Impressions from the Fifth Annual U.S. Peak Oil Conference

The conference was in a new place this year, Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. It was a real pleasure when I found it to immediately see old friends from the previous conferences at Antioch.

John Michael Greer defined our way of moving through time as cyclical rather than lineal. “We’ve had summer,” he said “and harvest, and now are heading into winter.”

Pat Murphy caught my attention with “We need to change from competing, hoarding and consuming to conserving, sharing and cooperating.”

Katrin Klingenberg (ecolab) and Linda Wigington (affordable comfort) shared a presentation. WOW! The super-insulated Passive House type of construction is amazingly efficient. Even doing a remodel, if you are diligent you can save up to about 70% of your present heating and cooling energy (and costs). New construction saves up to about 90% !

Klingenberg pointed out that energy “experts” trained to LEED standards are already out-of-date, and will thus give incorrect advice. One brilliant remodeling idea for northern houses with damp or hard-to-heat basements is to remove the furnace and ducts from the basement, isolate the house from the basement with thick insulation, and use the basement for cool storage.

There just wasn’t enough time (or energy on my part) to take in everything going on and I didn’t get to Peter Bane’s presentation, or John Richter’s, or the slide-show on eco-villages brought by Christopher Bedford, all of which I was sad to miss.

I did get a chance to sit in with a few different tables at the “Connections Café”, which was great: Christina Snyder with her Zero Energy House information, John Sarver whose energy newsletter (Energy Tidbits) I’ve been following for a couple of years, and Nancy Lee Wood, Director of the Institute for Sustainability and Post-Carbon Education in Massachusetts, talking about using the community college network in this country as a base to develop the “great re-skilling” needed for the Transition Towns movement.

The Green Fair tables were varied and informative. My favorites were a solar-tube skylight installer from near my home, and the niftiest separating composting toilet I’ve ever seen. It uses a computer fan for ventilation. See it at http://www.sustainablechoice.net/

For me, Dimitry Orlov’s talk was the highlight of the conference — just because he was so funny — which is a real accomplishment when your subject is “Collapse”. You can read a text version of his talk at http://www.energybulletin.net/node/47157 — you’ll be glad you did.

Richard Heinberg appeared via satellite this year (the sound and video were not good). He is a hero and a genius, and a lovely man too. I especially liked what he said about finding ways to work together “by emphasizing values that transcend political differences, such as conserving, self-reliance, community, and local control”.

Megan Quinn Bachman’s talk was excellent (as usual). One point she made that really struck me was “Capitalism is an excellent model for growth. It is not a good model for shrinking — we need a new one.”

Michael Brownlee gave a wonderfully enthusiastic talk about the Transition Towns movement. Even more wonderful was the generous way he and partner Lynnette-Marie Hanthorn stayed for two hours after the conference for questions and discussions with conference attendees plus some other folks from our South East Michigan group who drove over to ask questions about the Transition Towns movement and training.

All this, and the food was great too! I especially liked the soups. One thing though — while local entertainment was provided it seemed kind of loosely integrated — a kind of “poor relation” to the rest of the conference. I guess I would like to see it made more of.

Still, this event was definitely a highlight of the year. Thank you Community Solutions and Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center! Check out their web sites: http://www.communitysolution.org/ and  http://www.uheac.org/

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