Who is Richard Heinberg? You may not have heard of him. Nine out of ten of my “normal” friends and family haven’t. Then they hadn’t heard of James Howard Kunstler or Peak Oil six years ago either. On the other hand, if you are concerned about energy and have done a little reading then Heinberg, Deffeyes, Hubbert, Hopkins, Kunstler, Simmons, Lovins, et al are probably all too familiar.
Richard Heinberg is, as his website indicates, an author, educator and speaker. But I don’t think of him as an author, at least not in the same sense I think of Lewis Carroll or J. R. R. Tolkien or Jules Verne or any other of my boyhood friends who took an idea, real or contrived, and then used their great imaginations and skills to write fantasy.
Rather, I think of Richard as an intelligent observer, a researcher, an interviewer, analyst, integrator and reporter. It isn’t that his work isn’t original, because it certainly is. He focuses on a topic, amasses details and presents the details in his own well thought out words, to advance the understanding of the topic in a structured and well documented fashion. My point is he doesn’t make this stuff up. He is more the messenger and over the last 19 years Heinberg has delivered ten very interesting, critical messages (books) about what he has learned, what he has come to understand, and I appreciate his efforts in doing so.
What Is His Message? First, our industrial, global economy is based on growth – growth permits us to borrow and payback with interest and make a profit. The jobs we all seek, the ability to borrow for homes, cars and, with credit cards, everyday purchases is a direct result of growth and long-term expected growth.
Based on his research, Heinberg believes: We are approaching the end of growth, due to resource depletion and environmental stress. He is quick to point out that this isn’t a new idea. He tells of the 1972 book, “Limits to Growth” and mentions many others who have warned of this eventuality over the last 40 years. Systems based on growth will falter and stumble until we change the way we do business. He says we need to localize, develop community and implement a steady-state economy.
Still this is not a mainstream message. Watch our around-the-clock news and you learn about “business as usual.” Thank goodness the world now recognizes we have an energy problem. But the solution is more of the same - drill for more oil and gas, technology that will solve our problems, and the need to “restart” our growth economy. There are exceptions, but they are rare.
There is no more mainstream than American politics. Obviously trying to appeal to the masses, on March 4th after he won the state of Washington’s Republican presidential caucuses, Mitt Romney said that voters "do not want a Washington insider in the White House. They want a conservative businessman who understands the private sector and knows how to get the federal government out of the way so that the economy can once again grow vigorously." And on Super Tuesday (3/6), Newt Gingrich campaigned and won Georgia in part with his promise to bring gas prices down at the pump, down to $2.50 a gallon.
Richard’s message: We cannot sustain perpetual growth. And it is as simple as that – there is no perpetual motion machine (I think we can all agree) and planet Earth is not an exception.
Why Come and Listen? This is an opportunity to hear from an acclaimed national speaker who has invested a great deal in developing this message. Read the book, "The End of Growth" before or after or not at all, but don’t miss the opportunity to hear what Richard has to say and make up your own mind about what to think and do.
Heinberg is an excellent communicator. He covers a lot of ground in his 5 minute video “300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds.”
So what will he do with a whole hour? Surely he’ll hit on the key points of his book, as he did in another of his videos, Who Killed Economic Growth. Though, he will probably cover a little more of the logic – why this is happening. He may provide some insight into China’s issues (by the way this one chapter is worth the price of the book – I always thought China, with all its money and people and resources had the end-game in full view. Not so! They have their issues too.) And, he will probably talk a little about what won’t work and why. I don’t think all this will take very long…
I’m really looking forward to hearing what he spends the bulk of his/our time on. Where are we going and how might we get there? In my humble opinion, this is really the interesting part. If we do have the chaos and contraction being talked about, there will be plenty of opportunity for ending up in the wrong place. Richard doesn’t talk too much about those destinations, but he does talk about the future he hopes to see. This future will depend on a new economic system (Steady-State Economics), working together and functioning local communities.
He probably won’t talk too much about what we each might do as individuals. In the book he says he is often asked but feels uncomfortable providing this advice. He acknowledges it is a fair question and does provide some suggestions on his website: www.TheEndofGrowth.com, as a supplement to Chapter 7.
When & Where? On Tuesday, March 27th, Richard Heinberg will speak at UAlbany’s downtown campus in Page Hall, near the corner of Washington Ave and North Lake (see map). Parking is across the street in across the street in the Thurlow Student lot off of Western Ave. (see map again!). Doors open at 6:30 pm. The presentation starts at 7:00. This is an important and big event. Seating is limited to 800, so plan accordingly. Richard may sign books after the presentation, at about 9:00 if you are interested.
Dan Gibson is the Reporter and Chief Coordinator of Our Energy Independence Community (http://www.OEIC.us). Previously he was a participating contractor in NYSERDA’s Home Performance program and a rater in the New York ENERGY STAR Home program. He is currently building a 100% Solar Home. He can be reached at DanG@OEIC.us