No, not THAT AOL—not America Online, the monster internet provider we have all grown to know and hate. Rather, I’m sending you an update on the Age Of Limits Conference from a pristine, un-fracked place in Pennsylvania.
Above is a photo taken just at the entrance of the conference site and what those of us in transit from the BaltimoreAirport hoped was a good omen for the weekend.
We, yes even we who are so aware of climate extremes, for the most part, did not prepare well for this conference in terms of packing our clothing. Most of us who attended last year could only remember the daunting, repressive heat of the 2012 drought inferno, and so we naively expected the same kind of warm weather this year. Speaking for myself, I considered bringing an extra sweater and heavier jacket—yet despite checking the weather forecast for this area several times, I failed to do so. When 50-degree temperatures hit yesterday, diving into the 30s last night, most of us huddled together in the conference tent pavilion, sipping hot tea and coffee, mentally chattering, “Lesson learned.” Once again, climate chaos drove home the reality that these days, we must be prepared for any and all kinds of weather.
But enough about the weather because what you really want to hear and what I really want to share is what was said yesterday at the conference. The day began with Four Quarters owner and AOL conference planner, Orren Whiddon, explaining the history of this land and the saga of founding Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary here in Southeastern Pennsylvania—a truly aware and prepared “unintentional” community. Following Orren’s presentation was John Michael Greer’s powerful lecture, “After Progress.” In his own inimitable manner, John once again drove home the reality that collapse is unequivocally happening, though it looks different in different places. John’s most recent focus has been on the “civil religion” of progress and how the cult of infinite growth is quietly falling apart as industrial civilization unravels. However, rather than tearing into the notion of Near-Term Extinction, as some attendees may have anticipated, Greer offered his familiar, low-key caveat that collapse is and will be a long, protracted process of decline in which nothing is certain except the demise of the religion of progress, underscoring this statement with a quote from science fiction writer, William Gibson who said, “The future is here, it just isn’t yet distributed evenly.”
Following Greer’s presentation, Albert Bates lectured on the Unibomber, Ted Kaczynski, who wrote scurrilously and prolifically from a Luddite perspective about industrial civilization and its technological evils. Bates sees Kaczynski’s “Manifesto” as one of the most prescient and insightful documents ever published on the collapse of industrial civilization.
Last night, my presentation on “Love In The Long Emergency: The Relationships We Need To Survive,” was well attended and offered a departure from the usual lecture format as I led the audience in singing a West African chant, accompanied by the drum. To emphasize and embellish the main points of my presentation, I told a story with the drum—notably, a story I had never told before in public which, as always, took many of the participants beyond intellect and into the visceral emotions that attend relationship conflicts. My focus was not on any particular kind of relationship but on human connection in general—connection with the earth, our bodies, our communities, our work, and many other kinds of relationships that will be altered and shaped by the Long Emergency.
Today’s presenters include another talk by Albert Bates on “The Global Eco-Village Movement,” Gail Tverberg, speaking on “Collapse 101,” Dmitry Orlov sharing nuggets from his new book on “The Five Stages Of Collapse,” Guy McPherson speaking on “The Forbidden Fruit: The Low-Hanging Fruit of Empire,” followed by my facilitation of an outdoor grief ritual/observance what is known here as the “Stone Circle.” Below is a photo of one of the many stones that form the “Stone Circle” where a number of ceremonies and celebrations have been held throughout the history of Four Quarters.
Attendance this year is about the same as last year with a number of new faces as well as a few individuals returning from 2012. This conference, which Orren Whiddon hopes to put in place as an annual event, offers not only the opportunity to “take the temperature” of the collapse-aware community, it provides the opportunity to dialog in depth with many of the notable shapers of our thinking about collapse and our responses to it. Equally rewarding is our dialog with each other, the formation of meaningful friendships, and a taste of what it might be like to journey together through the unraveling.