Thursday, May 30, 2013

Initial Thoughts on the Age of Limits 2013 Conference

apocalypse cityInitial Thoughts on the Age of Limits 2013 Conference:

This is actually free desktop wallpaper. Who says we’re not looking forward to the apocalypse?
Over Memorial Day weekend, Erik and I and our buddy John Zapf, attended a conference called The Age of Limits: Conversations on the Collapse of the Global Industrial Model. This conference brings together different luminaries from the “doomosphere” to discuss the impact and implications of the three-headed hydra of peak oil, climate change and economic collapse.
Now, Erik and I are aware that our lifestyle–what with the chickens and the canned goods and the funny relationship with urine–puts us somewhat on the fringe of American culture. Although, in our heads, we think our lifestyle is perfectly normal, and it is in fact getting more normal all the time.  I mean, since the advent of Portlandia we are at least a part of an identifiable subculture.
But this weekend, at the Age of Limits, we ventured into the deep fringe. We’ll get to some details for you later, but suffice it to say it was an intense four days, and since we returned late Monday night we’ve been trying to process a vast quantity of information and impressions. The hardest part of this process has been deciding how to share this experience with our readers. Where to begin?
Well, first, we are not journalists and were not equipped to deliver detailed reporting from the event. Here are links to the speakers so you can check them out, if you’re curious:
  •  John Michael Greer is the author of approximately a billion books, including The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, The Ecotechnic Future: Exploring a Post-Peak World, The Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered and Apocalypse Not.  He blogs at The Archdruid Report
  • Carolyn Baker, a psychotherapist and the grief councilor of the event, author of  Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse, among others. Her website.
  • Dmitry Orlov is the author of The Five Stages of Collapse: A Survivor’s Toolkit and Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects. Blog: ClubOrlav
  • Gail Tverberg is a professional actuary and mathematician, global limits analyst and writer. Her blog is Our Finite World.
  • Guy McPherson is Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, author of Walking Away from Empire.  His blog: Nature Bats Last.
  • Albert Bates is one of the board of directors of The Farm, a co-founder of the Global Eco Village Network and the author of The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change, The Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook. He blogs at The Great Change.
In the wake of the conference, what we find ourselves most interested in thinking about and talking about with others is not the validity of the concepts of peak oil, climate change and economic collapse, or the gritty details of it, but the culturally loaded ideas that spin off in response to these threats–what you might call the meta-narratives of collapse. Those are the topics we’ll cover in a series of posts in coming days.
In the spirit of full disclosure we should state where we stand on these ideas, and the truth is we disagree to some extent.
Kelly’s statement: I believe oil is a finite resource and that it will eventually cost more to extract it than it’s worth, that the record high CO2 levels in our atmosphere are changing climate and acidifying the oceans right this moment, and that our national and global financial systems are in a bad way.
Erik’s statement:  As Lao Tzu says, ”Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.” Nassim Taleb has made a career of pointing out the failures of prognosticators. Taleb says, “What is surprising is not the magnitude of our forecast errors, but our absence of awareness of it.” We simply don’t know what the future holds. We do know that whatever happens, good or bad it’s in our interest to build community, grow gardens and eat healthy food.
Back to Kelly: As Erik says, we’re both agnostics in terms of outcomes. We know it looks bad, but we won’t make bets on when, where or how the badness, or the various badnesses, will manifest. It seems a poor bet to try to predict the behavior of any enormously complex system.
But just because we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen doesn’t mean that we’re not going to do anything in response. In fact, the more time I spent in that conference, the more I became certain that my response to these predicaments, to this Triple Melange of Misery, is a combination of individual action and moral philosophy.
1) Individual action: Erik and I have always preached that change starts at home. It actually starts with the self. All we can really control is our own actions and choices, and if we’re lucky, we can talk some of our immediate family into joining us.
You readers know what I’m saying. You’re walking your talk. You’re learning new things, working with your hands and your hearts, connecting with community and nature and doing your best to live lightly on the land. You know that to advocate change without first changing yourself is hypocrisy. And refusing to change just because others aren’t doing so (e.g. the China argument) is just excuse making.
What is the value of individual action? Can it save us? I don’t know. If enough people did it, it might, and that would be cool. But at the very least, you can hold your head up, look the last dolphin in the eye through the thick glass of your respirator helmet and say, I tried, bro. I did my best. 
2) Moral philosophy: We’re going to have more to say on the moral/ethical dimensions of end time thinking in a another post. But I can say here that my own personal philosophy calls me to live well–not in terms of material things, but to try to live in gratitude and practice something like what Buddhists call right action, and do that every day. Even if the oceans are turning red and the zombies are crawling the streets, I’m still going to be composting and working in my garden and trying to share what I know with whoever wants to learn and doing whatever I can to help my neighbors because that’s how I want to live, and I don’t intend to let a little thing like an apocalypse turn me into an #$#%#*&.
In the coming days we’re going to be looking at the following concepts:
  • The apocalypse meme
  • The paralysis of doom
  • Gender roles, sexism and importance of high heels in coming dark ages
  • Kill Thy Neighbor: dubious strategies and overflexed ethics during troubled times
We’ll also discuss if we are going to change our location or otherwise up the ante on our lifestyle in response to the information we learned there, and we’re going to reveal the best positive action suggestion from the conference.
Stay tuned!