the executive director of Community Service, encourages Yellow Springers to attend the keynote speech, which is free, as well as the rest of the conference or just parts of it.

“Peak oil to me is the most momentous occasion in modern times,” Murphy said, noting that the Community Services board of directors decided two years ago to focus on peak oil, the point when world oil supply begins to run out.

“We decided to be the organization that leads us into the future,” he said.

Heinberg, considered a leading educator on peak oil, is the author of The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies and Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World.

Although the peak oil crisis has been given little press in this country, Murphy said, Americans seem to be finally paying attention. Noting that he was surprised by the enthusiastic response to the conference, he said that so far about 120 have signed up, including people coming from as far as Washington, California and Vermont.

“A lot of people are incurring great time and expense to get here,” he said.

While Heinberg will provide the latest information on peak oil, other speakers at the conference will discuss how Americans can prepare for the crisis by living more sustainable lives. Speakers include representatives from the permaculture movement, intentional communities, the global relocalization movement and the ecological city movement.

“We’re trying to start a world of low-energy living,” Murphy said. “To some like myself, small towns have a great advantage, while others believe cities can be made more habitable. But we’re all focused on how can we live more sustainably.”

Peak oil is not far away, according to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, which estimates that global oil production will peak around 2008. The recent increase in oil prices indicates that oil production is already slowing, according to Murphy, who predicts more price spikes in the near future.

In light of the crisis, Americans need to seriously rethink and revise their consumer-driven lifestyle, Murphy believes. While oil use is most frequently associated with transportation, Americans’ use of oil extends far beyond how much and how far they drive, said Murphy. For instance, oil is used in about 300,000 different products, ranging from gasoline to anything plastic, he said.

“This is not just about driving your car,” he said. “It’s about heating the house, watching a video, eating our food. To consume at the bottom level is to consume oil.”

Trained as a computer scientist, Murphy became involved in the peak oil issue three years ago when he met Heinberg in California, where Murphy and his wife, Faith Morgan, lived at the time. A year ago Morgan and Murphy moved back to Yellow Springs, where Morgan, who is the granddaughter of the founder of Community Service, Arthur Morgan, grew up.

Like many scientists, Murphy said that he initially hoped for a technological solution to the looming energy crisis. However, he said, many experts now believe that alternative energy sources, such as hydrogen, solar power or wind, “will only replace a fraction of fossil fuels.”

“What we have to do is have a much less consumptive lifestyle,” he said.

Murphy also believes that the energy crisis helps explain the United States’ foreign policy, including the war on Iraq, the Bush administration’s growing hostility toward Iran and the administration’s continued efforts to support the Saudi Arabian monarchy. The Persian Gulf region contains about 60 percent of the world’s oil and natural gas and, Murphy said, “whoever controls those three countries controls the resources for the whole planet.”

Since becoming the director of Community Service, Murphy has focused his attention on the peak oil issue. In May he attended a conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, a European organization. This fall he traveled to Cuba to study how that country responded when its oil supplies were cut off after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Murphy will give a presentation on what he learned from his Cuba trip during the peak oil conference with a talk, “Low Energy Lifestyle: Lessons from Cuba,” on Nov. 14 at 1 p.m.

Murphy will also open the conference with an introduction at 7:10 p.m., prior to Heinberg’s talk, which will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

On Saturday morning, the conference begins at 8. During the first session, at 8:15, Murphy will deliver a talk, “The Geopolitical Implications of Peak Oil,” and at 9:15 David Blume, the founder of the Institute for Ecological Agriculture, will discuss “Alternative Fuels: Promise and Peril.” Small breakout group discussions will follow. Saturday afternoon will feature “Ecocities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature,” by Richard Register, a pioneer in the ecological city movement, at 1:10, and at 2:25 Dr. Charles Stevens of Miami University will discuss “A New Agrarianism.” Breakout groups will follow.

After dinner at the Antioch Inn at 4:30, the small groups will issue reports on their discussions, followed by a panel discussion at 6:45. The discussion will include Heinberg, Murphy, Blume, Register, Stevens, permaculture designer Patricia Allison and intentional community leader Harvey Baker.

On Sunday morning the conference continues with two talks focused on solutions. At 8:30 Patricia Allison will discuss “Permaculture, A Philosophy of Sustainability,” and at 9:35 Baker will talk on “Learning from Intentional Communities.”

Murphy will discuss his trip to Cuba at 1 p.m., and Heinberg will discuss “Hope and Vision: Solutions for Planet Earth” at 1:45. Breakout groups, reports from the small groups and a closing session will follow.

The cost for the entire conference is $100 for Community Service members, $115 for nonmembers and $75 for students, which includes Saturday lunch and dinner and Sunday lunch. People may attend Saturday and Saturday night for $70, and for $55 on Sunday. Murphy said that scholarships are available. Those who want to attend the conference should call Community Service at 767-2161.

Editorial Notes: Local paper covers the first U.S.Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions. See also their story on Richard Heinberg's kick-off address.

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