Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Long Emergency" Energy Class Meets Peak Oil Author, Makes Biodiesel

Several TMS students and faculty recently attended a lecture by author Richard Heinberg, a widely recognized authority on fossil fuel depletion and its effect on society. His talk, held at Keene State College, was titled "Peak Everything: Creating Resilient Communities in a Time of Radical Change." Seeing him was especially exciting because we have been reading three of his books in the course "Energy Depletion and Society: the Long Emergency." Happily, he turned out to be as engaging in person as his writing is --and he was even friendlier than he sounds on paper. TMS attendees included students in the course, but also other community members who'd had their curiosity piqued by their friends' committment. After he spoke and answered questions --including one of ours-- we were able to chat with him a bit, give him a course syllabus, get him to sign a book, and pose for a picture.

We seem to run into a lot of authors, actually. It turns out that a TMS alum from the '70's is friends with James Howard Kunstler, author of the book the course is named after: The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century. Apparently he mentioned us to "Jim" over dinner, and we may be able to help arrange another visit like Heinberg's.

In other "Long Emergency" news, last week we had a demonstration of how to make biodiesel. Eli Garrett, son of faculty member Sheila Garrett, is a mechanical engineer --and race-car driver-- who produces biodiesel in quantity as a hobby. So Eli's visit to the school on Mother's Day included a stop to whip us up a sample batch of biodiesel in his blender. The class had previously discussed issues of food production and rising prices for vegetable oil around the world --but Eli used waste oil, already used at a restaurant for deep-frying. Pictured here (l-r) are Frederick (the Long Emergency teacher), Meg, Eli, and Caleb.

Back in April, we took a field trip to the Massachusetts Innovation Collaborative, LLC, in Fitchburg, to see their PV (photovoltaic) solar and geothermal installations, and to the Leominster office of the Trustees of Reservations to see their PV solar panels, "green" building materials, and composting toilets. Pictured here are LE students in the basement of the Trustees building, checking out the solar panel wiring and the massive composting toilet apparatus.

Readers interested in learning more about what the course has studied, or about peak oil in general, can visit the course's Wikiversity site: Peak oil, energy, and society.

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