Alcatraz: the TOD-ASPO gathering

Nate Hagens gives his presentation at the "Peak Summit" in Alcatraz. 114 slides in 45 minutes for what may be a true world record in information concentration.

The joint TOD-ASPO summit in Alcatraz, Italy, is over. It was held on the 27-28 June 2009, with the participation of more than fifty people that came mainly from Europe, but also from the US and even from Australia. The participants exchanged views on such subjects as resource depletion, oil and gas, energy security, climate change, complexity, the collapse of the Roman Empire, economic trends, and how to catch monkeys (the last item as part of Nate Hagens talk).

The idea of the summit was to do something more informal and more friendly than the standard ASPO conference. The idea was also to get together people who, so far, had only managed to speak to each other via the internet. It worked: the meeting was very lively, interesting and participated.

The success of the meeting was also helped by the friendly atmosphere and the good food (and good wine) provided by the staff of the "Libera Università di Alcatraz", located between Perugia and Gubbio, among hills and forest in the heart of Italy.

The meeting was jointly organized by Ugo Bardi and Rembrandt Koppelaar, with much help from other people. As soon as possible, we'll see to make the presentations available on line. More than one of the participants said that we should do it again next year. Maybe that could be done, we'll see.

Should another meeting be organized next year,
in which country would it be held ?

That is open to suggestions!

Well, Italy is ok for me.
I would like to visit Rome and Florence before air travel becomes very expensive.

It was a good chance to meet quite a number of folks. I made it back home this evening, after a double-length day.

This is a photo I took at the conference of Nate Hagens, Euan Mearns, and Luis de Sousa.

Yep, the conclusion graphic is worth it's weight in gold bananas!

I am a big fan of bananas (known for alleviating depression).....But now I am not so sure. I need a new drug.

By the way, has anybody else been suffering from Peak Oil fatigue?

"By the way, has anybody else been suffering from Peak Oil fatigue?"

Hit it a long time ago. Basically coming to the conclusion that we're fucked and we'd better enjoy things while we're still not eating one another. I see a glimmer of hope here and there, but nothing substantial enough to warrant any real optimism of the future. Gas falls $2/gal and people stop asking questions, start buying SUV's again...we're surrounded by buildings which require an operational forced air circulation and cooling - no windows that open. People aren't even aware that they exist in the environment. All of our decisions over the past 50 years, in particular, have sealed our fate. There was likely an opportunity in the 70's to turn things in a better direction and it didn't happen. I believe there's still a chance, but it would require basically every single person knowing about, and acknowledging, then moving to act on the multiple threats we face. This basically boils down to limiting and reducing population, giving a whole bunch of things up, and doing almost everything we do differently. Thusly, we're doomed. We're in this predicament for a reason and I doubt that reason has or can change.

Of course, some people may want to talk off the record, others may not want to be seen in attendance, and you need someone filming who understands that the camera is supposed to stay focused on the slide, not the speaker (if those are computer thingies, there is an easier process here) and there are likely other complications, but

if you wanted to educate the public, putting this up on YouTube or whatever might well be effective.

Recognizing the idea has likely already been invented here first.

Great to hear; any online proceedings, or are the ongoing articles the sources?

Anyone get a video of these? I'd really like to view the presentation....

Rembrandt and Ugo are the best ones to answer the question.

My impression is that there are some audio recordings besides the presentations, but no video recordings as such. Some people may also decide to make posts out of their presentations.

We have some videos and some audio recordings. Please give us a little time to collect all we have and we'll see to make it available on the web

The presentations will be up on TOD soon. I also made audio recordings which I will be combining with the slides of several presentations. These will be up in the coming weeks as it requires a bit of time to do.


Awesome! I look forward to these.

What if travel like that isn't possible next year? That would be ironic, that peak oilers can't meet to discuss peak oil because of... peak oil. I guess I'll ride my bike to Italy (from Connecticut). Or what if even worse happens? Blackouts could cause a massive failure of large parts of the internet, rendering us unable to post on TOD!

A question for the TOD admins: is there a plan for the eventual death of the website due to its own predictions about peak oil, or do you guys not view that as inevitable? just curious as to your thoughts on that.


I can't speak for others. It seems to me that we have to take one day at a time.

In my view, it is financial collapse (arising from the inability of the economy to grow fast enough to support all the debt, because of the higher cost of extracting oil) that is the limiting situation. Exactly how soon we reach a major financial disruption, and what the impact will be on world trade and things like the internet is unclear. It is possible things may hold together for years, but it is also possible that we may see a big change within weeks.

It seems to me that Liebig's Law of the Minimum will be what is important. Its impact is hard to predict, because so many pieces that we don't fully understand are involved.

I agree with Gail.

Imagining a conservative-state world, effectively the financial collapse is above us.

There is an horrible way to avoid (delay...) this. It consists in rising up poverty and limiting resources access to south world.

I see the only way to save us in this cocktail

- limiting consumpion
- smoothing inequity resource access
- going rapidly towards renewable and recycling
- demographic regulation

... easy, isn't it?

in the magazine AMERICAN SCIENTIST (May-June 2009 Edition) there is a good and well written article:
The authors mention that apparently world oil production has peaked.

Maybe some people who want to go to the Olympic Games of London in 2012 will have to change their plans.

This is a link to a free version of REVISITING THE LIMITS TO GROWTH AFTER PEAK OIL. We also had a post about the article.

I agree. We are on shaky ground, planning to attend things like the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

I went past the 2012 Olympic site on the train today after visiting a very interesting exhibition at the Royal Society (some of the scientists present realise we potentially have a big energy problem in the UK in the next few years), the main Olympic stadium is progressing well.

I hope we aren't bankrupting ourselves and then nobody comes to the party! :-(

Inflation. The politicians, and banks will not allow deflation.

What if travel like that isn't possible next year?

When everyone is terminally unemployed there will be plenty of time for sailing across the pond.
Most cruising sailboats average about 120 miles a day so figure about a month or so each way and month's stay for meetings. That leaves the other 9 months to prepare for the next trip.


Flying to Italy to discuss PO. Am I the only one to see the irony of this?

I agree there is irony to flying to such a conference. There were a few of us who flew (I know of four out of the 50 who flew, including Nate and myself--all from the US.) The vast majority of the attendees were European, and I am pretty sure that the country with greatest representation was Italy. There was one Australian in attendance, but he was already in Europe on other business.

Most of the attendees came by train. Two attendees rode bicycles that they had rented in Perugia; another attendee walked 16 km from a farm not far away.

In my mind's eye I see a webcast... open to the public. Perhaps even interactive for viewers in terms of Q/A. Perhaps all that computing power would equal all the travel CO2, et al., but at much lower emissions per person, eh?

Walkin' the walk, after all.


The organizers had found an inexpensive facility with very good food and good wine but the facilty and decorations were "Dario Fo" themed and now I know to keep a distance to his works, I am not that "alternative" ;-)

There were some recordings done and one speach via Skype or equivalent but setting up cameras etc for a virtual meeting is a lot of work and would probably need about four dedicated individuals and a decent ammount of equipment and bandwidth. The intresting thing with such a meeting is in actually meeting people, get some faces with the high bandwith and good resolution of reality and interact freely during the discussions. Adding a virtual meeting onto this is a very good idea but good ideas needs implementors to give any results.

As a participant I rate this event to have been on the lever of a well run "sercon" SF convention. I have been part of arranging such efforts in the SF world and it takes on average half a day per week for half a year for a small group of people to get it done and of course a lot more work the week before the event.


Thanks for your comments on the meeting and your attendance and useful input on the Swedish situation. I learned a great deal on the difference between countries at Alcatraz.


Thanks for the info. Just to be clear, my comments weren't critical, just hoping out loud.

I know a guy who does internet telephony/conferencing stuff and actually does the bulk of his real work in Europe, as I understand it. He's involved in Transition. I'd be happy to pass on his data to anyone interested.



We are thinking about organizing a smaller event in Brussels spring next year with ASPO Netherlands as the main organizer. Including a more digital touch.


This was undoubtedly discussed by some participants at the event itself .... "how did you get here? far did you drive/fly/bike/walk/swim? ..."

Flying to Italy to discuss PO. Am I the only one to see the irony of this?

What a preacherman you are, Darwinsdog!

Relax - we're screwed anyhow. Gaudeamus igitur.

Relax - we're screwed anyhow. Gaudeamus igitur.

True enuf.

Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.

Appropriately, being in Italy, in Alcatraz I gave a presentation on the fall of the Roman Empire that included some text in Latin. Sic transit gloria mundi!

With regard to AGW, PO and economic crisis, etc., would that be, "Vini, vidi, voci 'Curtus maximus!'", or something to that affect?


I suppose that "oil peak" would go as "summus olei lapidis" Maybe......

I once flew to Hawaii to discuss peak oil with Jay Hanson. It was loads of fun. I am currently debating whether or mot to take two different trips to Denver this year, ASPO and another involving nuclear power. Someone do the math. If I avoid two trips from Southern California to Denver, how long would the energy saved run our civilization? Micro seconds, mu seconds or what?

Or should the question be if everyone flew over to Denver? But meanwhile the fact that you propose that someone else do the math(s raises the possibility that "mental energy" is also a scarce resource we might not have enough of..?

At risk of farting before the Pope, I also suggest that flying anywhere to discuss with Jay Hanson may indicate a considerable overestimation of JH. So many "revealed" assertions, which we are expected to take on faith as the words of the prophet. For instance:

Contrary to the received wisdom, people do not think and then act. They act and then rationalize.

On what evidence or reasoning is this assertion justified? If we are to take it at its face, then JH presumably first thoughtlessly acted in typing those words, and only afterwards rationalised. Perhaps I should second that self-description of himself, even though in respect of my own case I do spend a considerable amount of time thinking before acting into type (though sometimes embarassingly not!).

(Notwithstanding that there's sense he's produced also.)

At least I could bicycle to the airport in Linköping. ;-)

I essentially padded the visit with about two days in Florence before and about two days in Venice after. Thus I could book cheaper airline tickets and see a little more of Italy. If oil had been $500 per barrel and the ticket too expensive or the airline grounded due to bankruptcy I could have used about half of that as travel time on trains. When things settle down it will be both nice and productive to travel by airconditioned trains with a wifi connection and either travel in a sleep couch or stop over at hotels as people often did a long time ago.

Florence and Venice can probably give a multitude of usefull historical lessons. One of them is probably that wealth and greatness can be had if multiple generations exploit a slight logistical and productivity advantage in a sustainable way that allows an accumulation of all the kinds of capital. They are also fairly small places with some grand buildings, especially Venice were faschinating to walk around in, distances were so short that it did not matter if you took one or five wrong turns since you could backtrack or walk randomly and in 5 min and reach something that were easy to recognice.

It would probably be possible to write a nice TOD post comparing Venice canal logistics with natural tides pumping out the citys waste products with the first industrial ages railways and canals and todays highways and suburbia. There ought to be something in the interaction between the "natural" systems and how the decison makers used them themselves. Everything went by boat in Venice, in their heaydays they lacked bridges as I have read US towns lack sidewalks. The Venice I visited with its two dimensional mostly walkable maze is a later stage development built on top of a very odd society where people seems to have traveld between their homes and to work from doorstep to doorstep in small containers with their wealth being measured by the grandiosity of their wehicels and houses while the order were being maintained by an all seeing police state using informers...

For me it was worth it to fly over there and then see a little more and get new impressions. Dunno if it was worth it for the abstract society to have me there, I guess that depends on this little individual finally doing something usefull. ;-)

[Comment removed by order of the Attorney General of Lower Volta]

Is there any possibility that the next meeting could have the presentations broadcast live on the web? Shouldn't be too difficult to set up a web cam and microphone and put it on the net?
That would make the information presented at the meeting much more available worldwide?
Maybe even have things set up to take some questions from the "web audience" to be asked of the presenter?

For all the talk of "work from home" and reducing travel, I don't see the Peak Oil community in general really using the web to anywhere near it's capability to increase participation and reduce travel.

I agree -- meeting face to face and traveling are both wonderful, but we could all benefit from being linlked into a conference "live."

I strongly second this. This is a great idea.
Webcast the slides, have a live simul audio broadcast and have a chat/question window for questions and discussion, while the lecture is going on

This is the 21st century after all, and TOD is a democracy (or is it an oligarchy?)

there is also technology called "jam" that allows broad global participation and contribution to various idea themes. then you can sort them out and cull them down

"(or is it an oligarchy?)"

Oiligarchy was accepted as the correct term earlier this year, following my own protests being outvoted by a load of confused jokers.

Hopefully the esteemed participants could be detained in the Alcatraz a little longer next time, as for a few days I could almost keep up with the pace at TOD!

More nearly seriously, if a next one could be hosted here in energy-historic Birmingham uk, that would be really central for everyone for whom it would be really central for (such as myself), though a slight problem is that I have the organisational capabilities of an...., unfinished sentence!

The world's first transportation cutting?:
(with that huge artificial valley, world's biggest earthwork, dug out by hand in 1827 before any railways built; and world's highest bridge in 1828).

Probably the only place in the world to have three canals running in parallel:
(because this canal was the leading edge of the growing upslope of the pre-Hubbert curve; the day this canal opened, the price of coal in Bham fell to half).

Pres Clinton dined at this pub at the centre of the uk canal network: (but not good enough for us...!)
And all these "traditional" narrowboats are now powered by oil!!!hahaha!!!!:
OK--they do have wood-fired heating (but glad I live just out of range of their stink!).
(And if you haven't cycled/walked through the 2-mile-long unlit Netherton Tunnel you haven't lived (long enough to understand "the (piddling little) light at the end of the tunnel").

If the slideshow was as data dense as described (and as I imagine) would you be so kind as to post your slideshow to:

so we can all see it?

Slideshare is a great resource for academics who like to share their knowledge via powerpoint / keynote / whatever.

Hello Ugo & other participants,

I hope you all practiced the Yeasty half-glass Peakoil Shoutout when you retired to the restaurant/bar areas! I am always trying to promote the cultural growth of this.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Hello Bob,

We made the impression to the locals that we are going to save the world, so this at least is a good development ;-).