A scary new angle on immigration: traffic congestion

On the road, finallyI don't usually read USA Today, but in doing so this morning I saw that there's a perverse new angle that some organizations are taking on the issue of U.S. immigration policy. It was manifested in an advertisement taken out on page 2 of the front section, with a single photo of a long line of traffic at a stop on an interstate highway. The text in the ad basically says that illegal immigrants from Mexico, in their unending contribution to the population here, are causing Americans to have to sit in traffic congestion longer than ever before. The call to action is clear: if you want your freedom to drive wherever you want whenever you want to remain intact, we have to keep those Mexicans out of our country.

Oh my.
Continue reading "A scary new angle on immigration: traffic congestion"

Presenting to the EDC Board on Peak Oil

Open Flame in the WorkplaceEarlier tonight I had the honor of being a guest speaker at the monthly meeting for the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County's board of directors, presenting a version of my talk on how we can build a more self-reliant Richmond, Indiana in the face of peaking availability of natural energy resources, global climate change, and the decline of the U.S. dollar. As I said about the November 2007 presentation, it was somewhat especially nerve-wracking because the topics covered are so important to me and, in my view, so important to the future of this community. Today it was also always a growing experience to step beyond the safety of the traditional, "business world/tech guy" kinds of interactions I have with some of these folks, exposing another side of my interests and passions along the way.
Continue reading "Presenting to the EDC Board on Peak Oil"

Going Local: Building a Self-Reliant Richmond, Indiana

011_15.JPGAs I mentioned when I came back from the energy conference in October, I was going to give a talk in November called "Going Local: Building a Self-Reliant Richmond, Indiana". I had agreed to speak earlier in the year and didn't really know what I was going to talk about beyond the expectation that it would fit into the "sustainability" theme of the series of talks in which I was participating and have some focus on peak oil and related topics.

It turned into one of my most intense speaking experiences to date.
Continue reading "Going Local: Building a Self-Reliant Richmond, Indiana"

Links for the Week - October 30, 2007

Sustainability and energy efficiency edition:

  1. Question to the local Mayoral race candidates about energy policy - I submitted a question to Mayor Hutton and Rick Thalls via the Pal-Item's forum, asking "if elected/re-elected, what specific steps will you take to uphold the commitment the City has made to improve the environmental health of our communities, reduce emissions, discourage sprawl, increase fuel efficiency, and reduce energy consumption? What steps have you taken in your own life to reduce your energy consumption?" I wonder if they'll respond on their blog?
  2. The Cuddle Mattress - if you're looking for a get rich quick scheme, just patent this idea today! (And think of all the heat loss prevented by more efficient cuddling.)
  3. A Quick Video Introduction to Peak Oil - a primer on the concept of peak oil and resources available to learn more. Created by Aaron Wissner, who I met this past weekend (and geeked out with a bit over his Canon HD DV video camera).
  4. Business Alliance for Local Living Economies - How can my business use less energy and produce less waste? How can I help my customers understand that locally owned businesses are important to the strength of our community? What new business opportunities exist for our region in the emerging green economy? BALLE has some good answers.
  5. smallisbeautiful.org - programs that demonstrate that both social and environmental sustainability can be achieved by applying the values of human-scale communities and respect for the natural environment to economic issues.

Back from Peak Oil Conference, Year Three

I just returned from the Fourth Annual U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions, my third year in a row attending. As in years past, it was informative, inspiring and very practical. I've come away with another list of 50 things I want to do in my life and in Richmond to help address Peak Oil and climate change. I met some great people doing some amazing things in their communities, and made some connections that I hope will help us support each other.

For now I won't try to record the conference proceedings here (they'll be on DVD soon), but I have a number of blog entries in the works. If you're interested in hearing about some of what I learned, I'll also be covering it in a talk on Thursday, November 15th at 12 PM in a session called "Going Local: Building a Self-Reliant Richmond, Indiana." Join us if you can.

You know the world is ending when...

oil-gunI've blogged before about turning points in awareness of the issues that we face with regard to "the environment" and the energy crisis. Today I received a postcard in the mail with a photo of a man holding a gasoline pump nozzle up to his head, in an image that unavoidably evokes a suicide act in progress for most Westerners.

I, having met Richard Heinberg and read his book The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, of course presumed it was something related to addressing the impact of the end of abundant, cheap oil. The cover has a very similar image that complements the book's exploration of our relationship to oil. But when I visited the website that the postcard mysteriously directed me to, I found that it was an ad for...a credit card company. Their solution to the energy crisis? Gas credits when you make lots of charges on your card. You know we've reached a new level (high or low, I can't say) of public attention to the state of affairs when credit card companies think they can make a few dollars off of people who are worried about our dependence on oil.

If you're interested in a more effective approach than "going into debt for Mother Earth," you could join me at the upcoming Fourth Annual Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where Heinberg will be speaking. It's always a smashing good time, grounded in an accessible exploration of real community-based solutions.

Ethanol as a local, national energy solution?

In today's Palladium-Item, Brian Bergen with the Richmond-Wayne County Chamber of Commerce agribusiness committee has a piece about Ethanol as a solution to the nation's energy problems.

I'm so glad that the Chamber is focusing on the relationship between agribusiness and the energy crisis that we face as a nation and as a planet. I'm also glad that the solutions we're talking about are keeping in mind a systems approach - how the inputs and outputs from a particular industrial or energy-generating process can be used as efficiently as possible.

But I hope that whatever solutions we pursue take into account that there is a tremendous amount of energy that goes into making our agricultural system work, and so any energy solutions derived from it must take that cost into account. The USDA recently noted that ethanol generates little more energy than it takes to produce. Some scientists have shown that ethanol production consumes 6 units of energy for every 1 it produces.
Continue reading "Ethanol as a local, national energy solution?"

Beyond sustainability

Thanks to Paul Retherford for pointing me to this essay, Beyond Sustainability: Why an All-Consuming Campaign to Reduce Unsustainability Fails. Highlight:

Our very approach to solving the “problem” of unsustainability is grounded in a mindset that prevents sustainability from emerging. Always anchored to the past, the future is envisioned as being bigger or better. But such an approach will always keep us rooted in the past. To escape from the past, one must think in an entirely different way.

The current ideal of sustainability, as sustainable development, is not a vision for the future. It is merely a modification of the current process of economic development that its proponents claim, in theory, need not cause the terribly destructive consequences of the past. Sustainable development is fundamentally instrumental. It suggests new means, but still old ends. Sustainable appears as an adjective; the noun is still development.

As I look at sustainability efforts in my own life and at sustainability as a local progressive value, it's important to me that someone out there has the right words to say what so many people are afraid to say: there are ways in which the survival of life on Earth is in conflict with traditional economic development, a.k.a. the continued growth of our civilization. Many sustainability efforts are purely or primarily anthropocentric, and therefore fail by definition.

This essay doesn't have all the answers, but it's got a good grip on that particular problem.

Sustainable Indiana, Inc. and Peak Oil

I'm writing tonight from the Third U.S. Conference on "Peak Oil" and Community Solutions. You may recall that I attended the same event last year, and it's been an amazing time again so far. It's also appropriate that I mention from this context my involvement in a new non-profit called Sustainable Indiana, Inc, founded by my friend Frank Cicela (who also hosted the Indiana Energy Conference earlier this year). We're constructing it as an umbrella organization to facilitate building community resources related to sustainable living in Crawfordsville, and then making the process and "kit" from our efforts available to help other Indiana communities (and beyond) recreate the same kinds of resources in their area. Of course, I'll be working on trying out a few particular projects in Richmond as well. And we've already got some press coverage, a front page article in today's Crawfordsville Journal Review...yay. More soon on these important topics.

Gas prices and New Minds

IMG_0061.JPGWhen gas prices go up, people tend to complain that something needs to be done about the problem. Many demand action from the local or federal government, gas companies, or fellow citizens. Like Jason Sparks, whose letter in the Pal-Item yesterday read, "Why is the government not stepping in?...How are we supposed to pay the bills?...Let's shut down the country, then maybe someone would step in. We cannot afford this." Or Brad Hall, who was quoted in an article today asking, "What's going to be next?...How're people going to survive and get around?"

That's the question, indeed.
Continue reading "Gas prices and New Minds"