Lords of Light

I am back from attending Age of Limits III at Four Quarters InterFaith Sanctuary in Artemas PA. During a late night bull session with John Michael Greer, Betsy, Doug, Mike, and several folk whose names I should remember but don’t, I was reminded of Thundarr the Barbarian. In the early 1980s I was dating a mathematician, and she introduced me to this apocalyptic cartoon series, set in a future of both science fiction and magic. When surprised, Thundarr would shout, “Demon Dogs!” or “Lords of Light!”

It occurs to me that many of us attending the Age of Limits see our function as bringing knowledge, information, revelation, what-have-you, about energy depletion and climate change to those who are still trying to live as if our civilization will certainly continue as usual. In many small ways, we are trying to be lords of light in a confusing time. At the same time, a lot of us aging lords have trouble remembering new names. 4Q is planning to sell a DVD of the conference, but I’d like to blog some impressions from my first Age of Limits.

My long weekend got started by driving to Baltimore-Washington Airport to fetch two of the featured speakers, Albert Bates and Dmitry Orlov. I wasn’t familiar with Bates, but I had seen Orlov on an ASPO 2011 panel, Adapting to Future Scenarios – which I reviewed – and I follow his ClubOrlov blog.

Bates came by jet from Tennessee and Orlov by train from Massachusetts. We crammed into my Pontiac Sunfire and Albert read directions while Dmitry fretted over my thudding front brake rotors. It turns out Albert has a long experience with an ecovillage called the Farm, teaches permaculture and using biochar – all subjects about which I was fairly ignorant. I mentioned my recent office talk about Cradle-to-Cradle, and Albert was familiar with McDonough. Turns out that he and I both watch The Good Wife, so we chatted about the season finale. Dmitry asked if I had an opinion about using fiber-reinforced concrete for a ferro-cement boat. I’ve used it once, but it does work.

We had a fairly easy ride, though on the last quarter mile of road we bounced in and out of deep ruts and gullies that threatened to shake off my brand new muffler. Google directions turned out to be better than GPS; many people had stories of being directed down dead ends before finding 4Q.

We were able to park near the pavilion and catch the meat loaf dinner, which was buffet-style in steam table pans, plain but satisfying. I had thought we were supposed to supply our own plates and utensils, but all 4Q asks is that you scrape and rinse them in the commercial, stainless steel, two-compartment sink. 4Q founder Orren Whiddon advised that I camp in the North area – between Car Camping and In-Camp Parking on the map – to be close to the action, and several tents were already set up. I dropped off my gear, ditched the car in Main Parking and walked back past member camps and the occasional plastic port-a-john. 4Q is a mix of the rustic and the industrial aesthetic.

My wife had wanted me to practice putting up the borrowed eight man tent in the yard, but we had been too busy and I figured an architect had better be able to raise a tent. As I laid out the parts, Paul and Deborah suddenly appeared. They were settled in a pickup camper nearby and offered to help, which probably saved me an hour of doing two-person setup the hard way. Besides that they are two of the most delightful people you’d ever want to meet – definitely a lord and lady of light.

The Coffee Dragon was along the walk between tent and pavilion. One could get coffee or various teas at almost any time, and Marie, one of the volunteer staff with a distinct accent learned, she said, from audio books, thanked me for bringing my own thermos mug. Many of us carried some sort of shiny insulated mug at all times. The tent-covered tables and chairs next to Coffee Dragon seemed to function as the public intellectual salon of 4Q – though I have no idea what sort of discussion happened in the dormitory or bunkhouse. Orren wanted me to tour the dorm, but I never found the time.

In the evening was a meet and greet with a three piece Appalachian-style music group, some snacks and a table of the varieties of mead (a honey-based wine) produced and sold at 4Q. I met Doug and Mike. I tried a small taste of a sweet apple-based mead, and not being any sort of champion drinker was soon ready for the tent. Although the day was warm it had gotten chilly, so I was pleasantly surprised to find an extra blanket tucked inside my very ordinary old Sears sleeping bag.

In the morning, I wandered up to the Coffee Dragon and met KMO, a tall fellow who runs the C-Realm podcasts of which I’ve heard a few. He needed hot coffee because he thought the bunkhouse would provide more bedding than just a sheet. Even though he lives there, KMO had never heard of, “B apostrophe K nopostrophe l-y-n” an old song that Jimmy Cagney sang in The West Point Story. But when we were talking about Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days, he did know that Dancing Rabbit was in Missouri. Again, I met so many people – Alise, Carolyn, Jimmy – and tried to find handles for their names. Many were men, and many of those men were introverts that had to be goaded into talking, but were very knowledgeable once they got going.

Breakfast was bacon & eggs & pancakes. 4Q always tried to have gluten-free alternatives. There was also vanilla yogurt, granola and a warm fruit compote. I had decided not to take notes, so I’m going on memory. Back up hill at the Dragon I ran into Cathy and Kathy, and I told them what I had heard about the 2012 blowout between Dmitry Orlov and some women that thought he was advocating, rather than reporting, patriarchy, and who were upset that he dismissed Pussy Riot – the female Russian political activists that are pigeon-holed by Western media to be a punk rock group – as idiots. Sly Kathy then said she had been there but that I had heard generally about right.

Orren opened with an introduction and talk on Collapse Mitigation. Albert gave a talk on the History of Ecovillages, which was definitely in my wheelhouse. Again, Orren wants to sell a few DVDs, so I’ll just say that I sneezed several minutes after Albert showed a slide of an ecovillage named Gesundheit, which was a golden comic moment lost to eternity.

Another good evening meal (chicken breast). Through Paul and Deborah I met Andre from Toronto and Guelph. Later Orren had KMO facilitating a roundtable in which he asked us A) what we were hoping for from the conference and B) how we would spend $5 million dollars (pinky to mouth) to mitigate the coming collapse. I noticed that Orren has a way of asking for opinions then looking down, smiling and making it clear that he isn’t getting the quality of responses he wants. For A) I rambled a bit about whether we can actually predict such things, and whether the oligarchy was carefully managing collapse right up until they jumped in the lifeboats. For B) I responded to Dan’s idea that it be used for dissemination of the key concepts through the media. I disagreed then, but the more I think about it, what else can you do but try to inform people. I’ve jokingly blogged before that those who don’t learn from history should be condemned to read The ArchDruid Report, but JMG himself stepped up to the mike and took almost everyone to task for suggestions that have been tried and have failed.

Cathy’s husband Bill had spoken up about medical care, and I sat with them the next day. I believe she said she worked in an organic food store. Dmitry Orlov spoke about Communities that Abide and a few utopias that didn’t. He didn’t mention Oleanna, though, which would have fit right into the failed column. In the Q&A, it seemed clear to quite a few people that those of us attending didn’t seem to have much in common with Dmitry’s descriptions of abiders, which is awfully unsettling to contemplate.

At some point I met Brian and Wes, friends from Oberlin whose mothers had also been friends. Brian had actually installed the solar array on the Adam Joseph Lewis Center, which I had mentioned in my cradle-to-cradle piece to the office. They were familiar with the complaints about the building, but said that though it had required a great deal of fine tuning, it did eventually perform as advertised. Wes was recently out of work but hoped to start a microbrewery.

I suppose the highlight had to be Dr Dennis Meadows talking about The Dynamics of Societal Collapse. Meadows cowrote Limits to Growth back when there might have been time to do something about it. He and the book have been demonized and praised ever since. (As someone later noted at Coffee Dragon, he looks very fit for 72. That led to jokes about Meadows as a Frazetta-drawn hero wielding the Club of Rome.) He later told Orren we were the first crowd that already understood his message.

Dinner again and I sat next to Andre. I told him I could now title a blog post, My Dinner With Andre. He seemed very familiar with the stories behind the play. That evening Orren asked us all for a timeline of collapse – a date of peak population and any other dates we could offer.  I thought I was an optimist but I found myself at the early end with 2030 for Peak Hyooman.

After breakfast, Gail (the actuary) Tverberg presented Converging Crises. I knew of Gail from my brief tenure at The Oil Drum, but never actually met her. Greer presented his Dark Age America, and Dr Mark Cochrane presented On Climate and Our Future, though that future seemed iffy.

I think by then most people agreed on two things. 1: Our heads were exploding. 2: We greatly enjoyed meeting each other. It was almost like therapy to hang with people that got Peak Oil and Energy Depletion and Climate Change and discuss it without someone backing away. At some point some of us were introduced to Bob, a rotund fellow who performed a very creditable juggling routine, patter and all. It was about the last thing I was expecting, but it was very therapeutic.

The presenters ate with us and hung out at the Dragon, and even used the same latrines and showers, but I didn’t notice anyone pestering them too much. JMG tended to attract a crowd at the Dragon (including me on two occasions) and is frankly a hoot. Dmitry is much quieter but often seemed to be talking to someone one on one.

On Sunday and Monday many of us were scribbling names and email addresses in each other’s notebooks. In a bit of symmetry, Paul helped me fold up the tent just before he and Deb made their farewell rounds. I left after the Reactions roundtable – in which Orren did a lot of smiling and looking at the floor again. On the way out I bought an assortment of mead for the next few weekends at home.

I told someone that I hated to bring up the Titanic analogy again (which Carolyn did an hour later), but that I wondered if by attending we were seriously trying to survive that jump into the ocean or whether we were just playing with the band as the ship goes down.

Update 20140528: Review at ClubOrlov, by Dmitry Orlov.

Update 20140601: Review/followup at PeakSurfer, by Albert Bates and at Our Finite World by Gail Tverberg.

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3 responses to “Lords of Light”

  1. Hoyte King says :

    I had similar experiences at the conference. We had the second to front tent (with the Honda logo). Meeting and talking with others who thoughtfully look at the world is quite a pleasure.

    JMG seemed rather adamant about being against the “shark fin” scenario advocated by Gail. When considering their points of view while “viewing” them debate the point, I came to the conclusion that Gail seems to mean by the end the end of what we have had up to this point – the normal of the past decades. She does not seem to be saying that there will be a total collapse all at once because of financial collapse. I think she meant we are going to have a paradigm shift soon. I don’t think JMG saw it that way.

    The amount of information compressed into the weekend is overwhelming, even for someone who is well versed in the subject areas. The complexity of collapse is an example of Tainter’s “complexity” problem:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Donal says :

      Thanks for the comment, Hoyte. I think you are right about that disagreement. In general JMG seemed to feel that the government could take a lot more action to stave off collapse than did DO or Gail. One wonders if government actions will be more harmful than leaving us to our own devices.

      I didn’t mention that to ask questions after a session, one had to stand in line at one of two microphones. Hoyte asked good questions fairly often. If I’m not mistaken, I also heard him teasing the meal plan staffer by claiming to be Dmitry. She wasn’t buying it.

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  2. David Trammel says :

    I hope I can come to the next one. This one sounded amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

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