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Peak oil at San Francisco's Green Festival

"The world's biggest sustainability event," the marquee outside the Nov. 5-6 Green Festival (GF) announced. Over 25,000 people flocked to hear more than 120 scheduled speakers and visit over 500 exhibits.

A massive block-long building near downtown San Francisco had to be augmented with a huge tent in the parking lot. Inside standing-room-only audiences listened to speakers such as journalists Amy Goodman and Jim Hightower, architects William McDonough and Sim Van der Ryn and Peak Oil activists Richard Heinberg and Joanna Macy--all of whom donated their time. The popular event revealed the growth of a green movement that includes ecological, political, social, agricultural, design, energy, and cultural elements.

Global Exchange and Co-Op American organized the 4th Annual GF, with numerous business partners. They also hold one in Washington, D.C. Global Exchange cofounder Medea Benjamin-dressed in pink, indicating her involvement with the women's peace group CODEPINK-announced that "we have been invited to take the Green Festival to the Mid-West and around the world, which we intend to do." Global Exchange was founded in 1988 and seeks to "build people-to-people ties around the world."

Co-Op America was founded in l982 and has 3,000 business members and 75,000 consumer members. It hosted a three-day Green Business Conference in San Francisco immediately before the GF that drew 300 entrepreneurs to learn about topics such as workplace democracy and organic market trends.

People arriving to GF by bike got in for half price, and hundreds of bikes joined hybrid cars in the parking lot. Among the event's many business partners, Toyota with its hybrid cars had a strategic location near the entrance.

The ample exhibit section bulged at the seams, especially during certain hours, as people tasted a wide selection of organic food and drink, shopped, listened to music, and networked. Some recommended that next year's GF occur in a larger space.

Peak Oil

Peak Oil and energy descent were among the main topics addressed by speakers at GF. Among the presentations were the following: "Avoid Oil Wars, Terrorism, and Economic Collapse" by Richard Heinberg and Joanna Macy, "Creative Solutions to the Peak Oil Challenge" by Solar Living Institute teachers Chantal Simonpietre and Cliff Paulin, and "Building Sustainable Communities" by Brian and Ann Weller of the Willits Economic Localization Movement in Mendocino County, Northern California. Numerous other speakers talked about related issues, such as biodiesel fuel and "Farmers Growing Fuel."

Journalist Amy Goodman set the context for the discussions on energy by describing "the US's insatiable thirst for oil." She concluded by noting that "what we see in Washington is the ascendancy of an oiligarchy."

Author Heinberg revealed that he had been invited by Charles, Prince of Wales, the heir to the British throne, to address a gathering of business leaders in San Francisco on Nov. 7. Heinberg indicated that he would use his GF talk to practice what he would say to the Prince and his guests. "Many policy makers are finally discussing Peak Oil," Heinberg noted. "This would not have happened even a year ago."

"My students at New College of California and I have been invited by Sebastopol Mayor Larry Robinson and the City Council to develop a powerdown strategy for that small town" in Sonoma County, Northern California, Heinberg noted. "The mayor of Denver is hosting a Peak Oil Conference next week. He is a retired oil executive."

"As oil becomes more scarce and expensive," Heinberg noted, "we are going to see a return to muscle power and growing our own food." Heinberg affirmed permaculture principles of designing whole systems to produce more food in less space by doing things such as urban and rooftop gardening.

"We need both local actions and a global Peak Oil Depletion Protocol," Heinberg contended. Geologist Colin Campbell initiated that Protocol and Heinberg is currently writing a book on it. Heinberg announced a $50,000 donation has been offered to get the Protocol off the ground.

"The Protocol is an agreement for oil producers and importers to produce and import less oil than they could. Oil is going to become scarce and more expensive. If nations fight over it, wars will use lots of oil. The Protocol would be global oil rationing. Even oil companies could see the logic of this. They need a stable oil economy."

Buddhist teacher Macy provided a larger than political context within which to understand Peak Oil, "The oil crash is going to affect our entire lives, as well as those coming after us. We need to learn about the oil crash and not go crazy. We do not need to go into fear and panic." Macy described the "two chief ways that people respond to massive collective trauma-by contracting and closing down or by opening the heart."

Macy advocated that people concerned about Peak Oil 1) extend their time frame, 2) come from gratitude, 3) not be afraid of the dark, 4) realize that this is not about winning an argument, and 5) link arms.

At the same time as the Heinberg/Macy presentation, teachers from the solution-oriented Solar Living Institute of Hopland, Mendocino County, were breaking people down into smaller groups to discuss how to respond to Peak Oil. This reporter attended the end of that session and heard people advocate the following: more mass transit/bicycling/walking, traveling less, and living in small communities.

Brian and Ann Weller of the small town of Willits outlined what they have done since showing the film "The End of Suburbia" 13 months ago. They have bi-monthly meetings in their town of some 5,000 people to which 40 to 100 people come. They have divided themselves into the following groups: food, water, transportation, energy, shelter, health and medicine, social organization, and the media.

The Wellers described four steps to success over the last 13 months-take an inventory of local energy use and food production, envision the future, plan the transition, and implement the plan. In January of next year the Willits group will host a bioregional conference to promote re-localization as a solution to Peak Oil and other potential threats.

Journalists Jim Hightower and Amy Goodman

Texas populist Jim Hightower, with his wide-brimmed cowboy hat, opened the gathering by evoking Mark Twain, "Loyalty to the country always, loyalty to the government only when it deserves it."

The folksy, humorous radio personality and author asserted, "We've been led off America's real path of egalitarianism. "I've been traveling everywhere there is a zip code. What I can tell you from my travels is that the American people are revolting. For example, over 80 towns have already said 'No' to Wal-Mart. They are asking, 'Whose town is this?'"

"Bush calls himself a cowboy," Hightower noted. "But he owns no cattle. When the Russian president came here he wanted to ride a horse, but Bush cannot even ride a horse. Bush has a thousand dollar hat on a ten-cent head."

"This is a big time in America-a big, big time," Hightower continued. "They are stealing our country. They are stealing the concept of the common good. But we are on the move and we will not be stopped." Hightower, described by some as "one of the funniest progressives around," encouraged people to "build, build for the long haul."

"The past week has been historic for many reasons," Amy Goodman of the "Democracy Now!" radio and TV program began her comments. In a well-organized way she summarized and clarified the news of the previous week, providing context, analysis, media criticism, and historical background.

The four main events she referred to were Rosa Parks passing, the revelations of the CIA's secret prisons, the indictment of Libby Scooter, and the large protests in Argentina against Pres. Bush.

Goodman's tribute to Park's honored her personally and described how she rose from within the civil rights movement, representing more than just herself. Goodman presented compelling details about Parks' life and demonstrated her skills as a researcher to uncover facts and then as a broadcaster to present what is significant. "There are different Americas," Goodman noted. "For some it is a great democracy. For others, it is a frightening place."

"Like Rosa Parks, Cindy Sheehan is part of a movement," Goodman later noted. "Sheehan made her way to a ditch as Bush was taking the longest vacation in presidential history. She could not be stopped. She just kept repeating her question, 'For what noble cause did my son die?' Cindy and other mothers who lost children are the new leaders in this country. Beware of mothers who have nothing more to lose."

"The Bush administration could not have waged the Iraq War," Goodman contended, "without the complicity and compliance of the US press. Pres. Bush could not do it alone. He deployed the US media-more powerful than any bomb."

The award-winning journalist described how the New York Times and its embattled reporter Judith Miller "laid the ground work to manufacture consent for the Iraq War. Instead of covering high level officials, Miller covered up for them by writing about 'anonymous sources.' The New York Times lead the crusade for the attack on Iraq."

Goodman noted that "in the highest levels of our government and military there have been whistle blowers, but these critics have not been given much press." Instead, "the silent majority was silenced by the corporate media. We need to take back the public airways. They are ours. We need to take them back from the corporations."

The GF has been so successful that Global Exchange cofounder Kevin Danaher is working to develop a permanent Global Citizen Center. He wants to set up a building in downtown San Francisco that would host a "holistic package" of green enterprises.

The project has already raised $2.5 million and has tenants accounting for 90,000 square feet of office space signed up. The goal is to raise $20 to $40 million and open this "Green Mart" in two to four years. It seeks to unite "social justice and environmental organizations in the same building to speed the transition to a green economy."

(Shepherd Bliss, sb3@pon.net, divides his time between Sonoma County, Northern California, where he owns Kokopelli Farm, and the Big Island, where he writes for the Hawai'i Island Journal. Reprint rights for this article available from writing him at sb3@pon.net)

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