John reporting from the ASPO conference.
I may have been trained as scientist, but when it came down to choosing among three competing and valuable breakout sessions in the same time slot, I choose “Peak Oil: Scenario Planning: Preparing for the Days Ahead” with John Michael Greer, André Angelantoni and Dick Vodra instead of the far more techie “The Outlook for Net Exports of Oil, Natural Gas and Coal”. Similar choices had to be made with the next two sets of breakout sessions with “Message, Media and Outreach” winning out over “Analysis from The Oil Drum” and “Peak Oil: Investing Beyond Oil and Gas” in the second round. “Post-Carbon Responses to the Sustainability Quandary” won the third round.
These breakout sessions consisted of each of the speakers making a short presentation and then questions from the audience fill the last part of the session.
The choices I made were because I fully understand the issues of Peak Oil. I am more interested in what we are going to do to respond to it.
André’s presentation dealt with the concept of cultural conversations as something that has an existence of its own, an idea that is a version of the concept of a meme. Major cultural conversations are discourses (“Who will win the World Series this Year?”) and sets of related discourses are epistemes (“Growth and progress must be continual and on-going”). So when you are have a frustrating talk with someone like that brother-in-law (“New technology will fix these problems!”), you are not only talking with them, you are talking to a discourse. The major point is that discourses defend themselves, which you have already discovered by talking to that brother-in-law of yours.
With peak oil, coming straight at us will be an episteme rupture. What will replace the existing episteme is anyone’s guess, although we all can work to help put in place one that more usefully and beneficial then the one we have.
Just remember, when you ready to slug that brother-in-law, it is really not totally his fault that he is a jerk – he just needs a new discourse to find him.
John Michael Greer’s presentation was entitled “The End of Investments”. This is a topic that he has covered in one of his Archdruid Reports. Looking back at history, especially the decline of the Roman Empire, he predicts that the concept of investments will not be one that long survives in the world of long decline. Going beyond the concept that what we call economic growth will not be possible in a post peak world, so that much of we consider wealth will turn out be illusions, there is also possibility that the nice yellowish metal that is so popular right now ($1329.60/oz right now!) may not turn out be as useful as one may think. A pile of loot attracts looters as he put it. A historical example is the stockpiles of Roman gold coins that are found on a regular basis in England. Nearby is almost always the ruin of a post-Roman villa that was certainly sacked in search of those coins. Investment in things that can’t be looted or are not so alluring like tools, friendships and ties to one’s community might be a better bet.
Leave it to the Archdruid to propose an idea that makes even hard-core Peak Oilers uncomfortable. Later in the day I was speaking to a financial blogger who has done wonderful work on the implications of peak oil. I asked him what he thought of Greer’s talk. There was an awkward silence. Then he asked “What do you think…?”
The next breakout session was an attempt to explore the question of how we can create a new episteme. My co-blogger Molly Davis has already written a great post on this session that captures the challenges and contradictions that are part and parcel of this task. After listening to this session, I think that many may think that there is a comparison to making sausage here; one may not want to look too closely to the process if one is squeamish about things. Yet, an important point is that if we don’t starting constructing new discourses, eventually others will and their goals may not to be of our likening. An example that is already happening is a far-right nationalist party in Great Britain that has already adopted peak oil in their rhetoric. They wore Nazi Swastikas before they clean up their act and started channeling Churchill.
The third session was organized by the Post Carbon Institute and includes chapter authors from PCI’s new book “The Post Carbon Reader – Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises“. PCI fellows Chris Martenson, Cindy Parker and Tom Whipple all spoke. While Chris Martenson spoke about personal preparation and education and Tom Whipple talked about economic issues, Cindy Parker’s discussion on public health and medicine as we move forward highlights a critical issue that is not receiving the attention that it deserves. It has been well documented that our current health care system is a massive resource hog that generates results inferior to ones costing half as much. What happens when the resources are not there anymore?