Last Tuesday, Bennington hosted a lecture by author and social critic Richard Heinberg. The lecture discussed the decline of economic and social growth as it has been experienced in the United States for around the past hundred years.
The talk was a great success. The Symposium was filled past capacity by members of the college community, as well as the surrounding area. Before the lecture, President Coleman signed onto the President’s Climate Commitment, a formal pledge to become climate neutral within a specified time frame.
Heinberg began his lecture by describing the connection between economic growth and the acquisition of debt, and how the growth of the American economy had largely to do with perpetual increases in personal and government debt. Ultimately, Heinberg argued that this system cannot be sustained and will eventually implode.
He went on to discussed Peak Oil, and the impact that sharply rising gas prices will have on the economy, in addition to the environmental impacts of pursuing less “conventional” oil deposits such as oil contained tar sands and oil accessible only through drilling miles under the ocean floor. He dismissed the idea that technology will be capable of stepping in and solving our energy crises, and that this combined with growing climate destabilization implies that our lifestyle will necessarily undergo serious shifts as we move towards sustainability.
Despite the rather bleak implications of Heinberg’s argument, his talk ended on a fairly positive note. He described the process of becoming sustainable as the next great revolution in human history, equal in magnitude to the agricultural and industrial revolutions. He also ended with a series of small-scale, community-based solutions that will make the transition away from these systems less difficult. He listed a number of things, such as free clinics and food coops, that all communities should provide for their members. By scaling down the geographic and economic range of our necessities, we can build community resilience despite the future challenges.