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ASPO-USA Conference in Boston

Quote of the week: “We are living like gods. How to return to earth?” from Random snippets from ASPO conference:

Other reports from the recent ASPO conference in Boston


New hippies are fighting to replace oil

Tim Holt, SF Chronicle
The generation of activists who fought for civil rights, against an unpopular war, and started the environmental movement is poised for one last hurrah, one more attempt to cure the ills of American society.

They’re older now, and perhaps a little wiser. They’re settled into their communities, some of them already retired. And they’re scared as hell about the lives facing their children and grandchildren once the oil runs out.

The ponytails are gray now, and PowerPoint presentations and DVDs are taking the place of leaflets, but the basic goals and ideals are the same: a reconnection to the earth, a small-is-beautiful approach, and a belief that you can change society through grassroots action
(22 Oct 2006)
Also at Energy Bulletin.

Cooling the planet at the gas roots

Editorial, Christian Science Monitor
In Vermont, activists want to revive an old water mill to generate electricity. In California, so-called locavores are eating only local food, not food shipped by long-haul trucks. They’re part of a bottom-up movement to fix global warming and start adjusting to a post-oil world.

But will it work?

For years, the task of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions was seen as a job mainly for central governments. The result: the 1997 Kyoto Protocols, a top-down effort by most industrial nations to mandate reductions in carbon burning. And indeed, one more reminder of the need to act was issued this week in a British report that calls for governments to spend up to 3.5 percent of GDP to counter climate change.

But with the major emitters such as the US and China outside the treaty, and with the Kyoto nations failing to meet their 2012 goals, the idea of millions of self-sacrificing individuals taking responsibility for their own energy-excessive lives seems like The Next Best Thing.

The “Relocalization Network,” for instance, is one of several groupings of activists trying to swear off fossil fuels. The network has 128 local groups so far, mainly in the US, that create communities for a postcarbon world by such actions as Internet-linked car sharing, buying only local foods, walking and biking more often to destinations and, overall, reducing personal consumption.
(1 Nov 2006)
Also at Energy Bulletin.


Environmentalist Suzuki to quit spotlight for simple life

James Regan, Reuters
Environmentalist David Suzuki, best known for his television programs on nature and the environment, is ready to step out of spotlight and live the simple life, lamenting that he has not had a greater impact.

Releasing what he insists is his “very last book,” a second installment to his autobiography, the 70-year-old Japanese-Canadian says he is looking forward to spending more time in the Canadian wilderness, carving wood and fishing.

He regrets that after decades of campaigning for everything from cleaner air to sustainable farming, his work has not had more impact.

“Nobody any longer knows what a sustainable future is,” the bearded, bespectacled environmentalist told Reuters in a recent interview in Australia to promote his book, “David Suzuki: The Autobiography.”

“I feel like we are in a giant car heading for a brick wall at 100 miles an hour and everyone in the car is arguing where they want to sit. For God’s sake, someone has to say put the brakes on and turn the wheel.”
(25 Oct 2006)

Changes in the Peak Oil / Permaculture Movements

Powerdown and Permaculture – At the Cusp of Transition

Rob Hopkins, Permaculture (UK)
…Permaculture, as it has been reframed by David Holmgren in Permaculture – Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability,1 is nothing less than the design system for a post-peak society. He writes that “permaculture is the wholehearted and positive acceptance of energy descent, as not only inevitable but as a desired reality”. Yet, as Eric Stewart wrote last year in a piece in Permaculture Activist called ‘A Second Challenge to the Movement’,2 permaculture, as it stands on the verge of its ‘call to power’, appears to have a built-in flaw.

“It seems to me”, he wrote, “that permaculture houses two virtually polar impulses: one involves removal from larger society; the other involves working for the transformation of society. While the case can be made that removal from the larger society represents action that is transformative of society, I believe that there is an imbalance within the cultural manifestation of permaculture that has favoured isolation over interaction. The cultural shift we need depends on increasing interaction to increase the availability of the resources permaculture offers”.
…My sense is that we are so near to the peak that its effects are being widely felt, and this is having knock on effects on all our institutions. By my reading, we are now entering the reorganization phase, where everything is up for grabs. The ideas generated by the permaculture/energy descent movement have as much chance as anyone else’s of becoming reality. While governments may propose nuclear power, tar sands and coal to liquids as solutions, these ‘solutions’ are unworkable and unfeasible. The energy descent approach of relocalisation and self reliance has the edge over the competition in that it actually works and answers the challenge raised.
(2 Nov 2006)

FTW report on the Boston world oil conference
ASPO-USA positions itself to be a big player

Michael Kane, From The Wilderness
…The Boston World Oil Conference that ran from October 25th through the 28th showed me that ASPO-USA has a much better understanding of the energy problems we are facing than they do of the local solutions we need. They are focusing on an ill-fated “Plan B” although, to their credit, they are not painting a rosy picture. The debate they are encouraging is relatively fair and balanced but only in the realm of big business ‘solutions’. My suspicions tell me that many in ASPO-USA largely agree with the “extreme” Peak Oilists (FTW, CultureChange, Back-to-the-Land Movement, etc…) but will not outwardly say so. Albert Bates had a table at the conference where he was selling Crossing the Rubicon.

Lynn Benander of Coop Power, a consumer owned cooperative building sustainable energy resources in New England and New York, was literally booed by a male-dominated audience when she dared to ask a very valid question – perhaps the most important question of the entire conference. I interviewed her after she was disrespectfully shutdown.

“I am concerned because all of the projections (in Hirsch Report 2) for how we are going to address Peak Oil issues are all very large business, significant interventions that have tremendous environmental impact issues,” said Benander. “They neglected 56% of our economy which is place-based businesses, non-profits, government entities, and cooperatives that are providing tremendous services and are also places people trust more.”

A very brief answer was given to her question from Robert M. Bezdek, who co-authored Hirsch Report 2 (fully titled Economic Impacts of Liquid Fuel Mitigation Options). Bezdek simply stated they don’t know how to estimate the impact of the sectors Benander brought up, so they are not included.

…Not all of the presenters at the conference believe the American consumer needs to be coddled, but these people were in the minority. John Darnel, who is the energy advisor to Congressman Roscoe Bartlett; Julian Darley of the Post Carbon Institute; and Peak Oil expert Richard Heinberg all professed the urgent need to decrease demand by lessening consumption. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett and Richard Heinberg were both presented well-deserved M. King Hubbert awards for educating the public on Peak Oil.
(30 Oct 2006)

ASPO 5. Robert Hirsch scares me out of my wits…,

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture / Energy Bulletin.
…I had been really looking forward to hearing Bob Hirsch speak, the Hirsch Report being considered a somewhat seminal document. I have to say I found his conclusions, and even his starting question, profoundly repugnant. What he basically argued was that we need to plan for keeping all the US’s cars on the road, so how can we do that? By using the fuels that are technically feasible to bring onstream in time for the peak, such as coal to liquids and the tar sands, at a cost of $1 trillion per year, this could be done, so we need to get on with it.

I confess to being flabbergasted at the insanity of this proposal. Climate change wasn’t mentioned once in his talk, the fact that his choices of fuel are the most climatically destructive possible choices possible (a car running on petrol made from coal is responsible for 30-40 percent more CO2 than one running on ordinary petrol) wasn’t mentioned.
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…Hirsch’s presentation presented clearly what happens when one takes a purely peak oil perspective rather than a climate change one (thank heavens that Jeremy Leggett’s presentation the next day introduced a desperately needed climate change perspective). For me, Hirsch laid out a clear and perfectly reasoned argument why we cannot possibly keep all our cars going and why we need to break our addiction to the car. He just hadn’t realised that that was what he was doing.
(22 Aug 2006)
The authors of the Hirsch Report may be getting onboard climate change. In a recent NY Times article, the co-author of the Hirsch Report, Roger Bezdek was quoted as saying: “The benefits of an intensified energy quest would go far beyond cutting the risks of dangerous climate change.” -BA