“YERT - Your Environmental Road Trip” is an entire environmental film festival wrapped up in an absorbing and entertaining, fast-paced two-hour documentary that’s both personal and planetary. Friends Mark, Julie and Ben pack themselves into a Prius to tour all 50 states in 52 weeks while aiming for near-zero garbage.We view environmental problems like Appalachian mountaintop removal, Alaska permafrost melt, and post-Katrina wetlands habitat destruction, southwest water depletion. We meet problem-solvers like Wes Jackson restoring perennial prairie grasses, farmer Joel Salatin cycling animals through pasture to build soil, and Will Allen growing plants and fish to feed the city.We meet creative people building houses inside caves, turning compost into worm poop then packaged in recycled plastic, and developing solar panels roadways to replace asphalt in the post-petroleum era.These twenty-somethings intersperse a lot of playfulness amidst the serious talk and fascinating tours. Silly, funny, gross, wacky. Ben pushes the Prius down the road on “National Bike and Walk Day.” In their five-day Iowa Corn Challenge, Mark chows down only fresh corn while Ben scarfs packaged foods containing corn products (all that high-fructose corn syrup, yuck!).The trio lets us glimpse real life on the road, up close and personal: moments of elation, crabbiness, joy. Julie discovers she’s pregnant early on and bails from the vegetarian diet. I won’t spoil the ending, but you’ll find out whether it’s a girl or boy, and just how much garbage the trio accumulated.This well-produced overview of important environmental issues and sampler of creative responses is optimistic without being pollyanna. We loved it. Smiles amid the serious stuff and the inspiring innovators. A chance to meet some of our heros and watch young people learn lots. We hope to follow in their footsteps and bring Peak Moment TV viewers longer chats with many of YERT’s interviewees.With five film festival awards (and counting), YERT is an inspiring one-movie environmental film festival for EveryTown. Go to yert.com to watch the trailer and other clips, buy a DVD, find a screening, sign up for their e-mail list. Watch a short video with Mark and Ben at TEDx with innovations featured in their film.
Chris Martenson, author of The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future of Our Energy, Economy and the Environment book and video course, just gave two engaging presentations to our community. I wanted an update from our Peak Moment Conversation in early 2010 The Crash Course - Exponential Growth Meets Reality (episode 166), so we taped a conversation, “Oil Puts the Squeeze on the Economy” (episode 204).Chris said that what he predicted back then is exactly what we’re seeing now: slowing economy, high unemployment, debts teetering, possible sovereign debt defaults across Europe, record people on food stamps.You have to include energy in the economy story, Chris said. “The economy only functions if and only if you have energy.” And not just energy, but liquid fuels. Not only are oil supplies getting tighter, but it’s costing more energy to get energy (deepwater drilling, tar sands, etc.). An economy dependent on growth is getting squeezed by energy constraints.Chris’s first presentation “Our Predicament” is a capsule version of his “Crash Course” (videos free at chrismartenson.com). Chris is a genius at drawing connections between the three E’s of Energy, Economy and the Environment, showing why the next twenty years will be utterly unlike the last twenty. Bottom line: we’re at the end of growth. Basically, just as population and consumption are exploding exponentially, we’re seeing constraints in oil production and natural resources like minerals, water and topsoil. He calls for a vision of a world worth inheriting, noting the vacuum at the national level, but being tried out in various flavors in communities like ours.Chris’s second presentation “Investing in the Future” offers his beliefs about what’s ahead of us. Here are some highlights:
- The rules will be changed.
- The markets are rigged.
- Events will unfold very rapidly. Black Swans (the impossible) will become the rule (like the Fukushima nuclear and Deepwater Horizon catastrophes)
- Energy will consume a growing proportion of our disposable income, with food prices mirroring oil prices. Peak oil will stifle growth and starve the economy slowly but surely.
- Simplicity is coming. Complex systems like our civilization require more energy, and energy is declining.
- Things will happen from the outside in. Want to see what’s coming? Look at the margins, like marginalized populations or countries at the periphery (like Greece right now).
- There’s nearly universal insolvency, and he predicts debts will not be paid back.
- Anything that is unsustainable will someday stop… like the fiscal situation in our country — a U.S. fiscal crisis is highly likely.
Chris calls himself a “thrivalist.” He encouraged us to get our own house in order well before the cultural tipping point, advising people to invest in energy efficiency in their homes, long-term food storage, buying items your family will need over the next few years. Personally, he’s holding physical gold and silver as alternate currencies.Chris’s website offers a wealth of resources [http://www.chrismartenson.com]. (Photo thanks to Jason Wiskerchen).
December 17, 2010. Astoria, OR. From Portland we headed to the far northwest tip of Oregon to meet Caren Black and Christopher Paddon at the Titanic Lifeboat Academy, whose brilliant name has intrigued me since I’d encountered their website in 2005.
Christopher and Caren have made their rural homestead into is a learning center complete with solar power and hot water, a wind turbine, extensive library, food gardens, goats, chickens, geese ducks, multiple compost piles and most especially, people who live a low-energy, more sustainable life. We taped a conversation in their barn’s second story EcoLoft, where they described how interns and work-study participants undertake personalized learning while helping with hands-on homesteading tasks. Weekend visitors can experience a crash course on sustainability by staying in their EcoLoft, and online students can work on their own resilient living plans.
Their website gives you a fine taste for daily life at the Titanic Lifeboat Academy Demonstration & Education Center:
You rise and pick berries for summer’s breakfast, or stoke up the woodstove fire under winter’s heartier oatmeal. There’s literally wood to chop (if not water to carry), fields, garden, greenhouses, barn, coop and woodlot to work in, a large library to study in, and a couple whose experience and research can make for highly stimulating conversation and mutual learning over afternoon tea.
As Caren remarked, if there had been a place like this when she learned of Peak Oil and collapse, “a place to learn the skillset for sustainability”, she’d have visited it in a heartbeat. She and Christopher are making that place available for others. (http://titaniclifeboatacademy.org)
December 15, 2010. Seattle, WA. The final week of our 2010 Pacific Northwest Tour. We left Seattle December 15th amid pouring rain and packed freeways a bit before the so-called rush hour, reminding us why automobile-dependent suburbs and outlying areas will have the biggest challenges now that oil production is in permanent decline.
December 16, 2010. Portland, OR. We a taped a conversation with Daniel Lerch, co-editor with Richard Heinberg of The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises, a compilation of essays by Fellows at Post Carbon Institute. It begins with our having reached the limits to growth, and looks at the interrelated challenges we face in fourteen different areas, including energy, agriculture, water, transportation, and of course food.
What struck me is Daniel’s stating that “resilience” rather than “sustainability” is the orientation we need for planning and action. The uncertainties of global climate chaos and resource availability make”sustainability” a moving target and essentially impossible to define (much less plan for). But community resilience can be planned for and worked towards. You can find the book at www.postcarbonreader.com.
In their laudable efforts to widely disseminate this information, Post Carbon Institute is putting chapters from the book online.
Watch our Peak Moment conversation, “Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises” (episode 192).
December 5, 2010. The conversation I had with Jon Cooksey, the writer-director of “How to Boil A Frog,” was a torrent of serious content, humorous side notes, and laughter spilling over the edges.
In his film Jon dares to cover the biggest, hardest stuff: overshoot, global warming, peak oil, the growing gap between rich and poor, our war on nature. But when you see the tag line — Make Friends. Make Fun. Make Trouble — you know there’s more.
As the sole actor, Jon provides the narrative thread connecting interviews, animations, historic film footage, and his own story. He adopts different comedic personnas who deliver (or receive) the story of the Big Five problems, his personal feelings in response (all over the map), and his Big Five solutions. He even tapdances lightly on taboos.
I loved his evangelist preaching to boycott the world’s biggest oil company, the French-accented lover whipping out the condom persuading us to have only one child, and the kick-ass activist rocker advocating that we push back the corporations and reclaim the commons.
Along with the big problems, Jon suggests some responses as well as visions for a better future. One of the gifts of meeting this challenge, he said, is that we’ll break out of the loneliness perpetuated by this consumerist culture. When he became an activist, he began making a lot of new friends.
One of Jon’s five solutions is Relocalizing, shrinking our economies and activities back to where we live. In a computer animation he offers a visualization of what a small city might look like as it transitions towards relocalizing. The buildings get smaller and sprout photovoltaic panels and wind turbines; the cars are replaced by a trolley; people are out walking and biking; gathering in a town square and working in community gardens. By imagining it for us, he helps those ideas become a reality.
After we whipped through our half-hour conversation, I asked Jon if he could give us a little nugget, about a minute long, something short and sweet as a possible “teaser” to use before the Peak Moment video introduction. He launched in, and it was so engaging that he couldn’t stop. I joined in. We couldn’t stop. Forty-five minutes later, we wrapped it up with a big hug.
Afterward, we widened the conversation to include Robyn and our hosts Rick Flug and Gary Koch, who said it was like watching “My Dinner with Andre”, a movie entirely comprised of a single fascinating conversation. (Don’t feel left out — we’ll probably produce TWO Peak Moment shows with Jon, so you get in on most of it!).
Jon Cooksey has a very big heart. That heart greets you at the beginning of the film, lifts you in the middle, and empowers you at the end. Watch this film. Share it with friends and neighbors. Talk about it afterwards. Then join the party and make it a movement: Make Fun, Make Friends, Make Trouble. I think you’ll be glad you did.
You can order DVDs of the film at howtoboilafrog.com.
View video stills of Jon’s expressive self at The Many Faces of Jon Cooksey, Star of “How to Boil a Frog.”
Watch the final program How to Boil a Frog - Meet the Filmmaker (Peak Moment episode 187).
November 27, 2010. When financial consultant Jim Hansen talks about putting every investment choice through a “peak oil filter,” he means investments not just of money. He advises first investing in yourself and your lifestyle, while thinking about how constrained oil supplies will affect your shelter, your transportation, your work. If you have money to invest, what industries will do better or worse in that scenario?
We taped Jim in his home north of Seattle. He pointed out the big gas-guzzling SUV parked in the driveway — surely not smart choice for when gasoline supplies are constrained! But, he pointed out, it’s only on its fourth tank of gas for the entire year. It is 15 years old and has over 100,000 miles on it: replacing it would mean adding 6 tons of carbon into the atmosphere (carbon embedded in building a new vehicle). The choice he made using his “peak oil filter” is to keep it and use it sparingly (he bikes, uses transit, and has a home office).
I had great fun taping with Jim. He has the kind of big-picture perspective that looks at the bottom line and all the interconnections, with the eye-opening numbers to demonstrate it.
He noted we’re primarily facing a liquid fuels problem, since 80% of transportation uses oil (and mostly for diesel, the industrial fuel). As oil supplies get increasingly constrained, he sees airlines, hotels and other tourist industries shrinking. Conversely, we need to invest in infrastructures like run-of-river hydroelectric power that doesn’t require building dams, and rail which is far more efficient for long-distance transport than trucks.
He’s optimistic that we’ll adapt as we need to. But he’s a realist too, worrying that centralized healthcare centers won’t make much sense when it gets too expensive for people to drive to them.
October 10, 2010, part 3. Robyn and I transformed the RV’s living area into the Peak Moment studio, where we taped a conversation with Peak Shrink Kathy McMahon in the evening. I’ve wanted to tape Kathy since reading her tongue-in-cheek blog about Panglossian disorder several years ago. Right now she’s on a Pacific Northwest speaking tour. Great synchronicity for all to be here at the same time.
I love Kathy’s humor and authenticity, and her deft ability to be thoughtfully contrarian — questioning the way we approach or view things. She told me that for years she has watched her own and others’ responses to the devastating news of peak oil, climate change, and ecological systems collapse. Rather than pathologize people whose response is depression or panic, like labeling their responses as “post-petroleum stress syndrome”, she says we need to realize that such responses to this overwhelming, devastating information are totally sane.
What’s insane is the world around us that conspires to dismiss this information, to keep up the optimistic shiny face. Kathy has invented a fictitious psychological syndrome called “Panglossian Disorder” to humorously yet accurately characterize various flavors of “extreme optimism in the face of likely cultural and planetary collapse.” One subtype: MacGyverites who believe that we can use ordinary materials to get us out of this fix, like “pig dung will replace fossil fuels.”
Look forward to a rich and fascinating conversation with a thoughtful observer of what’s going on and whose focus is people, ordinary people. Stories about how the mind helps and hinders survival problem-solving; rebuilding community within 5 or 10 miles of where we live; and a reminder that we’re all Bozos on this bus (ain’t no experts in how this collapse, and how the future, will play out).
Not on tape was her notion of peak-aware people having a nostalgia for the present: treasuring this moment as if seeing it from the post-petroleum future, when some of what we take for granted now will no longer be the reality. Her example: walking into the grocery story and being able to get bananas anytime. Not just once in awhile. Anytime.
Richard Heinberg is a big-picture thinker who I find trustworthy and credible. That’s why we’ve produced several Conversations and presentation DVDs with him. In his latest Museletter he paints a planetary big picture following the Climate Conference in Copenhagen. These excerpts don’t cover his important views on the climate accords, but What Nobody Talked About. I urge you to read the full essay: “The Meaning of Copenhagen.” His appeal to work locally speaks to our hearts about what we’re doing with Peak Moment TV.
“Climate change is just one of several enormous interrelated dilemmas that will sink civilization unless all are somehow addressed. These include at least five long-range problems:
• topsoil loss (25 billion tons per year),
• worsening fresh water scarcity,
• the death of the oceans (currently forecast for around 2050 based on current trends),
• overpopulation and continued population growth, and
• the accelerating, catastrophic loss of biodiversity.
As events are unfolding now, these problems, together with climate change, will combine over the next few years or decades to trigger a food crisis of a scale and intensity that will dwarf to insignificance any famine in human history.
To make matters even more grim, there are two near-term dilemmas that may make climate change and these other problems much harder to address: peak oil and economic collapse.”
. . .
“Because petroleum has been the driver of most economic expansion during the past few decades and there is no ready substitute for it, peak oil basically means the end of economic growth as we have known it. And without economic growth, our entire financial system comes apart. Indeed, that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing over the past 18 months in the failure of trillions of dollars’ worth of bets on future economic expansion. (For a discussion of the role of peak oil in the financial crisis, see ‘Temporary Recession or the End of Growth?’.”
. . .
“To summarize: three factors—the need for resilience, the lack of effective policy at national and global levels, and the tendency of the best responses to emerge regionally and at a small scale—argue for dealing with the crushing crises of the new century locally, even though there is still undeniable need for larger-scale, global solutions. Does this mean we should give up even trying to work at the national and global levels? Each person will have to make up her or his own mind on that one. To my thinking, Copenhagen is something of a last straw. I have no interest in trying to discourage anyone from undertaking national or global activism. Indeed, there is a danger in taking attention away from national and international affairs: policy could get hijacked not just by parties even less competent than those currently in command, but by ones that are just plain evil.”
“Nevertheless, this writer is finally convinced that, with whatever energies for positive change may be available to us, we are likely to accomplish the most by working locally and on a small scale, while sharing information about successes and failures as widely as possible.”
“A final note: As 2010 begins we are about to enter the second decade of the 21st century. Historians often remark that the character of a new century doesn’t make itself apparent until its second decade (think World War I). Perhaps peak oil, the global financial crash, and the failure of Copenhagen are the signal events that will propel us into the Century of Decline. If these events are indeed indicative, it will be a century of economic contraction rather than growth; a century less about warnings of environmental constraints and consequences than about the fulfillment of past warnings; and a century of local action rather than grand global schemes.”
“I suspect that things are going to be noticeably different from now on. ”
This is the most somber message I’ve read from Richard in the past five years. He seems to have largely given up on national and international policy-makers, given the bitter lack of results at Copenhagen, even with an American president whose campaign promised much more. The work we do in our communities may be far more important than we can imagine.
Watch video “A Young Couple Find Freedom in Simple Living” (Peak Moment episode 160).
Simple Living: it was my dream when we moved to our house at Lone Bobcat Woods in 1990.
Walking into Tammy and Logan’s apartment the first time, I saw how beautifully they’d accomplished simple living. Two bikes on a wall rack in the bedroom, a few versatile pieces of furniture, long-term food storage hidden under the kitchen window seat.
Yesterday we came to their “tiny house” to tape a Peak Moment Conversation with them. Their 400 square foot home still felt spacious, even after we added four chairs, two tripods, and a reflector stand!
We first “met” Logan online when he commented on one of our Peak Moment shows in fall of 2008. Sharing emails, I learned he and Tammy were just down the hill in Sacramento, and we had a lot in common. Last winter we shared a delicious dinner at their home, where we also fell in love with their two cats.
You’ll hear their story in an upcoming Peak Moment Conversation. These thirty-year-olds turned their lives around after reading Derrick Jensen and learning of Peak Oil (and getting it!!). They talk of their depression as they contemplated both their future and our shared future.
Then Tammy and Logan realized they could do things that moved towards sustainability. They started by freeing themselves from many traps in consumer culture: they downsized their possessions, sold their car (and television!), moved to their small apartment in midtown Sacramento, and got bikes, and got out of debt.
They also found something in the simple living lifestyle to look forward to — a Tiny House (don’t we all need a good carrot, a reward, something that’ll pull us forward through hard times or tough choices?). You can find out a lot more on Tammy’s blog at rowdykittens.com.
There’s more, but we’ll let you wait to hear their whole story when we produce their conversation. Logan and Tammy are each articulate, and their story is inspiring.
With younger folks like these two, aware and making life-sustaining choices, I feel like humanity can weather some really tough storms up ahead and will make it through — transformed, but just fine.
Watch video “Peak Oil — Adapting for Changes Ahead” (Peak Moment episode 155).
Taped a Peak Moment Conversation yesterday with Bart Anderson, for five years the dedicated full-time volunteer editor of EnergyBulletin.net, a reliable online source of information and thoughtful reflections on fossil fuel energy decline, alternative sources, and the transition to sustainability. (And in the spirit of full disclosure, Peak Moment TV is now available on Energy Bulletin).
We could’ve had a five-hour chat, easily. Bart’s quick playful mind and breadth of knowledge would make for a rollicking good romp into ideas and possibilities around energy, our future, and living sustainability.
I asked Bart: How to proceed? His reply: People first need to know what’s going on with energy decline. And they need to be prepared for the effects, first psychologically.
Prepared to do with less, conserve, spend less money. He suggested we learn to live like graduate students — meeting most needs within walking distance, living on nearly nothing, owning only the bare necessities, enjoying a wide range of inexpensive enriching cultural events, in an environment of ongoing learning.
Bart thinks we’ll see a different world within five years. Tighter constraints on petroleum. We’ll see it in higher prices for food, fuel, nearly everything. We’re especially vulnerable with much of our food being transported a thousand miles or so. He said it’ll be like the song, “Everything You Know is Wrong.” I take that to mean that everything we’re accustomed to, everything the mainstream media and government and corporations tell us — isn’t giving us the real story of what lies ahead.
We videotaped the show in Bart and Paula’s cozy Palo Alto condominium lined with bookshelves — I’m sure I could’ve read contentedly for months. Tucked in the corners between the bicycle and clothes-drying rack are well-loved practical antique furniture pieces like an authentic treadle sewing machine.
Bart and Paula live in walking distance of California Avenue’s vital neighborhood-within-a-town. The natural foods store, a grocery, hardware, bookstore, cafes, restaurants, provide plenty of places to chat with neighbors and feel part of community. The library, the railway station and bus stops less than six blocks away. A fine example of urban living heading towards sustainability.
Bart and Paula walk their talk — and it’s a low eco-footprint life they mostly walk and bike to. One model for an inwardly-rich, materially-sufficient, reduced-energy future.