Education was the theme of the second half of ASPO US’s day four conversation seminars.
The speakers in the first panel gave insight into how they reach people about resource depletion.
Charles Hall, professor of Biophysical Economics at State University of New York, and ASPO crowd favorite, criticized economics departments for continuing to teach neo-classical economic theories that are only valid in an age of energy growth.
Using his recently completed textbook, Energy and the Wealth of Nations, he teaches students that the human economy operates within, and is constrained by the limits of the physical world.
One of the graduate students on hand from SUNY introduced us to an outreach program of theirs, where they teach ecological concepts to students in other schools and fields using short, readily absorbed pieces of online media.
Nicole Foss, of the website The Automatic Earth, teaches financial concepts using symbols and patterns over data whenever possible. She explained that money acts as a lubricant for the economy— when it’s in short supply or people are holding on to it, the economy can seize like an engine lacking oil. Like a collapsing hot air balloon, she predicts the money supply will deflate due to excess credit in relation to the amount of real goods and services in the world.
Learning from the past
The second panel developed the idea of using history to create the future. History is a story we believe. It colors our ideas of what’s real, and what to expect.
Russian collapse observer Dmitri Orlov compared two stories: one where modern humanity with all its knowledge and technology represents the height of evolution; and another where humans have become a degenerative species weaker and less capable than our tribal ancestors, due to living in a sedentary and physically non-challenging civilization.
Author John Michael Greer told a story of the ancient Maya, who when faced with reduced corn yields due to soil depletion, responded with increased pyramid building and petitioning to the gods.
Today we’re not so far from that. We build debt pyramids, dumping stimulus money and new credit into the economy, praying that these largely symbolic gestures will bring back the prosperity we once knew.
Orlov suggests that the Keystone XL pipeline project reveals a sort of cargo cult mentality, one where the act of building the pipeline may somehow keep the cheap oil coming.
The last education panel of the day spoke to the future of education.
Aaron Newton taught us about the incubator farm project happening in Canberra County, North Carolina. Individuals looking to develop a farming business can first try their hand on the incubator farm, before starting their own. The land is owned by the county and multiple farmers share facilities and equipment, creating a model that’s useful for getting new young farmers into the business.
Nancy Lee Wood explained that community colleges in the US will be best suited for the paradigm shift to a sustainable economy. They are affordable, give practical training, and are much more connected with the local community. Given a few changes in curricula, she believes that community colleges will be ready to meet future education needs.
The larger question, though, is whether or not the peak oil community is doing enough to educate the public about what’s to come. The narrative is still driven by Big Oil, and business as usual. With the wealth of knowledge and practical skills among peak oilers, it’s now necessary to wed that to stronger communication skills to start making an impact on the mainstream culture in ways that will be truly educational. It’s time to shift the conversation to our side of the street.
–John Mendonca, Transition Voice