Wednesday, November 30, 2005

training for Peak Oil presentations

I'm off to another workshop... this one sponsored by Community Solution to "provide the tools, strategies, resources and practical experiences to educate your community on peak oil and work with them to implement local solutions." I feel extremely lucky that I was accepted.

It will be held in a community that started out as an intentional community and has interest in sustainability. So that should be interesting.

It will be so great to be able to hang out with "peakers!" I'm looking forward to developing a new network.

As usual, I will tell you all about it when I get back!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

"Risk" and "Probability" and Peak Oil

Kurt Cobb brings up an important point in the peak oil debate: the role of risk and probablity. He explains that when the consequences are severe, we will do our best to mitigate the risk even when the odds are low that something bad will happen. For example, most of us have fire insurance even when it is unlikely that we will ever have a fire.

So when it comes to peak oil, which has potentially very severe consequences, why not behave as if it will happen even if we can't predict when it will happen? Especially considering that every year that goes by increases the odds that it will happen this year. We may not be sure that the doomers are right, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

For a clearer explaination than I can do here, go read his essay.

PTF's trip to New Orleans

The crew over at the Path to Freedom have written up their experiences about their trip to New Orleans to help friends and relatives with clean up. It was a very sobering piece.

Several hours or so later with buckets, shovels, a rake, gallons of bleach, and garbage bags piled high in the back of the rented minivan, we arrived at Lester’s home, donned gloves and masks and plunged into work. His home is quite big and we literally attacked each room. We were determined to get the muddied, molded and waterlogged furniture, appliances and stuff out of the house and onto the curb. Having a deadline of only a few days to work kept us moving even as the stench permeated into our brains with a dull headache, the waterlogged carpets and slime soaked floors threatened to spill us with one misstep and the itchy masks formed prickly goatees of sweat on our faces.
The end by relfecting that Los Angeles, indeed the world, has its own "big one" that looms--are we really ready to be without power, water and infrasturcture?
For those who want not to just read about peak oil or the end of the world scenarios – go to New Orleans and find out first hand. Reading in the comfy of your surroundings is one thing; living the nightmare is another.

May the courageous people of New Orleans persevere, and may the rest of us never have to face what they are facing.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The shape of the peak

I just came across Robert L. Hirsch's article about the shape of the curve that describes the peak of oil production. He looked at regions that had already peaked to check out the assumption that it would be a gentle slope. Here is what he found:
  • In all cases, it was not obvious that production was about to peak a year prior to the event
  • The peaks were sharp, not gently varying bell curves and not flat topped, as some forecasters have hoped
  • Post-peak production declines were much greater than our 2% benchmark in some cases
  • Pre-peaks occurred in three cases

The implication is that we may not have much time to adapt to a post-peak world.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


I just saw this link on Dead Ants are my Friends. Play it for your Uncle on Thanksgiving.
The Speechinator

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

reflections on sustainability in community

I participated in a workshop by Tree Bressen this weekend, training me in facilitation for cohousing communities. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot. I particularly appreciated getting an insider's look at cohousing community issues and culture. And I was fortunate enough to be a witness to a "distillery"--an exploratory meeting--on the issue of "green decision making." It gave me an idea of the spectrum of concerns that people have when confronting such things as "what green criteria [if any] should we establish to make purchasing decisions?"

Many cohousing groups are concerned with sustainability. They cluster their homes to make room for open space. They share a common building with a large kitchen, meeting room and guest, kids and teen rooms so that each townhouse-style home can have a smaller footprint. They share laundry facilities. Often the building process itself is green.

But this doesn't mean that the individuals would rank "sustainability" as a primary value. "Community" is what brought them together, so relationships are very important. Being economical is important, too.

In other words, cohousing communities have to weigh the same variables that all of us do. How much more am I willing to pay to get a "greener" product? I've read that research shows that people will pay a 10% premium.

On the other hand, many products that are more energy efficient end up costing less money when you look at cost over time. So that's a no brainer.

The other issue that was really important was health and safety. People were concerned for the well being of their children. Could the group come up with an agreement not to put pestacides on their individual lawns? Questions like that need to be answered.

At least with cohousing you have a forum for discussing issues like this. And in many places they can make binding agreements. Having a consensus decision-making process means everyone has input. At the very least you will end up with something that you can live with, and generally speaking, if the process is healthy, you will have gotten your position aired.

But the community we were at did not appear to have a consciousness about peak oil. So there is consciousness raising to be done. It looks like I have my work cut out for me.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

off to another workshop

I am designing a training program to prepare me for my new career as a facilitator for communities interested in learning more about peak oil and sustainability and how to relocalize their resources. Yesterday I found out I was accepted into Community Solution's upcoming train the trainers workshop and I am thrilled.

Today I am off to the first in a series of workshops with Tree Bressan specifically designed to give me facilitation skills in cohousing environments. We'll be meeting at a cohousing community and practicing our skills as they deal with real problems.

I'll tell you all about it when I get back. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

ASPO-USA Conference

"The essence of the problem: There is NO ready substitute."*

Reports are in from The Oil Drum on the ASPO-USA Conference that took place Nov 10-11 in Denver. By all accounts it was an excellent event, with high caliber speakers and a fruitful mix of perspectives. If you only have a little bit of time to research the latest thinking by experts in their field, check out Stuart Stanifords great coverage (with pictures) of Thursday and Friday.

ASPO-USA has also put up the Powerpoint slides of the various speakers. You can also get audio highlights of Day 1.

Rather than pull selections for you to read, I encourage you to go look at the overview yourself. Good stuff.

*The image is from Roscoe Bartlett's keynote presentation.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Field Trip

On Saturday some members of my Oil Awareness Meetup Group had a field trip to Allison's house to see how he had built it to be energy efficient and ecologically friendly. He and his wife own 66 acres, mostly wooded, but with some fields cleared for future livestock and farming. But we'll get to that in a minute. Our tour will start with the inside of the home to see his new Energy Star appliances.

His new fridge uses 75% less kilowatts per month which cuts down its fuel bill to about $4.00.

The new washing machine uses much less water per load. Their monthly water usage total is about 440 gallons, or 40% of the average household.

They did a beautiful job tiling the shower, so I had to take a shot of it.

This is their composting toilet. The gasmask is a joke. It has a fan in the tank below which pulls the air out of the bathroom.

This is the waste pipe for the toilet upstairs.

The salvaged the beautiful oak floors from a schoolhouse slated for demolition.

This stove heats the place with downed wood they collect. The house is so well insulated it doesn't take much to get warm. "Pancho" (a plastic Einstein doll) rides atop the cowboy hat.

They learned how to set tile on their screened in back porch. We got to meet Hemingway, who is a very friendly 5 month old.

We went out the back door for a look at the graywater system.

It comes out these pipes...

and gets sent to one of the two fields via this valve, which he switches every couple of weeks to let the mulch dry out...

and it comes out of this pipe into the drainage cachement which sends the water to nourish a fruit tree.

Now its time for a trip to the basement to see the inner workings of the house.

It was built with this insulating material, made of Styrofoam sandwiched between OSB. The ones in the outside walls are about 4" thick and have an R factor of 17. The ones on the roof are thicker.

An airtight house means a ventilation system is needed. When people ask if they will get sick from a well sealed home, Allison responds that a home can't be too tight, just underventilated.

This one exchanges heat between the air going in and going out. The next step up exchanges humidity as well.

This pipe evacuates the radon from underground. Its easy to install if you do it when pouring the slab. The negative air pressure draws radon gas up and out the vent in the roof.

This is the tank of the composting toilet.

The sawdust gets stirred by tines attached to the top axel. The compost comes out of the bottom panel.

The fan and the light (to attract and kill mold gnats) is on a 12 volt system.

The water pump is also powered by these batteries.

The water is pressurized in this tank.

Now its time to tour the grounds.

The greenhouse.

A tractor from the 1940s that they got running with a little TLC and a lot of moola.

My hubby used to ride on one of these growing up on the farm.

Next year this area will have chickens and maybe goats. The mound is their compost pile.

The garden/field is fenced off to protect it from the deer. Apple scented modules lure them and then shocks their noses. They learn to stay away instead of figuring out that they can jump the fence.

The well is 302 feet deep.

The pump is powered by this solar panel.

We learned a lot and had a great time hanging out. Thanks for your hospitality, Allison, and thanks for coming everyone!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Three Peak Oil Meetings

The Energy Bulletin posted this article by Aaron Naparstek that helped me define the edges of the peak oil responses and consequently my own place among them. He discusses three events: the "Petrocollapse" Conference, the "Winning the Oil Endgame" town hall, and a NYC Oil Awareness Meetup group.

The Petrocollapse Conference took place in Manhattan on October 5 and it featured speakers such as Jan Lunberg, Michael Ruppert, and James Howard Kunstler. All three are pretty serious "doomers" on the peak oil spectrum and don't put much stock into policy solutions.

If Peak Oil theory is now mainstream, splashed across the front page of USA Today and the theme of Chevron and BP ad campaigns, then Petrocollapse is a secular, left-wing, non-fiction version of Tim LaHaye's Christian Apocalyptic "Left Behind" series. The gospel according to Petrocollapse is that Peak Oil is coming, and it's coming soon. The transition to the post-carbon world will not be gradual, it will be sudden and massive. And when it comes, the sinners--those profligate American consumers and the corporate whores who oversee them--will all be swept away in violent social turmoil, starvation and environmental disaster. But there's good news too. After the tumultuous mass die-off, a new society will arise from the burned out SUV hulks and melted plastic detritus. In this post-carbon world, humans will have no choice but to live sustainably, in cooperation with each other and in harmony with nature. Those who get religion and accept Peak Oil into their hearts soon enough--they may be among the lucky survivors whose children grow to live in this new and better world.
On the other hand, the next event was all about policy.

If the Petrocollapse conference was dominated by conspiracy theorists, then Winning the Oil Endgame" was the Conspiracy. Present on the dais were former CIA director James Woolsey, Mississippi Governor and former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour, former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Robert Altman and Amory Lovins, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Far from doom and gloom, the Endgame speakers were nearly united in their belief that it was both possible and desirable to keep finding fixes for America's energy Jones and to keep the American consumer machine rolling along using new technologies.
They promoted drilling, nuclear power, coal-fired electricity, natural gas and more efficient vehicles. Little mention was made of the "profound environmental problems and danger" of fossil fuels.

A third perspective was offered by a member of both audiences, Charles Komanoff, "who has been involved in the energy and environmental movements pretty much since they began in the early 1970's."

Komanoff acknowledges the possible validity of the Peak Oil analysis, but having heard similar End Times prophecies thirty years ago, he isn't allowing the Peak Oil argument to guide his work and activism. "I think there's an element of wishful thinking and that some Peak Oil adherents are looking for a deus ex machina to sweep away the disaster that is contemporary industrial civilization," he said. "And understandably so. Waiting for Peak Oil is so convenient, so much simpler, and so much more seductive than the hard work of organizing for social and ecological change."

Komanoff was also critical of the Endgame analysis. "There is a big dissonance between Amory's kind of chirpy optimism and actual realities on the ground and actual energy trends." Three decades after Lovins unveiled his revolutionary "soft energy path," Komanoff points out, the U.S. uses 25% more oil, burns 75% more coal and generates 35% more greenhouse gases than it did in the mid-1970s. Though a 66 mpg SUV is certainly more desirable than Detroit's current state of the art, Komanoff doesn't believe Lovins' hyper car project provides us with real answers for our global energy and environmental quandary because the project is "only about improving the fuel efficiency of the vehicle and does nothing about addressing the social and whole system efficiency of travel and mobility and community."
Finally, Naparstek looks at the NYC Oil Awareness Meetup group. This is the same network that I am involved with so I was particularly interested in how other groups are developing. They deal with the emotional component and have started a subgroup formed to help people get through the paralysis that learning about peak oil brings. Philosophically, they have broken into two approaches: "The Relocalizers believe New York City won't be viable in the age of Peak Oil and are looking for new places to live and new skills to live in a world without modern conveniences. The Sustainable New Yorkers are dedicated to educating and preparing the city for what they see as a lengthy and potentially tumultuous energy crisis."

Despite such dread, there is often a sense of action and possibility at the monthly meeting. Miner makes a point of emphasizing that there are things you can do to prepare for Peak Oil and people interested in doing them with you. At the Meetup, you aren't so much assaulted by the gloomy hopelessness that pervaded the Petrocollapse and Endgame conferences.

In my group, similar distinctions apply. As one member put it, there are "three possible scenarios for the P.O. future, and I can actually argue in support of each:"
1) Nothing Happens (Yergin): Things keep going smoothly (with maybe a slight bump in the road), alternative energy sources are identified in time and the economy will continue to grow at 4% indefinitely-business as usual. The Deniers say, "Everything is fine."

2) Soft Landing (Simmons): The energy crunch causes, at minimum, a recession or possibly a full-blown depression. The US has been through recessions before and will weather this one. A global depression may result as the US economy falters and consumers stop spending but in the end. "We'll tighten our belts and pull through somehow."

3) Hard Landing (Kunstler): The worst case scenario is an economic and social collapse-the stuff of doomsayers' dreams. "Oh shit."

Some Peakniks come in somewhere between 1 and 2, or between 2 and 3. The optimistic 1.5ers see a problem, but believe we can address it-they're the Organizers and Activists. 1.5ers will push for education, political action and programs like carpooling, bike lanes, public transportation, and tax credits for installing solar.

The 2.5ers are the Preparers; they're less optimistic and will be more concerned with readying for a stark, downscaled future-learning about farmsteading and food storage, getting off the grid, learning self defense.

The 3-or-worse crowd (the Survivalists or Apocalyptics) will start hoarding food, buying rural property and stockpiling ammunition like a survivalist. (NOTE: None of these generalizations are intended to be judgmental; everyone has to follow their own instincts.)
We found this to be an interesting starting point in identifying where each of us fell on the spectrum, and hope to create a group that can meet the needs of each.