Casaubon's Book

Greetings, I’m John Bell, one of the people helping Sharon live-blog the ASPO conference in Washington D.C. Sharon has asked us to introduce ourselves and tell her readers why we are attending the conference. I am writing this as I travel to Washington D.C. on the train.

First, I have help start Transition Westchester, a currently unofficial Transition hub for Westchester County, NY. Westchester County comprises the immediate northern suburbs of New York City. Currently, Transition Westchester is trying to inform the people of the region of the issues of peak oil, climate change and the resulting economic issues that facing us. As many of you know, raising public awareness about such issues is difficult in our media-saturated society. I can tell you that doing this is especially difficult in a place that also functions as a bedroom community for Wall Street, since delusional thinking is the bedrock of our economic system. But most of the people in this county are not the wealthy elite. Many are what we like to call middle class, their higher than national average incomes more than eaten up by absurd housing costs and high cost of living. There are plenty of people who are poor here, some who have fallen in poverty in the past year or so. I live in a village along the Hudson River in the northern end of the county. The village long predates the auto age, so it is a hilly, but walkable community. It has a long gone early industrial past and now has many recent immigrants from southern Europe and Latin America. The immigrants enable village to have a downtown with many functioning small businesses. There is a great Farmers Market there also.

I worked in the chemical and petroleum industries for two decades as a scientist. During my graduate studies in chemistry, I remember a discussion I had with my brother-in law at the time. The discussion occurred, I think, in Anchorage, Alaska. If not there, then it was in Midland Texas. As you might guess my former brother-in-law was a production executive in the oil and gas industry. His skill and talent certainly contributed significantly to the efficiency with which we drained the North Slope oil fields. He was the first to introduce me to the idea we had no other energy sources that are the functional equivalent to (cheap) oil in terms of net energy production. It was haunting statement, since he had seen and actively worked to reverse the decline that was occurring in oil production in the lower 48.

During my time in the chemical industry, I worked for companies produced oil field chemical, pesticides and lastly surfactants (surface active agents) that went into such end-use products. I think I was very lucky to have had a career that had me going to both oil refineries and farms, as it has helped me intimately understand the immense challenges that face us in both energy and food

As I left the chemical industry about five years ago, I began re-examining that question that my former brother-in-law had left me, what are energy sources that we are going to use to replace oil as it runs low? After examining the answer that was being touted at the time – pour our food supply into our gas tanks – I began to get concerned. Then I found “The Long Emergency”. My first reaction was, “Why is this guy getting royalties for my thoughts?” Seriously, it was my first confirmation that others were thinking along the same lines as I.

I had decided earlier in the decade to stop playing the role of the corporate transplant waiting for his next assignment, and get more involved in my community by joining the local Lions Club. Starting the Transition hub was natural outgrowth of that decision.

I am on the final leg to Washington at this point. This is my first ASPO conference. I look forward to meeting many of people whose work I come to respect so highly. I have already met Sharon, although she doesn’t remember that ; ^ ). This meeting might be historic, since the Association is trying to raise the awareness of these issues among government circles (the reality being that most in the higher circles already know) and as Sharon has indicated the group appears to be shifting its focus from proving that peak oil exists to how we as a society are going to deal with it. The last stop on this train is about to be called, so I will let you what happens in later posts.