Join us for another encore screening of the documentary film
and then stay for a panel presentation, "Is this impending crisis for REAL?" and discussion.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2005
7-9, doors open at 6:45 pm
WWU Campus, Frazier Hall 3
We at Attraction Retreat/ECO Bell are co-sponsoring community events that include screenings of the alarmingly provocative new documentary The End of Suburbia.* Through interviews with numerous experts in the fields of energy and economics, this film reveals that the peak of global oil extraction (Peak Oil) and the inevitable decline of fossil fuels and the growth economy they sustain are upon us now--and the consequences of inaction in the face of this global crisis are enormous to local communities.
Over two hundred people attended the first End of Suburbia community-building event we hosted on November 19, 2004, about fifty at the next two, and we have had numerous requests for more screenings in Bellingham. This film has already inspired many people to start taking new action in the community--building affinity groups and increasing community networking in the areas of food, transportation, health, "green" design and building, and a self-reliant local economy--mutual support and reciprocity modeled on the natural systems principles we are all a part of. (Post screening update: almost 180 people in attendence at this screening.)
A significant 'movement' is afoot!
The film's ultimate message is that the energy-consumptive American way of life is on the verge of collapse. Food, transportation, all products made from oil, electricity generation, etc., will quickly become increasingly expensive or simply unavailable, and our fossil-fuel based economic system will also soon come tumbling down. (It is estimated that confronting the economic reality of peak oil will cause an almost immediate $7 trillion loss in the stock market).
The bottom line is that the continued growth of the economy (the holy grail of industrialism and the foundation of capitalism as it is practiced today) depends on the continued growth of cheap energy, and cheap energy is dependent on the continued availability of cheap (because they are highly subsidized) fossil fuels.
Therefore, as global demand for fossil fuels begins to outstrip the supply...life as we know will become history. This party is over.
But, all is not doom and gloom. The movie also suggests a solution: LOCAL economies, LOCAL organic food production, LOCALLY produced alternative energy sources--in other words, strong, mutually supportive communities.
The purpose of these screening events is to educate the public about the changes on the horizon, to increase participation in elements of 'the solution' that already exist in the region, to catalyze greater bonding/cooperation among these elements (networking!), and to mobilize the ingenuity of us all as we face the coming change together.
Feb 23 Event Schedule
6:45 Doors open--socializing and networking
7:00 Brief intro, Screening, "The End of Suburbia"
8:20 Panel remarks, "Is this impending crisis for REAL?"
8:40 Q/A, discussion
Presentation, Q/A, Discussion
Just as a bit of additional background, the presentations from the first two events covered local people and organizations already involved in providing the individual pieces of the systemic solution that will be necessary after the continued growth of our fossil fuel-based economy comes to a crashing halt.
The discussion period is not meant to be a time to critique the film, either in regard to what it left out, or didn't cover adequately. Be prepared for a discussion about Bellingham's potential response to a "post-carbon world." How can we work together to build a healthy and sustainable future that works for all of us?
Our intention is for this event to catalyze networking and mutual support among those in the community who are attracted to becoming involved, at various levels, with the different topics represented by the affinity areas. Therefore, we will facilitate the formation of affinity groups for long-range discussion/action planning, and propose a community networking system. We'll have handouts with the contact information from all 20 of the November 19 event panelists to help this process along.
This event is a springboard for the creation of affinity groups, networking, and an ongoing series of "Preparing for a New World" classes at Attraction Retreat's Holistic Living Institute. You are all invited to join us.
Suggested Areas/Issues for affinity groups
First and foremost--Restoring and Protecting the Ecological Integrity that will be foundational to the success of all the other affinity groups
Natural Systems, Watersheds, Shorelines, Forests, Species Diversity, Clean Air and Water, Productive and Nontoxic Topsoil
Edible Landscapes, Permaculture, Community Supported Agriculture, Organic Gardening, Biointensive Farming
Green Architecture and Design, Growth Management, EcoVillage Design, Sustainable Development
Networking, Educational Forums, Local Living Economy, Local Currency, Communication (non-violent and consensus based), Participatory Democracy, Local Production and Distribution, Alternative Media
Biodiesel, Solar, Wind, Neighborhood generation and control, Conservation
Mass transit, Bicycle, Pedestrian, Street Design, Mixed Use Zoning
Health and Wellness--psychological and spiritual
Natural Health and Healing, Music/Art, Personal Empowerment, Education, Youth, Elders
* The End of Suburbia is hosted by Barrie Zwicker. Featuring James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, Peter Calthorpe, Michael Klare, Matthew Simmons, Michael C. Ruppert, Julian Darley, Colin Campbell, Kenneth Deffeyes, Ali Samsam Bakhtiari and Steve Andrews. Directed by Gregory Greene. Produced by Barry Silverthorn. Duration: 78 minutes.
From our first event, please patronize and support our sponsors, who are working together to make this a vibrant and healthy local community, and a robust local economy: Alaskan Wildside Salmon, Arlis's Restaurant, The Bagelry, Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro, Brown & Cole Stores, Cedarville Farms, Ciao Thyme Catering, Cloud Mountain Farm, Community Food Co-op, Old Town Cafe, Pastazza, Rudy's Pizzeria, Ralf's Bavarian Bakery, Terra Organica, Cascade Laundry, and Intellect Technology Computer Services.
And, let's give a big and hearty thanks to our dedicated and hard working planning committee and volunteers who have helped bring these events to fruition: Ane Soriano, Lynnette Allen, Britt Walker, Ellen Murphy, Shirley Jacobson, Lucy Emanuel, Katie Vestal, Kristine Veale, Fred Hall, and Sandy Hoelterhoff.
Starting in January, 2005:
Preparing for a New World
Campaign for Our Lives
Community courses offered through Attraction Retreat's Holistic Living Institute
In addition to the November 19 and December 3 events and the discussion groups/networking that followed, The Holistic Living Institute (a branch of Attraction Retreat) will be offering a series of "Preparing for a New World" classes to the public: "Those people who can use their own hands and minds to make tools, grow and preserve food, brew beer, treat illnesses, generate modest amounts of electricity from sun and wind, and the like, will have a survival advantage over those who can't." (from the essay The Coming of Deindustrial Society: A Practical Response by John Michael Greer, copied for you below).
One of the most important aspects of creating a just, equitable, and sustainable future will be discovering and learning new ways of relating--both communicating and building relationships. What different processes need to be learned, and what models are currently available? Since our current processes, developed within the dominator paradigm, have gotten us where we are, how can we do things differently? Learning to think and act the way Nature works, non-violent communication, the ACORN model of group organization, the Open Question, and the consensus process of creating inclusive group decisions are all examples of how we can build trust, discover what we really want, create transparent democratic group decision making processes, and ways we can better organize our groups and network between them. Our hope is that classes on these topics will provide a foundation for many of the other planned classes.
If you are interested in offering a class or classes for this series, please send a proposal to
1811 Eldridge Ave.
Bellingham, WA 98225
or e-mail your proposal to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include:
- Your name, background experience, and contact information
- When you would like to offer your class (proposed schedule)
- What people will be learning (be as specific as possible)
- How much you will be charging
25% of the income generated is Attraction Retreat's fee for providing the location and promoting the classes.
Questions? Contact Allison at (360) 756-7998, or send a note to email@example.com.
The Coming of Deindustrial Society: A Practical Response
John Michael Greer
With the coming of Peak Oil and the beginning of long-term,
irreversible declines in the availability of fossil fuels (along with
many other resources), modern industrial civilization faces a wrenching
series of unwelcome transitions. This comes as a surprise only for those
who haven't been paying attention. More than thirty years ago, the Club
of Rome's epochal study The Limits to Growth pointed out that unless
something was done, a global economy based on fantasies of perpetual
growth would collide disastrously with the hard limits of a finite planet
sometime in the early twenty-first century.
The early twenty-first century is here, nothing was done, and the
consequences are arriving on schedule. The road that would have
brought industrial society through a transformation to sustainability
turned out to be the road not taken. The question that remains is what we
can do with the limited time we have left.
The Failure of Politics
There are specific practical things that can be done, right now, to
deal with the hard realities of our situation. The problem is that
most of them are counterintuitive, and fly in the face of very deeply
rooted attitudes on all sides of the political spectrum.
The first point that has to be grasped is that proposals for
system-wide, top-down change - getting the Federal government to do
something constructive about the situation, for instance - are a
waste of time. That sort of change isn't going to happen. It's not
simply a matter of who's currently in power, although admittedly that
doesn't help. The core of the problem is that even proposing changes on a
scale that would do any good would be political suicide.
Broadly speaking, our situation is this: our society demands energy
inputs on a scale, absolute and per capita, that can't possibly be
maintained for more than a little while longer. Sustainable energy
sources can only provide a small fraction of the energy we're used to
getting from fossil fuels. As fossil fuel supplies dwindle, in other
words, everybody will have to get used to living on a small fraction of
the energy we've been using as a matter of course.
Of course this is an unpopular thing to say. Quite a few people
nowadays are insisting that it's not true, that we can continue our
present lavish, energy-wasting lifestyle indefinitely by switching
from oil to some other energy source: hydrogen, biodiesel, abiotic
oil, fusion power, "free energy" technology, and so on down the list of
technological snake oil. Crippling issues of scale, and the massive
technical problems involved in switching an oil-based civilization to
some other fuel in time to make a difference, stand in the path of such
projects, but those get little air time; if we want endless supplies of
energy badly enough, the logic seems to be, the universe will give it to
us. The problem is that the universe did give it to us - in the form of
immense deposits of fossil fuels stored up over hundreds of millions of
years of photosynthesis - and we wasted it. Now we're in the position of
a lottery winner who's spent millions of dollars in a few short years and
is running out of money. The odds of hitting another million-dollar
jackpot are minute, and no amount of wishful thinking will enable us to
keep up our current lifestyle by getting a job at the local hamburger
We - and by this I mean people throughout the industrial world - have to
make the transition to a Third World lifestyle. There's no way to
sugar-coat that very unpalatable reality. Fossil fuels made it possible
for most people in the industrial world to have a lifestyle that doesn't
depend on hard physical labor, and to wallow in a flood of mostly
unnecessary consumer goods and services. As fossil fuels deplete, all
that will inevitably go away. How many people would be willing to listen
to such a suggestion? More to the point, how many people would vote for a
politician or a party who proposed to bring on these changes deliberately,
now, in order to prevent total disaster later on?
John Kenneth Galbraith has written a brilliant, mordant book, The
Culture of Contentment, about the reasons why America is incapable of
constructive change. He compares today's American political class (those
people who vote and involve themselves in politics) to the French
aristocracy before the Revolution. Everybody knew that the situation was
insupportable, and that eventually there would be an explosion, but the
immediate costs of doing something about it were so unpalatable that
everyone decided to do nothing and hope that things would somehow work
out. We're in exactly the same situation here and now.
So while it may be appealing to fantasize about vast government
programs bailing us out of the present predicament, such fantasies
are not a practical way of responding to the situation. We have to
start with the recognition that the most likely outcome of the
current situation is collapse: to borrow the Club of Rome's
formulation, sustained, simultaneous, uncontrolled and irreversible
declines in population, industrial production, and capital stock.
Now as soon as this is said, most people who don't reject it out of
hand slip off at once into apocalyptic ideas of one sort or another.
These should be rejected; history is a better guide. Civilizations
collapse. As Joseph Tainter pointed out in his useful book The Collapse
of Complex Societies, it's one of the most predictable things about them.
Ours is not that different from hundreds of previous civilizations that
overshot their natural resource base and crashed to ruin. What we face is
a natural process, and like most natural processes, much of it can be
predicted by comparison with past situations.
But fantasy is often more palatable than reality, and most of the
apocalyptic notions in circulation these days are sheer fantasy. The
idea, popular among Christians who don't read their Bibles carefully
enough, that all good Christians will be raptured away to heaven just as
the rest of the world goes to hell is a case in point. It's a lightly
disguised fantasy of mass suicide - when you tell the kids that Grandma
went to heaven to be with Jesus, most people understand what that means -
and it also serves as a way for people to pretend to themselves that God
will rescue them from the consequences of their own actions. That's one
of history's all time bad bets, but it's always popular.
But the Hollywood notion of an overnight collapse is just as much of a
fantasy; it makes for great screenplays but has nothing to do with the
realities of how civilizations fall. The disintegration of a complex
society takes decades, not days. Since fossil fuel production will
decline gradually, not simply come to a screeching halt, the likely
course of things is gradual descent rather than freefall. Civilizations
go under in a rolling collapse punctuated by localized disasters, taking
anything from one to four centuries to complete the process. It's not a
steady decline, either; between sudden crises come intervals of relative
stability, even moderate improvement; different regions decline at
different paces; existing social, economic and political structures are
replaced, not with complete chaos, but with transitional structures that
may develop pretty fair institutional strength themselves.
Does this model apply to the current situation? Almost certainly. As oil
and natural gas run short, economies will come unglued and political
systems disintegrate under the strain. But there's still oil to be had -
the Hubbert Curve is a bell-shaped curve, after all. The world in 2020
may still be producing about as much oil as it was producing in 1980.
It's just that with other fossil fuels gone or badly depleted, nearly
twice as many people in the world, and the global economy in shreds, the
gap between production and demand will be vast. The result will be
poverty, spiralling shortages, rising death rates, plummeting birth
rates, and epidemic violence and warfare. Not a pretty picture - but it's
not an instant reversion to the Stone Age either.
Equally imaginary is the notion that the best strategy for would-be
survivors is to hole up in some isolated rural area with enough
firepower to stock a Panzer division, and wait things out. I can
think of no better proof that people nowadays pay no attention to
history. One of the more common phenomena of collapse is the breakdown
of public order in rural areas, and the rise of a brigand culture
preying on rural communities and travelers. Isolated survivalist
enclaves with stockpiles of food and ammunition would be a tempting
prize and could count on being targeted.
Equally inaccurate is the notion that stockpiling precious metals
will somehow make the stockpilers exempt from the consequences of
industrial collapse. This strategy has been tried over and over again in
recorded history, and it doesn't work. Every few years, for example,
archeologists in Britain dig up another cache of gold and silver hidden
away by some wealthy landowner in Roman Britain as the empire fell apart.
They're usually close to the ruins of the owner's rural villa, which
shows the signs of being looted and burned to the ground by the Saxons.
As a working rule, if your value consists of what you've stockpiled,
there will be an unlimited number of other people interested in removing
you from the stockpile and enjoying it themselves. However many you kill,
there will always be more - and eventually the ammo will run out.
Communities of Survival
So what does work? The key to making sense of constructive action in a
situation of impending industrial collapse is to look at the community,
rather than the individual or society as a whole, as the basic unit. We
know from history that local communities can continue to flourish while
empires fall around them. There are, however, three things a community
needs to do that, and all three of them are in short supply these days.
First, a community needs some degree of local organization. Our
present culture here in America has discarded most of the local
organizations it once had, in favor of a mass society where
individuals deal directly with huge government and corporate
institutions. This has to be reversed. The recent move to
reinvigorate civil society is a step in the right direction. Joining
or creating a local community group, and helping to revive local
civil society, will help provide your community with voluntary
networks of cooperation and mutual aid in difficult times.
One often-neglected but useful resource is the old fraternal orders - the
Masons, the Odd Fellows, the Grange, and so on - which once included more
than 50% of adult Americans in their membership. Many of these
organizations still exist, and they're far less exclusive than people
outside them tend to think. Joining such an organization, or some other
local community group, and helping to revive local civil society is a
crucial step that will provide your community with essential networks of
cooperation and mutual aid in difficult times. The Stormwatch Project
website is specifically aimed at helping fraternal orders and similar
organizations get ready to fill such a role.
The second thing a community needs in the twilight of industrial
society is a core of people who know how to do without fossil fuel
inputs. An astonishing number of people, especially in the educated
middle class, have no practical skills whatsoever when it comes to
growing and preparing food, making clothing, and providing other
basic necessities. An equally astonishing number are unable to go any
distance at all by any means that doesn't involve burning fossil fuels -
and almost no one in the developed world can light a fire without matches
or a lighter from some distant factory. Survival skills such as organic
gardening, low-tech medicine, basic hand crafts, and the like need to be
learned and practiced now, while there's time to do so. Similarly, those
people who cut their fossil fuel consumption drastically now - for
example, by getting rid of their cars and using public transit or
bicycles for commuting - will be better prepared for the inevitable
We live in a "prosthetic society" in which most people have totally
neglected their own innate abilities in favor of ersatz mechanical
imitations. Even our schoolchildren use pocket calculators instead of
learning how to add and subtract. All this has to be reversed as soon as
possible. Those people who can use their own hands and minds to make
tools, grow food, brew beer, treat illnesses, generate modest amounts of
electricity from sun and wind, and the like, will have a survival
advantage over those who can't. In a violent age, practical knowledge is
a life insurance policy; if you're more useful alive than dead, you're
likely to stay that way. The pirate enclaves of the seventeenth-century
Carribbean were among the most lawless societies in history, but
physicians, navigators, shipwrights, and other skilled craftsmen were safe
from the pervasive violence, since it was in everyone's best interests to
keep them alive.
The third thing a community needs is access to basic human
requirements, and above all food. Very large cities are going to
become difficult places to be in the course of the approaching
collapse, precisely because there isn't enough farmland within easy
transport range to feed the people now living there. On the other
hand, most American cities of half a million or less are fairly close to
agricultural land that could, in a pinch, be used to grow food
intensively and feed the somewhat reduced population that's likely to be
left after the first stages of the collapse. What's needed is the
framework of a production and distribution system around which this can
The good news is that this framework already exists; it's called the
farmers market movement. The last two decades have seen an astonishing
growth in farmers markets across the country - the latest figures I've
seen, and they're some years out of date, indicate that farmers markets
are a $16 billion a year industry, with most of that money going to small
local farmers. I personally know organic farmers who are able to stay in
business, and support their families on quite small acreages, because
they work the farmers markets. Every dollar spent on locally grown
produce from a farmers market, instead of supermarket fare shipped
halfway around the world, is thus an investment in local sustainability
There are a good many other, similar steps that can be taken.
Anything that provides functional alternatives to energy-wasting
lifestyles lays foundations for the transitional societies of the
late 21st century, and ultimately for the sustainable successor
cultures that will begin to emerge in North America in the 22nd and
23rd centuries. The important point, it seems to me, is to do
something constructive now, rather than presenting plans to the
government in the perfect knowledge that they will be ignored until
it's far too late to do anything.
Perhaps a metaphor will make an appropriate finish for this little
essay. Imagine that you're on an ocean liner that's headed straight
for a well marked shoal of rocks. Half the crew is dead drunk, and
the other half has already responded to your attempts to alert them
by telling you that you obviously don't know the first thing about
navigation, and everything will be all right. At a certain point, you
know, the ship will be so close to the rocks that its momentum will carry
it onto them no matter what evasive actions the helmsman tries to make.
You're not sure, but it looks as though that point is already well past.
What do you do? You can keep on pounding on the door to the bridge,
trying to convince the crew of the approaching danger. You can join
the prayer group down in the galley; they're convinced that if they
pray fervently enough, God will save them from shipwreck. You can
decide that everyone's doomed and go get roaring drunk. Or you can go
around quietly to the other passengers, and encourage those people who
have noticed the situation (or are willing to notice it) to break out the
life jackets, assemble near the lifeboats, take care of people
who need help, and otherwise deal with the approaching wreck in a way
that will salvage as much as possible.
Me, I suggest the latter. Life jackets, anyone?
2004 October 5
If you would like to schedule an introductory consultation session or arrange a presentation or workshop for your group, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or give Dave or Allison, co-founders of Attraction Retreat, a call at (520) 887-2502.