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Local Future Conference in Grand Rapids Michigan

Stephen Kiluk of Transition Saint Clair Shores shares his experiences from the 2012 International Conference on Sustainability, Transition, and Culture Change in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

     The weekend prior to thanksgiving, I attended the 2012 International Conference on Sustainability, Transition, and Culture Change: Vision - Action - Leadership at Prince Conference Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This was the sixth Local Future Conference that I have attended and I will share with you some of the highlights from this year's conference, but first, some background on Local Future.

      The first Local Future Conference was held in May of 2008 and since then, Local Future has held an annual conference for a more resilient world in the face of the tough issues facing human civilization today. Through the years, the content and the format of the conference has evolved. The Local Future conference has always hosted a well known selection of authors, researchers, activists, and has culitvated a rich tradition of helping conference participants to see the big picture and to make sense of the complex changes that our world is undergoing.

     The Local Future Conference spans a wide range of topics ranging from climate change to economics and from bioregionalism to renewable energy. The overall mission of each year's conference is to enrich participants with new and relevant information about what is going on in our world and how the future is unfolding.

     On Friday the conference opened with an introduction from Aaron Wissner, founder of Local Future, with an opening statement of what he hoped the conference would accomplish. Aaron was followed by Nicole Foss speaking about evolving economic conditions in the European Union and throughout the world as well as what these mean for the average person in the United States. Nicole was followed by bioregionalist Stephanie Mills who spoke on the nature of cultural change.

     In the afternoon, Albert Bates, author of numerous books on climate change and sustainable living, spoke about his experiences at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

     In the evening, Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and author of numerous books on Peak Oil and Sustainable development, joined the conference via Skype. He spoke about the finite nature of exponential economic growth and how we are beginning to see the end of economic growth as we have known it in the United States.

     At the end of the evening,  Albert Bates presented on permaculture and the nation of Cuba. This was most interesting as citizens in the United States get very little information about daily life in Cuba. Interstingly, Cuba's community culture and egalitarian society have helped Cubans through economic adversity and the story of Cuba holds many lessons for creating more resilient communities throughout the world.

     On saturday morning, the conference continued with Nicole Foss and Stephanie Mills elaborating on economic resilience and the dynamics of cultural change. Next was John Barrie, who presented on appropriate technologies in developing nations. John Barrie spoke about solar powered vaccine refrigerators and solar panel-battery-LED kits that his organization has developed and shipped around the developing world to give people a better quality of life.

     Albert Bates spoke on his experiences with the United Nations and his disappointment with the United States for its shortsighted energy policy and its failure to take the lead on carbon emissions. Albert also spoke on the dynamics of debt in developing nations and how the International Monetary Fund has played a large role in promoting environmental devastation in developing nations by encouraging nations to go into debt. When these nations cannot afford to repay the debt, the nations' resources and infrastructure are stripped to pay these debts.

     In the evening, Steve Losher and Maryann Lesert from Michigan Land Air Water Defense spoke on the environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing practices to extract natural gas in Michigan. The state of Michigan has held open auctions for mineral rights on state-owned lands and these mineral rights have been purchased by many natural gas companies. The lands include many counties throughout Michigan, including prime state recreation lands in Kalkaska and Roscommon counties. Sites that have been exploited for hydraulic fracturing had been clear cut and hazardous chemicals including benzene, toluene and naphthalene have been injected underground in the process of hydraulic fracturing. Maryann showed many pictures of land that has been devastated by these practices in northern Michigan and called on conference participants to work toward preventing these practices throughout Michigan.

     Saturday night featured local musicians Lockwood, Lewis and Baker sharing their songs inspired by their hopes for the future and their love for the places where they live.

     Sunday morning opened with Dr. Steve Keen, professor of economics and finance  at the University of Western Sydney and author of the book Debunking Economics. Dr. Keen presented his critique of neoclassical economics and presented his post-keynesian version of economic thinking inspired by the work of Hyman Minsky. Dr. Keen spoke at length about the "fiscal cliff," that the United States government will be facing in January and the potential for some disasterous deflationary consequences.

     Kevin Michael O'Connor, known as KMO by people who follow his C-realm podcast, spoke about how important it is for us to all work together regardless of our political ideologies and come together to create a better world. KMO elaborated that we really have much more in common than we might think and that there are many people with completely different political ideas that can agree on a great many things about what they want for their communities. KMO advised the conference participants that it is more important to understand then to be understood, as in listening to and understanding others we can identify common ground and work together toward a better future regardless of our conflicts.

     Overall, I think that this was the best Local Future Conference yet. Aaron Wissner has worked tirelessly to bring together a collection of world-class speakers for an incredibly diverse and enriching conference experience for particpants. I have learned a great deal and have had the oppurtunity to network with activists from many different areas. I feel that this conference is a great asset for the state of Michigan and I look forward to the new ideas and new plans for a more resilient future that may come of the information presented at this conference, the connections made there and community initiatives that this conference may inspire within the state of Michigan and beyond.

     I encourage you to contact me if you would like any further information about Local Future or any of the people or topics discussed in this article. I can be emailed at stevekiluk@gmail.com, I can be called at 586-871-2587 and you can visit the Tranisiton Saint Clair Shores Website transitionscs.weebly.com

Thank you for reading!

The 2012 Local Future conference included the following speakers:

 Mr. Daniel Quinn, best selling author of Ishmael, Providence, The Story of B, and Beyond Civilization.  In 1990, Ted Turner offered a $500,000 prize for the best unpublished novel offering positive solutions to global problems.  Quinn submitted Ishmael, which was selected as the grand prize winner, by a panel of distinguished authors, out of 2500 entries.

 Dr. Steve Keen received the Revere Award from the Real World Economics Review in 2010 for being the economist who most cogently warned of the economic crisis, and whose work is most likely to prevent future crises.  He is Professor of Economics & Finance at the University of Western Sydney and author of  "Debunking Economics" (2012).

Mr. Richard Heinberg is author of ten books, including The Party’s Over, Peak Everything, and The End of Growth.  He is regarded as one of the world’s most effective communicators of the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels. Heinberg exposes the tenuousness of our current way of life and offers a vision for a truly sustainable future.

Ms. Nicole Foss is senior editor for The Automatic Earth and former editor of The Oil Drum - Canada. Foss is an expert speaker on peak oil, economic instability and personal preparation. Foss has delivered her Century of Challenges talk hundreds of times and in twelve countries. Foss has presented at conferences on peak oil, biodiversity, and economics.

Mr. Albert Bates is author of The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change and many other books..  A former environmental rights lawyer, Bates lives at The Farm, an intentional community in Tennessee;  co-founder of the Global Ecovillage Network and delegate to the UN climate talks; and teaches permaculture, ecovillage design and natural building.

Ms. Stephanie Mills is an author, lecturer and bio-regionalist. Her books include: On Ghandi's Path,  Tough Little Beauties, Epicurean Simplicity, Turning Away from Technology, In Service of the Wild, In Praise of Nature, and Whatever Happened to Ecology?  Mills is president of the Bay Bucks local currency board, and holds an honorary doctorate from Mills College, CA.

Mr. Aaron Wissner is a teacher, writer and speaker specializing peak oil, climate change, money and debt, and cultural transition.  Wissner has organized six major conferences bringing in hundreds of speakers and thousands of participants.  A featured article on Wissner was published on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in 2007.


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