I'm back after a bit of time off, including 24 hours each way in transit. I've learned a whole bunch of new things, met some wonderful people, got some new ideas and gotten myself properly excited and energized. Besides being totally sleep deprived, behind on the latest news and desperately short on clean underwear, I'm delighted to be home. Six days apart from Eric and the boys was a long, long, long time - too long.
The most fascinating thing about the conference was the people, as always. Last year I called it "human google" and I think that's a good way to describe it. If you bring 240 smart, engaged, active, passionate people together, you are bound to learn an enormous amount. I spent a week apart from the internet, which was lovely, and I didn't even notice the absence of internet technologies, because I had only to ask a question, and if the person I was talking to didn't know, they could find someone who did. I learned a great deal about public health, the economic value of humanure, agricultural educational policy, old soil research and a million other things.
My favorite presentation by far was Larry Halpern's description of the low energy home he and his wife Gail have created. They've done this without spending very much money (at most a few thousand dollars), but have invested a lot of energy, thought and care into living a low, low, low energy lifestyle. Low as in *36* watts of electricity for the month of October this year. I was lucky enough to see the house, and it was fascinating - they live in one of the most economically depressed areas of the US, in a small city, and are making the most of what they have, practicing "Use What You Have" creative thinking to get the most out of the minimum.
I won't post a full review here - I have no doubt others will, and I won't duplicate their efforts. There were a number of wonderful presentations, workshops and discussion, and right now I'm still processing things in my head. I'll post more about the conference as I go along over the next few weeks.
What did strike me was that when I had my little "enough" moment two weeks ago, I apparently wasn't alone. That is, a number of the people dealing with these issues seem to be struggling a little with their own confrontation with reality. Richard Heinberg looked (and I hope he'll forgive me for this) like death warmed over, which he attributed to far too much travel and bad news. Peter Bane spoke in a discussion panel about panicking at the thought of getting in a car and doing that much harm - even to do good. Several participants told me that they feel compelled to pick up the pace, to move faster, as events appear to be, while others spoke of feeling overwhelmed, or both simultaneously.
As I was talking to the wonderful Faith Morgan about this (Faith has the remarkable gift of always putting her finger right on the most essential point), I realized that to some degree, my own brief period of burn-out came from the simple fact that I've been treating this as a race to the finish, rather than an exercise in endurance.
That is, for so long there has been the hope that if we just worked fast enough and hard enough we could avoid the worst consequences of our inaction. And even though I know better, some small part of my mind had hoped that if I just worked hard enough now, I could fix what was broken, and come to a moment at which things are "ok" again. On every conscious level, I knew that was wrong, but denial is a happy space in your head, and nothing ever brought it home like looking at my fellow activists and seeing how hard the confrontation with the present was for them. I thought it was just me. In fact, this may actually be the first time I was ever in touch with the cultural zeitgeist ;-).
Back when I was caring for Eric's elderly grandparents, I used to stop and remind myself that caretaking was a marathon, not a sprint - that there was no question that I had to do things quickly, but with attention to conserving my own resources. So I'm going to try and take that approach to peak oil and climate change myself, despite my normal "damn the torpedos" relationship to the world.
I quoted T.S. Eliot's poem "The Wasteland" in my own talk, quoting the voice that overrides in the end all the others voice of the Game of Chess section of that poem, asserting "Hurry Up Please, Its Time." And I spoke about how I keep hearing that voice in my own head. It is time to hurry up. There is no doubt whatsoever that we have very little time left to get our acts together. But it is also useful to remember what kind of race you are running before you lace up your shoes and set a pace.
Time to get back to work,