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Michigan conference on peak oil & climate change May 30

The International Conference on Peak Oil and Climate Change: Paths to Sustainability launches on May 30 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“We're prepared for up to 1,000 participants,” said conference organizer Aaron Wissner of Middleville, Michigan. “With the outstanding selection of expert speakers, the only challenge now is getting the word out. The conference is timely, it is important, and it sells itself.”

Wissner decided to host the conference after concerns over rising gasoline prices led him to discover the concept of peak oil. Earlier this year, Wissner was interviewed by Wall Street Journal reporter Neil King, Jr. for a front page article on his efforts to adjust to a future he sees as full of uncertainty.

“Rising gasoline prices, food prices, and mortgage rate are just the beginning,” said Wissner. “This conference addresses oil prices head on, and tells the story of how our reliance on cheap, abundant petroleum have left us vulnerable to the biggest economic shock ever imagined.”

Over forty speakers, from around the USA and Canada, are traveling to Grand Rapids to share their expertise for the three day event. Featured presenters include authors and peak oil educators Richard Heinberg, Dr. David Goodstein, Megan Quinn Bachman, Julian Darley, Stephanie Mills and Pat Murphy.

Peak oil is a shorthand term for when global oil extraction reaches an all time maximum. After this point, global oil extraction will shrink as those oil fields with naturally declining production outnumber and overwhelm the fields with increasing production. Dozens of oil producing countries are already in decline. In recent weeks, both Russia and Saudi Arabia announced that decreased production should be expected in the future.

“The USA is the most vulnerable of all to changes in the oil market,” said Wissner. “For us, it isn't global peak oil isn't the biggest concern. It's all about the net global oil exports. This appears to already be in decline, and the rate of decline may be extremely fast. That should be a wake up call to everyone.”

For a conference just over three months in the making, the line up of over forty speakers is impressive.

Presenters focusing specifically on gasoline prices, peak oil, oil production, and oil depletion include:

  • Richard Heinberg – Author of The Party's Over: Oil, War And The Fate Of Industrial Societies and PowerDown: Options And Actions For A Post-Carbon World
  • Dr. David Goodstein - Author of Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil, former Vice Provost and Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
  • Megan Quinn Bachman – Co-writer & co-producer of the documentary film The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil and outreach director of Community Service, Inc.
  • Julian Darley - Author of High Noon for Natural Gas: the New Energy Crisis and founder and president of Post Carbon Institute and Global Public Media
  • Stephanie Mills - Author of Epicurean Simplicity, In Service of the Wild: Restoring and Reinhabiting Damaged Land, and Whatever Happened to Ecology?
  • Pat Murphy - Author of Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change and executive director of The Community Solution
  • Albert Bates - Author of The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for a Changing Time, founder of the Ecovillage Network
  • Sharon Astyk - Subsistance farmer and author of the upcoming Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front and A Nation of Farmers
  • Katie Alvord - Author of Divorce Your Car! Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile
  • Aaron Wissner - Public school educator, founder of Local Future, subject of front page Wall Street Journal article on peak oil
  • Randy White - Co-author of Portland, Oregon's Peak Oil Task Force report, author of “Lawns to Gardens” blog, and founder of Bright Neighbor software
  • Kurt Cobb - Publisher of Resource Insights and columnist for Scitizen, Energy Bulleting, 312energy, Le Monde Diplomatique, and EV World
  • Steve Crower - Energy Investment Banker for Starlight Investments LLC, a founding member of Network International
  • John Richter - Former president of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, Co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Education
  • Michael Brownlee - Co-founder of Boulder County Going Local, board member of Boulder Independent Business Alliance
  • Bill Wilson - Permaculturist, intentional community member, and founder of the Center for Sustainable Community
  • Chris Bedford - Former National Campaign Coordinator for Sustainable Agricultural Programs of The Humane Society of the United States
  • Tim Radbourne - Executive of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, the Global Institute of Logistics, the Maritime Logistics Council
  • Tim Hudson - Co-founder of Silicion Stemcell/S2, co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Education
  • Jason Pliml - Independent peak oil investor, founder of MockDraftCentral.com

The conference has the support of local politicians.

U.S. Representative Vernon Ehlers has provided a video invitation on the conference web site. Ehlers is a former nuclear physicist and member of the congressional peak oil caucus. He is also contributing a short video overview of the concept of peak oil and oil depletion.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell opens the conference on the evening of May 30. Heartwell is a leader within the association of mayors, particularly on energy conservation and climate change action. Grand Rapids boasts the most LEED certified buildings per capita of any city in the USA.

Rather focusing solely on the topic of oil and natural gas depletion, the “Sustainability Conference“ delves into related fields of interest including climate change, biodiversity loss, and population growth. The conference itself is divided into two roughly equal halves.

In the first half, from Friday afternoon until Saturday afternoon, participants focus on the pressing problems in the energy, environmental, and economic fields. A dozen breakout tracks focus on sustainability challenges for transportation, electricity generation, home heating, industrial farming, animal agriculture, food distribution, the product chain, media transparency, and more.

The second half of the conference begins Saturday evening and continues through the end of the conference on Sunday afternoon. This portion begins with an in-depth discussion of the concept of sustainability. An array of solutions are presented to reduce the negative impacts of peak oil, climate change and related problems of unsustainability.

The conference extends well beyond the concerns of peak oil and climate change into a range of environmental, social, and economic concerns. Nearly fifty breakout presentations focus on concepts including biodiversity loss and mass extinction; population growth, carrying capacity and overshoot; industrial agriculture, genetically modified organisms (GMO's), and industrial factory farms; water depletion and protection; voluntary simplicity; renewable energy generation with photovoltaic (PV), wind, hydro and biomass; conservation and energy efficiency; renewable energy portfolio standards (REPS) and net metering; new urbanism; the “coal rush” and nuclear power initiatives; inflation, deflation, stagflation and unemployment; the monetary system, federal reserve, banking industry and stability of the financial system; and additional topics related to unsustainability and sustainability.

“With gasoline prices, food prices, mortgage rates combining with generally increasing inflation and increasing unemployment, I think this is probably the most timely conference ever,” says Wissner. “This conference brings concepts of peak oil and sustainability front and center, so that, as a nation and a world, we can get serious about addressing what are probably the greatest challenges ever faced by humanity.”

The decision to host the conference was made in January of this year. Since then, the majority of Wissner's free time has been dedicated to securing speakers, the venue, and keeping the web site up to date. Wissner is assisted by a small committee of dedicated volunteers. He is also supported by sponsorship from the Post Carbon Institute and Crystal Mountain Ski and Golf Resort.

“Without their help, this event never would have been possible,” said Wissner.

With a full time job as a public school educator, Aaron Wissner needs all the help he can get. He also has a new baby in the household. He spends many late night sessions on the computer and the phone, working out conference details. Getting the word out about the conference has been the biggest challenge.

Wissner and his wife, Kimberly Sager, are also assuming the entire financial risk of the conference. That could be a big risk for the middle-income family, as the conference expenses are estimated at over $20,000. If there is net revenue, it will all be tied up in the Local Future nonprofit, which is restricted to 501(c)(3) activities.

Regardless of the risks and challenges, Wissner is both positive and optimistic.

“I decided that to get the word out on peak oil, I'd have to put my money on the line. This is a bigger financial risk than I'd expected, but it's the best way I could think of to educate everyone on what is really happening with gasoline prices. The future is going to depend on us pulling together to weather this transition. I'm just trying to do my small part to help make cooperation a reality.”

The International Conference on Peak Oil and Climate Change: Paths to Sustainability begins on Friday evening, May 30 and continues through Sunday, June 1, 2008. The venue is the Fine Arts Center of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A $50 discount off registration ends on May 15. The web site is www.SustainabilityConference.org

Editorial Notes: Conference organizer Aaron Wissner is an Energy Bulletin contributor.

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