Archival Reflection: Peak oil activists gather, plan for hard times, will lead the way

Community Service, which became The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions in 2009, was founded in 1940 by Arthur Morgan. November 14th, 2020 marks our 80th anniversary! As part of our celebration of our 80th anniversary, we’ll be posting 7 archival reflections, as well as our vision for the future. This is the sixth post in this series.

Conferences have been signature events for Community Solutions since our founding in 1940.  Over 100 conferences and workshops have been held in the last 80 years, with themes that resonate across time. In 1978, the organization hosted Building Community Where You Are, and in 1989, Building the Regenerative Community.

I was introduced to Community Solutions in 2007 when I attended a CS Peak Oil Conference in Yellow Springs. Speakers like David Korten, Judy Wicks, and Richard Heinberg transformed my sense of what was possible in my life as a sustainability professional. The conference altered my trajectory profoundly and led to me joining the organization as its Executive Director in 2014.

We continue to hear stories like mine of lives enlightened and re-energized by CS conference attendance. Our online conferences have had a similar impact—and we’ve loved the opportunity to share conversations with members across the country,  and the planet. While we look forward to in-person conferences again soon, our online plans for 2021 include:

  • Nourishing Life Conference, June 18th-19th, with Drs. Vandana Shiva and Drew Ramsay as keynotes
  • Second annual Black Farming Conference, September 10th-12th
  • Pathways to Regeneration: Water Conference, November 5th-7th

Please save the dates, and see our website for other upcoming events.  We hope you enjoy Megan Bachman’s article about the 2008 Peak Oil conference as well as videos from November’s Pathways to Regeneration highlighted below.

— Community Solutions Executive Director Susan Jennings


By: Megan Bachman

YELLOW SPRINGS, OHIO – Former professor and author David Korten told close to 300 applauding peak oil activists that they are not a fringe minority but the leading edge of a super-majority “and it’s time we start acting like it.”

Korten issued his rallying call in October at the “Fourth U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions” where activists from 30 some states discussed ways to respond to declining oil production and other coming planetary woes. Korten joined a dozen other speakers in “Planning for Hard Times,” the theme of the three-day conference sponsored by Community Solution at Antioch College.

“The day of reckoning for our profligate ways has arrived,” Korten said. “Peak oil, climate chaos, exhaustion of freshwater, species extinction, financial collapse, and social disintegration are causing a great unraveling.” Now is the time, Korten said, for a great turning from a 5000-year history of empire, driven today by a suicidal competition over the earth’s remaining resources, to a cooperative earth community which shares resources to maintain healthy communities, families and natural systems.

Korten, author of The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, said that empire “elevates the most power-hungry and ethically challenged to the highest positions of power.” And the former Harvard University business professor, also the author of When Corporations Rule the World, said the corporations that perpetuate this empire system are best described as “gigantic pools of money with artificial legal personalities and required by law to behave like sociopaths.”

Korten cited opinion polls showing 90 percent of Americans believe that large corporations have too much power and more than 80 percent want to see greater priority given to the needs of children, family, communities, and a healthy environment. And he described economic growth as an engine of environmental destruction which also increases the income gap between rich and poor, with the need instead to focus on living better with less (negative economic growth) and moving toward equality through redistribution of wealth from rich to poor.

Other speakers promoted cooperation and community to create local sustainable businesses, turn millions of Americans into local farmers, and find ways to reduce energy use in housing, transportation and food production.

“It’s about creating a new society, and it begins with us,” said Pat Murphy, executive director of Community Solution, which organizes the annual conference. This need for a societal transition was a continuing conference theme.

“During the lifetime of the boomer generation, roughly half the world’s important non-renewable resources will have been used up…forever,” said Richard Heinberg, a leading peak oil educator and author of The Party’s Over, Powerdown and more recently Peak Everything. Heinberg said this will lead to less available energy, more labor needed in agriculture, widespread relocation of people and a massive replacement of infrastructure.

And he asked: “How do we accomplish this enormous societal reorganization without chaotic breakdown?”

Start with personal solutions, Heinberg said, adding “adjust your own oxygen mask before helping others.” He suggested working locally and regionally because “higher levels of administration may not be in a position to help much with local needs.” But, he warned, without national and international agreements, irreversible ecosystem collapse is likely.