Whose History? Which Future?

Sharon August 25th, 2009

The recent debate between George Monbiot and Paul Kingsnorth over whether we actually can save the world seems mostly to have degenerated into sound and fury, which is rather a problem, since the larger question of whether climate change is stoppable, whether we can avoid having billions of people die, seems, well rather a good one.

The note that struck me most was Monbiot’s observation that he is “professionally optimistic” – that is, he knows he must continue, “…exhorting people to keep fighting, knowing that to say there is no hope is to make it so. I still have some faith in our ability to make rational decisions based on evidence. But it is waning.”  I too spend some considerable time being professionally optimistic, and I admit, I winced in sympathy at this particular construction, because I think there’s nothing harder.

As always, Monbiot puts his finger on the reality of our collective dilemma – the moment you conceed inevitability you close off a set of options.  This is possible in some ways in peak oil – you can say that some of the choices are no longer available to you, and begin to imagine a way to go on.  Depending, however, on how the climate change projections come out, the reality of climate change is very different – there is a very good chance that we will see mass starvation in a radically different climate.  I spent an awful lot of time with the data when writing _A Nation of Farmers_ and the net conclusions of runaway climate change are all bad. When you consider that we are presently facing an intertwined and deeply inextricable food and energy crisis with less than 7 billion people and the remnents of a stable climate, the problem of a wildly varying future climate becomes much more acute.

I find myself then, in greater sympathy with Monbiot than with Kingsnorth – most of the time.  Kingsnorth observes that he detects in Monbiot deep fear – my feeling is that anyone who isn’t scared of our ecological situation doesn’t adequately understand it, or its potential consequences.  Kingsnorth speaks of Greer, who talks of a gradual, steady decline and accuses Monbiot of apocalypticism.  I don’t think that’s the case at all.  While I think that Greer wisely and useful historicizes the process of collapse, and reveals it as something that takes time, there’s a danger to taking a sweeping historical view, one that I call the “poor are always with us” fallacy (note, I am not claiming that John Michael Greer subscribes to this, but quite a number of people who use his analysis do). 

It is not an accident that Greer’s preferred historians (and I like many of them myself) tend to be old school historians of the “big picture” – rather than modern historians who tend to take a narrower perspective or view things through some particular lens.  Both models have their limitations – whether we are talking about how the Irish supposedly created all of human civilization or how Rome Declined, Fell and Turned into a Tourist Trap.  All of this depends, as almost everything does, on how you look at it.  Seen, for example, through a sufficiently sweeping and progessive lens, the decline and fall of Rome was merely a short term bump – after all, the populations were back up again a mere 1700 years later ;-) .

Kingsnorth seems to have taken wholeheartedly to Greer’s vision of a gradual decline, and there’s almost certainly a good bit of truth about this vision.  Monbiot, on the other hand, keeps emphasizing the billions dead – and there’s a good bit of truth in that one too.  The problem is the lens through which they are looking.  Because of course, the Greerian story where a young woman born in 1960 begins the journey of collapse while her great-granddaughter finally leaves the broken cities for the countryside is a compelling, and probably accurate one for a certain subset of the population.  But it isn’t all the story – every story has its early victims.  How would we view Greer’s narrative if the story began (and admittedly, this makes it far less interesting an illustration of his larger point ;-) ) with a young woman, born in 1960, who begins to see the energy and ecological crisis from her vantage point, and who happens to be living in south Florida when the nearly-inevitable massive hurricane, causing massive loss of life, snuffs out hers and her son’s, thus ending all future discussion of what her grandchildren will see?

For every person who in a multi-generational novel-style narrative got to see the full decline and fall of any collapse, there was at least one who saw collapse occur completely and totally, who thought, during one of the early barbarian sorties that made it to the suburbs, “Oh, crap, things have really gone to…Gaaaaaaahhhh!”  I don’t mean to make mock of other people’s deaths, even when I have invented them for the purpose of killing them off ;-) , but I do think it is important to realize that even if the great sweep of history goes the way Greer describes, sweeping history famously fails to fully articulate the general experience of the people who get to be the early victims.  They are generally categorized as the poor, the unfortunate, etc…. and unless there’s some reason to lionize them, their deaths are recorded, 500 years later, with a complete lack of interest except as factual observation.

 Thus, the fact that a million people a year (approximately) are now dying from climate change already gets subsumed into discussions - millions of people die every year from all sorts of things, as noted above, the poor are always with us.  Thus, when a few (or a few tens of thousands or even a million or so) extra of them die, seen through the proper lens (and again, let me articulate, I do not imply that this is Greer’s point, but rather the way that Kingsnorth uses Greer) , it is easy to subsume that into the sweep of history, easy to say “wait, that isn’t collapse, we have a long time before that happens, because, after all, the guy in Cleveland is still arguing about whether climate change exists.”

As I see it, the distinction between Kingsnorth and Monbiot comes down to this – how do we view history?  How do we view those people, mostly poor, mostly ordinary, many of whom didn’t have a very bright future anyway, because they were poor, who are the early victims?  And how many early victims do we permit before we admit that something substantial is going on?  We can say, for example, that Haiti was always, at least in our modern memory, a terrible and corrupt and impoverished place, so that it does not much matter that climate change seems to be upping the infant mortality rates.  A comparatively small number of deaths in New Orleans get our attention, but it is easy to sweep the ordinary people of Bangladesh, losing more and more lives to annual flooding, into the sweep of historic scope.  How many dead before we can say it is a collapse?  Or does it only count when it comes here?

I’ve been rough on Kingsnorth here, because I think he misses two important points.  The first is that even if Global Climate change can’t cause a single overarching thing called the apocalypse, no such thing has ever existed – but that doesn’t mean that it can’t cause a thousand things that look an awful lot like apocali (ok, that’s probably not a word, but it should be ;-) )  to the people migrating painfully across continents to find food, or drowning, dying of new diseases and otherwise falling gradually into hell. 

Second, I think he fails to grasp that anthropogenic global warming really may well be a different kettle of fish than the drawdown of our other ecological resources – one of the things worth observing, for example, is the history of abrupt climate change.  We know, for example, that at least a few times in the Earth’s history massive releases of greenhouse gasses have brought about fairly rapid climate change – the shift to the Younger Dryas may have taken as little as a generation.  The Younger Dryas freeze of course lasted 1,300 years, a long, long period of history, but when it flipped over again to a warm period, ice core evidence suggests it could, at most, have lasted a decade, but there is some evidence to suggest that much of the temperature change happened in a year, or even in a season.  With northern temperatures dropping as much as 28 degrees overall, it is hard to imagine a story like the one Greer tells, of a gradual crisis, with a few centuries to do the work of adaptation.

Even if this isn’t the case, climate change lends itself to abrupt events that many people will experience as immediate, catastrophic, and depending on how far down the curve we are, probably an irreparable plunge from one state to another, rather than a gradual decline.  Those folks who lived in Eastern Coastal Scotland 8,000 years ago, when a massive tsunami caused by the melting of methane clathrates in the undersea Storegga, and those in the affected coastal areas of Europe, for example, found that their situation was radically altered – chunks of their land were gone, and the Shetland Islands were pretty much wiped clean of human habitation.  In a society capable of sending the kind of relief that was sent to Asia after the massive tsunami there, such disasters are smaller things, tragic as they are.  Without the helicopters and massive ocean carriers, they are very different events.

But for all that my sympathies are largely with Monbiot on the subject of climate change’s impact, and for all that my fears are personally the same, I do think that Kingsnorth is right about his larger point – there is no hope for Monbiot’s claim that;

“Strange as it seems, a de-fanged, steady-state version of the current settlement might offer the best prospect humankind has ever had of avoiding collapse. For the first time in our history we are well-informed about the extent and causes of our ecological crises, know what should be done to avert them, and have the global means – if only the political will were present – of preventing them. Faced with your alternative – sit back and watch billions die – Liberal Democracy 2.0 looks like a pretty good option.”

This indeed might be a good option, although with its limits, if it were viable.  But it isn’t.  This is not a railing against the injustices of modernity, or an assertion that agrarianism has merits, or anything else – I do some of those things too, but ultimately, my observation is simply this – there is no hope of a de-fanged, steady-state version of our current settlement, and I have to imagine George Monbiot knows this.  We are now banging hard against economic, political and ecological restraints on our ability to create anything like what we have had – we already see the decline of renewable energy investment (barring short term government investments that simply won’t be able to continue on the tax base the UK and the US have to work with) – because the capital isn’t there.  Each resource constraint plays out economically, ecologically, and politically – what we can do is getting smaller every day.

I enormously respect Monbiot’s effort in _Heat_ to come up with a way to continue our basic way of life.  But running the numbers, I don’t think he did – even with 450 ppm as our target, he left out agriculture and other figures, and I don’t think that’s an accident.  The numbers were extremely marginal than – and that was before we knew what we know now.  Even Monbiot has admitted, on this blog, that the very process of a renewable build-out may push us past our tipping point. 

It was particularly difficult last year, when I finally began forcing myself to say and write the words that the science has been leading me to – that there is an excellent chance that it is already too late to remediate our climate crisis, at least in some measure.  I generally prefer to keep my personal reactions mostly private, and the last thing I ever want is to break down in front of an audience who came to hear me do the professional optimism thing, but the first couple of times I stood up in front of a room full of people and talked about our climate change situation as I see it – about the increasing evidence that climate sensitivity is greater than we expected – I cried.  I forced myself to admit to my audience that there is a real chance that we cannot prevent our crossing the critical tipping points.  With practice, I can do this without choking up now, but I still have to force myself to say the words “it may already be too late.”

Why am I saying this here?  And why on earth do I do this to my audience and myself, when hope is so terribly important?  I agree with George Monbiot entirely that we have to live our lives as though it is possible to remediate climate change.  By the time that we know for sure where we stand, it probably will be too late – the only choice is to act as though we can do this, because the price, not just to the people so many are implicitly prepared to write off, but to all of us, is potentially so great. 

But I don’t think the only path to action comes from selling the idea that we can have something like our present, or by not telling people it might be too late.   The problem is that too many people already grasp how close to the cusp we are.  This is dangerous politically – the same people who wanted us to believe for a long time that climate change was really no problem would rather immediately leap to the idea that it is now irremediable, since either way, the economy goes on much as it has been.  But it is even more dangerous to sell ideas that almost certainly are not true – it is true that the idea that we are very close to a climate tipping point is a dangerous thought.  But we have to trust our audiences to grasp the subtle distinction of “may be” because if we are wrong, they will see us as having lied to them, and that has far worse outcomes than telling the truth.

I think it is possible to say “we do not know where we stand, it may well be too late, but we have no choice but to try.”  If nothing else, this language has a history we can invoke – this is precisely the state Britain stood in when the Nazis seemed certain to overrun the country.  And yet, the idea compelled people to act – because the alternatives were worse.  It was not necessary to offer optimism, merely necessity, a sense of urgency and shared crisis. 

In the end, I think Kingsnorth and Monbiot’s final pissing contest distracts from the much more interesting question that they raise – are there any choices between “Death of Billions” and “Let’s just keep on keeping on, even though it almost certainly won’t work?”  I suspect there are, and that will be the subject of my next piece. 

Sharon

32 Responses to “Whose History? Which Future?”

  1. Michaelon 25 Aug 2009 at 9:09 am

    Fascinating piece about Peak Oil. Interested in your take on this article.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/25/opinion/25lynch.html?ref=opinion

  2. risa bon 25 Aug 2009 at 10:43 am

    When the Nazis seemed certain to overrun Britain, Britain built pipelines and held them at ready to pour petrol onto the beaches.

    An extreme emergency may call for measures unthinkable at other times…

  3. Kellion 25 Aug 2009 at 11:12 am

    I totally agree with you regarding being respectful of people’s intelligence – or at least the intelligence to know when they’re being lied to. The “theory of anyway” holds true and is understandable by everyone. We can’t know exactly what the future holds but we know we are using too much, dipping way into the resources of future generations. Time to change.

  4. hengruhon 25 Aug 2009 at 11:35 am

    Very well put, Sharon. At this point, we need to forget about the top national political leaders doing much, or even much at the state level (though that might change). We also can’t think of ourselves as survivalists with a bunker mentality ..OR as isolated farmsteads…although the folks here aren’t as much gun-toting compound-oriented, still, thinking of yourself as an isolated farmstead riding out the end of the world isn’t that different.

    Yes, what about the guy who dies in Act One, Scene One? What about all the unburied dead, and the mad, broken souls wandering about?

    We do need to put the major focus on local and community governments: run for office, create collaboration among interests and nonprofits, etc. Collaboration is key

    During the various collapses over the thousands of years and in war-torn countries, all over the world there seem to be two basic models that can be maintained: sedentary agricultural villages and pastoral nomadic traders.

    In good times, these two ways of life complement each other through trade and provide things the other doesn’t produce. The villages produce things like grains, vegetables, iron, etc. while the nomads produce meat, hides, salt, and serve to transfer exotic goods between sedentary areas. Villages grow into city-states and monasteries, but the central feature is sedentarism.

    Variations of pastoral nomadism include dedicated traders, wandering craftsmen, and liminal “in-between” folks like Gypsies, entertainers, holy men/women, and various rascals and madmen (hey, there’s a question– what about all the people driven mad by loss of loved ones, livelihood, and the world they thought they understood?)

    In bad times, the nomads blossom into horse-barbarians that raid the villages, and the villages become fortified city-states under the control of warlords, some of whom look to build empires…

    This seems to be the pattern from time immemorial for the greater part of humankind.

    Here in your blog, Sharon, you provide the essential building blocks for a farmstead-community-sedentary village culture. In fact much the same as Greer or Orlov, most dystopian blogs focus on aspects of the sedentary village or city-state or monastery.

    Where are the blogs for the nomads? The Pastoralists moving between summer and winter pastures? The sea pirates? The future horse-barbarians? The Gypsy caravans and circuses of acrobats and curiosities…hmmm, there’s a niche for someone to explore…dystopian nomadism…beyond Mad Max ;-)

    As one of my patron saints, St. Mark Twain, said: “”History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

  5. hengruhon 25 Aug 2009 at 11:35 am

    Very well put, Sharon. At this point, we need to forget about the top national political leaders doing much, or even much at the state level (though that might change). We also can’t think of ourselves as survivalists with a bunker mentality ..OR as isolated farmsteads…although the folks here aren’t as much gun-toting compound-oriented, still, thinking of yourself as an isolated farmstead riding out the end of the world isn’t that different.

    Yes, what about the guy who dies in Act One, Scene One? What about all the unburied dead, and the mad, broken souls wandering about?

    We do need to put the major focus on local and community governments: run for office, create collaboration among interests and nonprofits, etc. Collaboration is key

    During the various collapses over the thousands of years and in war-torn countries, all over the world there seem to be two basic models that can be maintained: sedentary agricultural villages and pastoral nomadic traders.

    In good times, these two ways of life complement each other through trade and provide things the other doesn’t produce. The villages produce things like grains, vegetables, iron, etc. while the nomads produce meat, hides, salt, and serve to transfer exotic goods between sedentary areas. Villages grow into city-states and monasteries, but the central feature is sedentarism.

    Variations of pastoral nomadism include dedicated traders, wandering craftsmen, and liminal “in-between” folks like Gypsies, entertainers, holy men/women, and various rascals and madmen (hey, there’s a question– what about all the people driven mad by loss of loved ones, livelihood, and the world they thought they understood?)

    In bad times, the nomads blossom into horse-barbarians that raid the villages, and the villages become fortified city-states under the control of warlords, some of whom look to build empires…

    This seems to be the pattern from time immemorial for the greater part of humankind.

    Here in your blog, Sharon, you provide the essential building blocks for a farmstead-community-sedentary village culture. In fact much the same as Greer or Orlov, most dystopian blogs focus on aspects of the sedentary village or city-state or monastery.

    Where are the blogs for the nomads? The Pastoralists moving between summer and winter pastures? The sea pirates? The future horse-barbarians? The Gypsy caravans and circuses of acrobats and curiosities…hmmm, there’s a niche for someone to explore…dystopian nomadism…beyond Mad Max ;-)

    As one of my patron saints, St. Mark Twain, said: “”History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

  6. Andrewon 25 Aug 2009 at 12:32 pm

    I went back to school (PhD) to study the science of climate change and the ways in which we visualise it (i.e. GIS or mapping systems) to develop policy.

    My personal conclusion is that the tipping point is inevitable. Although small changes (0.5-1.5C) in temperature seem gradual, most of life evolves in the margins – thus the effects become rapidly catastrophic.

    Presently, I soldier on with the research although it breaks my heart to do so. You see, I have a family, and I want them to be safe and happy. Choices to make (i.e. Monbiot vs. Kingsnorth)? I think there exists a multiplicity of reasonable choices in between the two.

    My choice is to “revert forward” by combining the lifeways of about 100 years ago (local living is an example) – and choose carefully the benefits of current technology (LED lights for example). I won’t say my choices are rational – but I crossed my “personal tipping point” a while back, and then words to justify choices became superfluous for me. It is now a matter of acting out the choice.

    Perhaps “personal tipping point” is better remembered by “Alea Iacta Est” – history does rhyme but not repeat.

    Thanks,
    Andrew

  7. veraon 25 Aug 2009 at 12:52 pm

    For me, the main point in all this agonizing is this: we do not know what’s in store. Maybe we are heading into a much greater warming. Maybe a supervolcano will blow and obliterate summers for several years. Maybe we’ll get hit with another comet. Maybe the sun will keep on cooling and we’ll get another Little Ice Age… or a big ice age. It’s about due. In all these cases, many humans will die. To think we can somehow reingineer it so these things which have happened to Earth with regularity will not happen, or that we can stop them, is sheer human hubris, a fairy tale. That is what Kingsworth is talking about. We have this fairytale we tell each other, instead of looking at what’s coming, and coming up with a clear-eyed, unsentimental, human and humane response.

  8. Noah Ron 25 Aug 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Sharon,

    First, thanks for a wonderful post. I’m a long time reader and this is my first comment.

    Second, I loved how you reflected on the different sides of this question. Setting Monbiot and Kingsnorth aside for a moment, I feel this tension quite powerfully in my own life. Is it too late? What does that imply if it is? And what if it isn’t? And, crucially, is there any difference?

    The way it boils down for me is not whether it is too late or not, but at what rate will the collapse come? I’m a complex systems scientist by trade, and I know that when change comes, it can come extraordinarily fast. But I also know that it took almost 200 years for the Western Roman empire to slowly come apart.

    Thus the pace of change in the key factor for me. Will we wake up one morning with no power and $400 petrol? Or will my grand-children just grow up in a world where petrol is so expensive they never even see it and everyone slowly adapts (through death or some other less gruesome means)?

    Each scenario demands a different set of actions from me, now. I fear for the former, hope for the latter and, unfortunately, end up preparing for neither. That is the truly depressing part; that change might not come fast enough for us to really do anything about it.

    Paradoxical, I know, but all the literature from ecological change demonstrates the need for repeated small catastrophes in order to avoid a single, huge catastrophe. The credit crunch was a good step in that direction, but until we start seeing bread lines, middle class refugee camps, and power outages in first world cities, I’m afraid “Liberal Democracy 2.0″ is exactly what we’ll get. Until the wheels really come off, that is.

    A billion dead over a decade or a billion dead over a century? Which is really worse?

  9. cornish_k8on 25 Aug 2009 at 3:05 pm

    I only comment here only rarely, I am mostly a lurker.
    My DH and I have just managed to buy extra land to enable us to start to grow more stuff to meet our own needs; we are in battle against the many rabbits who tunnel through the cornish hedges in this area.
    I am very scared about the future, I have frequent nightmares focussing on different aspects of the dilemma. I can’t even talk to my family about it as they already think I am a joke.
    I worry so much for my children. They are so wonderful but I feel guilty about the world I brought them into. Will they live to curse me for it?
    In the meantime we ride the rollercoaster of the stockmarket in order to maximize the help we can give them – always mindful that all property is theft – and that what I can give them is stolen from others.

  10. [...] Says Astyk, “It is not necessary to offer optimism…We know it may already be too late…What people feel is a necessity, a sense of urgency and a shared crisis.” (via casaubonsbook). [...]

  11. EJon 25 Aug 2009 at 3:42 pm

    @ hengruh
    Why not write the nomad blog yourself? And don’t forget to post a link here.

  12. deweyon 25 Aug 2009 at 3:43 pm

    I thought Monbiot offered good points (except where he described humans as “a species of outstanding intelligence” – is he looking at the same people I’m looking at?).

    However, his constant refrain about “billions of deaths,” or better yet “hideous deaths,” embraces the survivalists’ vision in which any population decline means billions of carcasses suddenly piled up in the streets. That’s just false. As Russia has proven, a combination of lower birth rates and lower average age at death (due to ill health from poorer nutrition, self-care, and medical care, and to some extent to increased violence) can reduce a nation’s population by tens of millions within a generation without the need for any widespread slaughter, plague, or anything else that will overburden the undertakers.

    Doomers who generate an inflated body count by subtracting final population from starting population seem to count unconceived babies among the victims, but even for those who live before they die, there’s often no way of telling whether they were “victims” or not. The death rate in every country is still 100%. If someone living on a grain-based subsistence diet dies of diabetes at sixty, might he have lived to eighty if the food supply had been better, or was he destined to die at that age? You can’t be sure, so it would not be possible to divide those who die each year into “victims” and “nonvictims,” though people would certainly notice that the average health of their social group was worse than it used to be. If I suggested that some degree of “collapse” might be inevitable, the people whom that made me “prepared to write off” would include myself; I’d assume that on average, each of us would have fewer years of old age, and that that would be statistically likely to include me.

  13. deweyon 25 Aug 2009 at 3:54 pm

    I should say that my former comment focuses on the relatively rich world (which included the Soviet Union). If you die at 75 instead of 90, this isn’t such a horrible tragedy; depending on circumstances, in America it might even be a blessing. That assessment can’t apply equally to places that already have a life expectancy of 45 or so. For those places, a reduced life expectancy probably means an increased number of dead 1- to 5-year-olds, which certainly does represent a tragedy.

  14. ceceliaon 25 Aug 2009 at 5:39 pm

    As a historian I must say – the Irish saved literacy – and a lot of books – they did not save civilization. They lacked access to the knowledge of engineering and architecture the Romans had. One could say – civilization is based on literacy – and it sure is great to have Aristotle – but the engineering and architectural stuff is an important component to civilization. If nothing else – sewers and water delivery systems add a lot to civilization. Never the less – we owe a great debt to those strange wandering Irish monks. The relevance of that to our situation today though is to remind us of how easy it is to lose really important aspects of our civilization. Books were pretty portable and could be carried away when the barbarians arrived. Buildings, aqueducts, grain mills, weren’t quite so portable. To understand the scope of the loss – consider that it took humans in Europe almost 800 years to regain the knowledge of how to draw a human body in motion and with perspective. Of course – those people who fought to save some element of civilization had a place to go – Ieland – on the very edge of the known world then. Now – Ireland is likely to be under water with sea level rises – we have no safe place to go.

    On to the larger issue – I almost can’t bear to even think about climate change as the situation seems so desperate and it is painful to consider the losses. I am not sure one should dignify what is going on in this country right now re: healthcare as a “debate” – but whatever you call it – it does not encourage one to think we can tackle climate change.

    I do think though that whether the disaster can be stopped or not – each of us still has a moral responsibility to do what is right. I may not be able to stop what is coming by my own actions – but I can behave in a way which is morally consistent with my beliefs.

    One of the consequences of the frustration scientists have over our failure to act is we see now a lot of carbon capture schemes. Personally, I suspect these sorts of strategies will be more appealing to the general public because they don’t seem to require changes in our lifestyle. While I favor the lifestyle changes – and think they will inevitably come – if carbon capture will save the lives not only of millions of humans but also other species it would be well worth it. So a possibility is to support such schemes ( those that seem pratical – solar umbrellas seem a little impractical to me) in the interim as a way to prevent the huge losses of life.

  15. Brad K.on 25 Aug 2009 at 8:29 pm

    @ hengruh,

    Do you consider feudalism, or by council of elders as stable social structures, historically speaking, and worth considering how they might apply in the event of a general collapse (if not apocalypse)?

    A couple of nomadic artifacts come to mind, ready to revive for today. One is the old west sheepherder’s wagon – canvas topped and wood stove heated, as a year round mobile shelter. The other is the colorful Irish or gypsy caravan wagon. This depends, of course, on assuming a collapse at least severe enough to end general transportation over the Interstate highways.

    @ dewey,

    “lower average age at death (due to ill health from poorer nutrition, self-care, and medical care, and to some extent to increased violence)” I understand that the greatest impact on life span has been not medicine or even nutrition, but sanitation. That learning to dig the well 100 feet from the animal pens and where you dump the trash and where you squat were the major factors in ending several waves of disease in the American frontier, that the outhouse, the septic tank, and municipal water treatment are where society really shines, for creating a healthier lifestyle.

    And the lessons and tools of sanitation are easier to maintain and pass along than the statistically arcane body of much of modern medicine.

    @ Sharon,

    I have felt that the theme of Casaubon’s Book might go something like, “I think that our national and world economy/society is in danger of collapse. Here is what I believe is going to be a level of living that should be sustainable now, through the turmoil of events degenerating to a new steady state, and after the dust settles. Whether you follow my thought, or are just interested in re-learning the self reliance and economic resilience of meeting more of your own needs, whether you are consciously building for a reduced energy life and community or enriching your own life, welcome.”

    I think you are overlooking another perspective on whether climate or economic collapse or apocali is avoidable. Service. You have the choice of proceeding because your words and your work might be of service, whether a collapse is coming or not. Whether you serve your best understanding of what you believe is required of you, or you serve your family or community or faith, whether the water is rising above our ankles as we speak – moving forward is always an acceptable strategy.

    Blessed be.

  16. Vicky Kon 25 Aug 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Sharon

    Love your blogs and books. The only optimism I hold for the future regarding climate change and the whole ball of wax of collapse is that humans will once again have to engage directly with the conditions of their locality.

    The artificial insulation from the vagaries of specific locations that has been made possible by modern life has dulled our sensibilities. We have lost some of the joy that is correlated to lives that are less protected from the vagaries of chance and natural things like disease. Poorer populations [and indigenous peoples living the old way] have higher happiness levels than us. It is no coincidence.

    The things that we are thinking of doing to protect ourselves from the possible future horrors originate from the modern mindset. Of course that is only natural, that is who we are. We are still in the bargaining stage of trying to preserve ‘the best’ of modernity [medicine, scientific knowledge, personal autonomy etc].

    I think that is why we have such a sense of sadness and a certain resistance to what seems to be the likely future. We have lost our deeper connection to the inherent wildness of nature and the source of our own nature.

    Not that we humans will morph into some noble savage at one with nature, but the trials of staying alive will bring back a certain zest and ‘reality’ to living.

    And hopefully the standing rubble of our ‘great’ civilization will remind the survivors of the dangers of hubris. Or not.

  17. Berkshireon 26 Aug 2009 at 1:29 am

    How many Americans believe in angels, ghosts, aliens or the earth forming 6000 years ago? Is religion the basis for most of these beliefs? You bet. Throw in the ideological chasm and greed of modern politics and I query what chance of overcoming the ravages of climate change or anything else.

    The problem that no one will discuss is not over population but the necessity of “losing” the US of A if the world wishes to survive in anything like its present form. We (us in the US) claim directly 25% of the world’s oil supply and probably another 10 or 15% through our proxy manufacturing satellites. Similar percentages apply for other energy and material resources. We disgorge a similar percentage of the worlds waste and pollution.

    The US has stolen most of the world’s wealth over the last 50 years and squandered most of it on wars of no consequence and the maintenance of the flag over our far flung economic empire. It would seem some eco patriots would find the electronic keys to the financial castle or our foreign “friends” would decide that it was time to pull the economic support that props us up to save the world. We are the monster eating the earth.

    As far as “intentional” community and plans for survival by muttering a few green incantations – I don’t buy it. These communities and most of the other posturing one hears are nothing but escapism from boring jobs and lives – and maybe a little whistling in the dark while walking by the grave yard. No one can see the detail of future circumstance, timing and suitability of place. Some problems are unsolvable.

    History teaches that when too much population exists for a given resource base, the strong claim the best land and resources by killing off or placing in slavery the existing population. The clan seems to be the only group that has survived in trying times. You and 20 of your best friends are not a clan.

    We make the mistake of comparing the last 125 years of an unlimited energy utopia to a future energy depleted and climatically blasted world. Many think we can slide through with a few system tweaks and scientific magic. I would suggest learning the correct operation of a funeral pyre as a survival skill.

  18. Hummingbirdon 26 Aug 2009 at 4:35 am

    “Apocali”, I love it! We should keep it and use it often since such things are happening with increasing frequency.

    Once again I am charmed by your writing style, although this reaction seems inappropriate given the subject matter of billions of deaths and the end of the world as we know it.

    I don’t mean to be flippant. I have felt for over a year that it is too late to prevent catastrophic climate change. I have seen my beautiful woods and meadows changed utterly as the wather has become increasingly unhinged. The past year has seen a hurricane (in Indiana!), an ice storm and a catastrophic flood. Life here is painful as I note the huge changes that have already been wrought.

    I applaud your honesty and your courage in admitting what we fear to be true and still keeping on, to save what and who can be saved.
    I hope this piece is widely circulated. We need to face the seriousness of our situation and yet enlist as many as possible to prepare as best we can to save what can be saved.

    The populist and political climate scares me, as I fear we are heading for a serious crisis in this country which will exacerbate an already difficult future.

    Thank you for being here, Sharon. Stay strong, there are lots of us listening.

    There are apocali heading this way.

  19. Paul Kingsnorthon 26 Aug 2009 at 6:26 am

    Thanks for blogging on this Sharon. I’m a fan of your site.

    You make some good and fair fair points, but I want to pick you up on what you claim are my assumptions. Firstly, I have no illusions at all about how grim the impacts of climate change could be; I’m well aware of this. I am aware too of how exceptional it could be – though we have no real idea, of course, of how it will pan out.

    But my major beef with George is precisely that he fails to answer the question you pose here, and which I posed to him too: ‘are there any choices between “Death of Billions” and “Let’s just keep on keeping on, even though it almost certainly won’t work?”’

    The answer is surely that there have to be. I simply don’t accept George’s attempt to polarise this issue in this way. And I agree with you that even if, in some happy paradisical alternative world, a defanged version of where we are now were psychologically or politically possible, it is not physically realtistic.

    This being the case, where do we end up? After fifteen years of environmentalism, characterised largely by the kind of ‘professional optimism’ we talk of here, I have come to the conclusion that we need to end up simply being honest. If we tell people to struggle, or as George puts it ‘fight’, for something we believe to be impossible, we are not spreading hope but despair.

    We are not going to stop climate change now; this is obvious – though this is not to say we cannot still mitigate it or shouldn’t try. But I refuse to subscribe to George’s claims, which seems inherent in what you write here too, that this constitutes ‘giving up’. Giving up what? This was the question I was trying to pose him, perhaps clumsily. Giving up on where we are now, yes. Giving up on imagining the future as a shiner version of the present. But not giving up on life – quite the opposite.

    I don’t imagine any ‘descent’ will be pretty, and I don’t particularly subscribe to the Marxist, or perhaps Annales, grand sweep of history minus the little people narrative. But I think we need to be honest about where we are, and I think George, and many like him, are not doing this. I see no ‘hope’ in such pretence. I see a lot more hope in an honest accounting of where we find ourselves.

  20. KathyDon 26 Aug 2009 at 6:55 am

    Sharon,

    Thank you for this thought peice and your own brand of community based activism. In my own work we did a series of 20 2-day workshops throughout our rural state with all kinds of people (pastors, Asian immigrants, Native Americans, teachers, students, farmers, bankers, old folks, etc…) looking to the year 2050. We weren’t predicting the future or preparing for it (although we did have a post-doc churning data for us to consider- like total biomass production for a given area) but working together to become “adaptable” to whatever future presents itself. Those workshops changed my life (and I was the “researcher”).

    What is there to say…? The sun is just about to rise over the prairie. The sweet corn is early ripe- our family has planned an entire day dedicated to putting up our corn for the year. It is cool outside and the mist lies over the fermement.

    Best Hopes,
    Kathy

  21. hengruhon 26 Aug 2009 at 7:27 am

    @ Brad

    “Do you consider feudalism, or by council of elders as stable social structures, historically speaking, and worth considering how they might apply in the event of a general collapse (if not apocalypse)?”

    Extended kin-based systems are foundational to humankind as a species, however it works out. Allies are made through marriages between groups. As another poster said, you and 20 of your friends don’t make a clan. Clans are kin, blood kin, expanded through marriage systems (people related by blood are kin, people related by marriage are kith..thus “kith and kin”). Kin/kith-based councils are the norm for preindustrial, pre-state agricultural/pastoral/hunter-gatherer societies.

    Feudalism is the warlord system I mentioned, based on clan and alliance, but where the strongest clans dominate the weaker, the strong providing “protection” and the weaker “labor.” Inherently unequal, not necessarily inherently unjust. Relative justice is possible in the ideals of chivalry– not typical feudal/warlord “might makes right” but the Arthurian “might for right”.

    “A couple of nomadic artifacts come to mind, ready to revive for today. One is the old west sheepherder’s wagon – canvas topped and wood stove heated, as a year round mobile shelter. The other is the colorful Irish or gypsy caravan wagon. This depends, of course, on assuming a collapse at least severe enough to end general transportation over the Interstate highways.”

    Here in the local museum we have one of those sheepherder’s wagons. You can also use travois for transport of tipis by horse. The colorful wagons are the precursors to the mobile homes. I know lots of vagabonds who still move along the powwow circuit, selling their wares and food. The mode of transport will change but the nomad lifestyle is timeless. But just as basic wilderness/traditional medicine has a strong future, so do horse doctors, and other livestock care systems from preindustrial times.

    “the lessons and tools of sanitation are easier to maintain and pass along than the statistically arcane body of much of modern medicine.”

    When I went to Nigeria in 1996, I found that the secondary health care (treatment of disease) system of hospitals, doctors, etc. was hopelessly overwhelmed. The focus needed to be on primary health care (prevention of disease), through the practice of environmental sanitation, what the Yoruba call “imototo.” This system went from the level of the individual (certain roots of trees with antibiotic properties served as “chewsticks”- toothbrushes) to the household (”akitan”- a system of very small rubbish heaps in the absence of garbage pickup and landfills which were first salvaged by those looking for materials to sell/recycle, while being picked over by pigs/dogs/chickens, and finally the much smaller remainder burned) and then the community (drainage ditches dug communally to preserve clean water sources and remove standing water which mosquitos used for breeding and thus prevention of malaria, yellow fever, etc.)

  22. Sharonon 26 Aug 2009 at 8:40 am

    Hengruh, let me just echo the call to start that nomadic peoples blog. I think there’s a real place for it – one of the reasons I haven’t, besides being attached to an agrarian model, is that I have a hard time imagining how such a nomadic model would work at present – that is, while it seems viable to imagine such a future longer down the curve, it would be tougher, but not impossible, further in. What seems like it might be necessary is for potential nomads to develop strong relationships with agricultural communities – providing trade goods as they move with the seasons, while having historic ties to lands that can be used well by both groups. The only worry I have is that climate change and population and all the other stuff make inter-communal conflict more likely – in a drought year, there may not be enough pasturage for the nomads – this is a large part of what has happened in many African conflicts in the last decade.

    Dewey, I think that Monbiot may be rhetorically inflating things, but not as much as you seem to mean – the vast majority of climate change’s impact seems likely to hit women and children – that is, not affluent people who have to shift diets or even get drowned. Sure, billions is probably an outside figure of people who will actually die horribly in the shorter term future – but hunger and disease are rapid killers of the undeserving, as you know.

    Sharon

  23. Sharonon 26 Aug 2009 at 10:50 am

    Paul, thanks so much for commenting – I’m enormously flattered by your taking the time. I am, of course, an admirer of your work, but despite my quibbling here, that sort of goes without saying. I’m really glad you and George had this conversation.

    I think I would distinguish slightly (or perhaps this isn’t fair, it can be so hard to get down to actual attitudes in analysis) between “truth and optimism” and “professional optimism” – this isn’t to imply that Monbiot is lying, I don’t think he is – all of us come to different conclusions about the viability of solutions, and I feel like Monbiot’s attempt at making viable his solution – so acutely, brilliantly and numerically problematically (I suspect I’ve just fallen into some kind of grammar wormhole with that last sentence, but I’ll leave it ;-) ) is one of the most heroic things I’ve seen. I also think it fails even at 450 ppm. I think the problem with professional optimism is that if you do it truthfully, there are things you can’t say even to yourself. Now I have no idea what Monbiot’s inner life is like -there are too many other opaque things in the universe for me to worry about it much, nor do I want to over-personalize this; but I can say it was personally very trying for me to get to the point of talking the kind of truth you seem fairly ok about (and that’s not an implied attack, lest it seem so). Being a professional optimist and not a liar is a hard job – and there are things you can’t permit yourself to think. Or maybe I’m wrong, and it is possible, just very difficult, and with little evidence.

    I’m still working out in my head what I want to say about the middle ground – because of course, in the worst scenarios of climate change (and I do not mean to imply here that they are inevitable, merely that they are disturbingly possible), there really isn’t any middle ground – that is, billions die no matter what we do. It may be, as you observe, that this is outside the category of things we can do anything about, but it strikes me that if there is anything that can be done about it, we’re pretty much obligated to try, above all other projects. Even if we fail. There’s an old Jewish saying that one isn’t obligated to complete the work (of tikkun olam, the repair of the world) oneself, but neither is one free not to attempt it.

    I guess what I didn’t see in your exchange is how to talk about this – yes, I agree that maybe the language of giving up is wrong – but what language do you propose? I find myself constantly dancing with the dangers of acknowledging even truth in ways that seem to free up the opposition – how do we balance the political realities? For some years, for example, I’ve been arguing that climate activists need to get over the idea that dealing with climate change wouldn’t hurt our economy – that that’s a lie, almost always based on figures that don’t even approach what needs doing. I take a fair bit of heat for this – and usually with the tacit acknowledgment that I’m almost certainly right, but we can’t *say* it. I keep saying we can, that we can talk sacrifice and cost for future benefits, but I’ve yet to persuade much of anyone ;-) , and I know why they say no. So what is your proposition for how to talk about this, and still get the coal plants shut down?

    My own body of work, of course, takes the approach that there is a middle thing (a la Kevin Kline in _A Fish Called Wanda_), but I’m not sure I think it is an easy or viable one – that is, instead of Monbiot’s project of trying to find a way to keep the world going defanged, or simply getting ready for the apocali ;-) , perhaps it is possible to find a way of life that has a chance at preventing the worst outcomes and also works if we’re all screwed. I tend to think it may even be possible to aestheticize and attract a substantial population to the idea on grounds different than the ones either of you propose in this, obviously, very short exchange. But I am, as they say, not holding my breath.

    I guess I’d have to say that we probably agree much more than this essay suggests – and my guess is that if we could get a beer somewhere, we’d find that Monbiot agrees mostly with both of us. In fact, I don’t know a single person who does this work who mostly doesn’t have the same perspective – we’re probably seriously fucked, things are going to change radically whether we like it or not, and we probably aren’t going to do enough in time. So acknowledging that, we need to figure out what to say and do, and how.

    More on this soon, but thank you again for replying – I really appreciate it.

    Sharon

  24. Russon 26 Aug 2009 at 11:36 am

    Sharon says:

    For some years, for example, I’ve been arguing that climate activists need to get over the idea that dealing with climate change wouldn’t hurt our economy – that that’s a lie, almost always based on figures that don’t even approach what needs doing. I take a fair bit of heat for this – and usually with the tacit acknowledgment that I’m almost certainly right, but we can’t *say* it. I keep saying we can, that we can talk sacrifice and cost for future benefits, but I’ve yet to persuade much of anyone ;-) , and I know why they say no. So what is your proposition for how to talk about this, and still get the coal plants shut down?

    I’m no green cornucopian myself, and I’ve long believed that even if real carbon mitigation and green transformation projects were/are possible on paper, that they simply will not be done as a political matter.

    So although I’ve only recently encountered Paul’s ideas, from what I’ve read it looks like we’re in concord. (I just recently read the Dark Mountain Manifesto, having been attracted by the shared love of Robinson Jeffers, long my favorite poet. I found the manifesto to express many of the same things I’ve long thought about.)

    But if you believe this kind of political action can still be taken, I confess I don’t understand your objection to what looks to me to be a normal political argument.

    If I recall correctly, you didn’t make moral objections to political action, saying that climate activists have to fight with one hand tied behind their backs because they’re supposed to be better than the obstructionists in every imaginable way.

    Rather, yours was a practical objection that climate activists would be politically punished if promises about green jobs or whatever never panned out.

    I guess I just fail to see how there’s any kind of penalty in American politics for this kind of thing.

    (And although I agree with you that any kind of green cornucopian outcome is highly unlikely, I suppose it’s not impossible. If one believes in the political possiblity of any real Change on this, then it’s not so much of a stretch to believe in the physical possibility as well. So it wouldn’t even be a lie, in case anybody did have moral scruples about it.)

    Though like I said, my own inclination is to find the spirit and aesthetic in a more spartan ideal, so I’m not the target audience for all this business about keeping “growth” going anyway.

  25. deweyon 26 Aug 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Sharon – it’s been noted we could get to 1 billion population in 100 yrs w/ no higher death rates if everyone had only 1 child. Yet if you predict much less admit to wishing for that number, you’ll be accused of wanting 5.5 billion bodies in the streets. Impossible to know whether you’re talking about apocalypse, paradise, or just incremental change unless you make up some demographic stats as shared hypothetical frame of reference.

    Brad K – It’s true that basic public health does the most for life expectancy – however, death rates in post-Soviet Russia did go way up. A lot more men drank themselves to death, for one thing.

  26. RudolfCon 26 Aug 2009 at 2:22 pm

    A parenthesis: here’s John Michael Greer from the comments to his latest post “Betting on the Rust Belt.” “The fall of a civilization is like a forest fire; it plays no favorites, and the fact that the forest may be healthier afterwards is probably not much consolation to those who get burnt to death.” So I think he understands what the Long Descent looks like from an individual perspective.

  27. Paul Kingsnorthon 27 Aug 2009 at 3:26 am

    Thanks Sharon. I think there is actually a lot of agreement. I know George well, and our basic disagreement is about whether to ‘fight’ to keep the machine going or not; but even he doesn’t see much hope in that. Rather, because he sees the alternative as ‘giving up’ and allowing mass death, he sees it as a moral imperative, even though it is likely to fail.

    I think this is common amongst greens – as you say, we have to lie to ourselves, because the alternative seems to be despair. How do we talk about this, you ask? It is a good question and I don’t have the answer yet, but my new initiative, the Dark Mountain Project, is predicated on trying to work this out. I do think the first step is to stop lying to ourselves – to let go, because then we can be much more honest about where we really stand. And then the illusions fall away, and we can get busy; which is what you’re doing, and I think your approach is impressive and right. But it all has to start with honesty.

  28. Jasonon 27 Aug 2009 at 3:58 am

    Of course Greer understands what the Long Descent will mean to individuals, for goodness’ sake. What are we all talking about here? What are we pussyfooting around, what’s the elephant in the room?

    No-one will pay attention to me perched on the end of the thread here, so I will just say what I really think: I can’t understand this conversation at all.

    How obvious can you get? It’s all in what Sharon is saying:

    There’s an old Jewish saying that one isn’t obligated to complete the work (of tikkun olam, the repair of the world) oneself, but neither is one free not to attempt it.

    There’s nothing more to say!

    What did people think they were doing here? Getting some kind of reward? Getting a ‘better world’? Did people really think they were going to see a ’solution’? (As Greer says, predicaments don’t have solutions.) Why did they think this, for heavens’ sake? The most surprising people have the strangest ideas.

    Do what seems best, but the result is not known. Hope may fail or hope may not, but what option is there? Between what and what? Everyone has more than enough to do, just get on with it as best you can! There’s no such thing as ‘it turned out alright’, there is only ever the next challenge. One must avoid what the Hermetics call ‘lust of result’. You ruin everything by hedging your bets.

    Personally, as a Stoic, I think everyone should read Marcus Aurelius on things like this. But you can take your pick of sources. Now is the time when you see if you really had a religion, a spirituality, a philosophy. I guarantee, your favourite books have this in them somewhere.

    I grew up on fantasy authors, how about the mouse Reepicheep from C.S.Lewis’ ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, who is determined to reach the country of his god, Aslan –

    “While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”

    Are we all going to be outdone in our humanity by a mere talking mouse? It’s not about what we get, it’s about what we do.

    If there’s no wonderful new society to be had, whatever the next best thing is which is morally possible, that is what we go for. Whatever might work, will it dispense with communities? No, we need communities. So Sharon’s idea of community action will be useful. Will it be ‘enough’? Enough for what exactly?

    I don’t get it, I really don’t. As if a world coming ’swiftly to the brink of chaos’ were any different from any other world as a basis for action! The moral imperative, the task of survival, and the necessity to proceed, remain as they are. The game hasn’t changed in any way, ‘doom’ or no ‘doom’. We don’t know what will happen, but we know what we must do.

    It’s not a lie to tell people, you’re going to need to work as a community to grow your own food. It’s true whether they will be killed by a hurricane tomorrow or not; it’s as true as 2+2=4. Death happens; some consider it a disaster, and although I do not, I’m hardly hankering after being burned or starved in my final moments — or weeks. But misery and illness will be upon us, as they have been throughout history. There are more of us now, more mistakes, and more misery. I don’t see what that changes.

    The only way you couldn’t see this is if you really believe the adverts are true — the kind of commercial crap in Sharon’s latest post. But nobody still believes that do they?

    I often wonder why it’s necessary to continue hating on that kind of thing, it’s just the death throes of a monster, poor tired thing, let it die. Meanwhile, we have stuff to do.

  29. Kassilon 27 Aug 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Sharon – you have pointed out here, in a different form, something that is a vital point of my philosophy: any set of data will look different depending on the grid you use to order it. It is why there are people who see no evidence of climate change, or resource depletion. It is why there are so many who see nothing of the countless millions who die of contaminated water but panic at the mention of each new wave of flu. It is why we have created a nation of incredible, if false, affluence, while being utterly bankrupt in so many ways – including in terms of genuine wealth.

    Reality is a naturally chaotic phenomenon. As has been observed by many, JMG being one of the more lucid to point it out, we tell ourselves stories to make sense out of the chaos. These two opposing lenses are just that – stories told to make sense of the chaotic mess of the world in which we dwell. That we all too often fail to recognize our stories for the tools that they are is one of our great failings as a species that claims to be sapient.

    The only way to make sense of it, in a way that will prepare us for the future that looks ever more likely, is to learn to use all the stories we have available to us. Monbiot’s lens is vital to us because it reminds us of the very real tragedy that faces us, and impels us to wish to act, to step forward and face a struggle that may be unwinnable.

    Kingsnorth’s lens is important, because it tells us we can both look back and forward to other times of trial; times when, despite the immense personal cost to individual people, humanity as a whole has persevered and survived odds much, much worse than our own; we have endured, as a species, events as monumental as the Toba supervolcano detonating. We are a survivor species. Even in the most dire of straits, we do not succumb.

    And there is a third lens, the one that I personally see in the narratives provided by Greer: the lens that shows us that the actions of individuals can impact the grand sweep of history. Consider his short string of stories, published a few years ago, about the lives of three people, in succession, who live through the fall of industrial civilization. True, these character don’t save the world from sweeping climate change – but they do struggle through it, and endure, and bolster the lives of those around them, ensuring that people can still be there when the world they know slowly falls apart. Ensuring that there will be someone there to see tomorrow, for better or worse.

    There are many other lenses to be looked through, all of them useful in their own way; to communicate with a person, you need to understand the lens they use to perceive the world, or else – as is all too often the case at many debates these days – you will end up talking past each other, hearing the words but not the meanings behind them. That, I think, is the true downfall of Monbiot and Kingsnorth; neither understands the grid the other uses to order the chaos of the world, and so each of them sees discord where the other sees order.

  30. Dean Robertsonon 28 Aug 2009 at 8:45 am

    Sharon,

    There is a Way, … to build a Future of PAHS Communities, that produce more, rather than consume more, energy in all of it’s forms, eliminating Fossil Fuels, and the need for them.

    That Way, will provide employment for all, and result in, a much healthier population of all ages, eliminating the need of Insurance paid Health Care, and the Plethora of Doctors and Staff we do not need.

    Do you know of a way to reach President Barack Obama, to set up a Meeting to explain these Solutions ?

  31. Guy McPhersonon 28 Aug 2009 at 10:07 am

    I appreciate your work, Sharon. I’m commenting for the first time.

    I’ve studied global climate change for two decades. I concluded nearly ten years ago that there is no politically viable solution. That leaves energy decline and the associated collapse of the industrial economy as the only hope for a planet habitable by humans. And, if the latest projections are anywhere close to accurate, the collapse better happen very quickly.

    In other words, I largely agree with Peter Kingsnorth on this issue. We’re headed for far fewer humans on the planet, and it’s much more humane — for every culture and species on the planet, and ultimately for our own species — if we get there quickly vs. slowly. A slow decline kills the living planet, and takes our species into the abyss. So, much as I appreciate George Monbiot’s efforts, I cannot imagine a “steady-state” or “slow-decline” scenario that allows the persistence of our species beyond 2050 or so.

    I’m optimistic enough to believe we can bring down the industrial economy and therefore leave a few fragments of the living planet for the enjoyment of our children and grandchildren. The associated economic collapse will be painful for most industrial humans, and it might cause many of them to die. And I’ll almost certainly be part of that group. Such are the consequences of ecological overshoot.

  32. wimbion 28 Aug 2009 at 8:11 pm

    Sharon. Always like your work.

    I am an engineer, an old one. I spend my time inventing things, and a lot of them work.

    I have founded two companies that employ a lot of people to do good things that have never been done before, and are not being done now by anyone else.

    I don’t like to hear any of my people say “Hey, you can’t do that!”

    Usually, Hey, I have already done it- at home, on my own time.

    I like one of my highly educated engineers’ characterization of me -”You are not qualified to do what you have done”. Right.

    “Sometimes nothin’ is a mighty cool hand.”

    So what?

    Here’s what to do.

    1) recognize we are in a hell of a mess and need to do something NOW.

    2)realize we can’t whimp around with standard procedures. We gotta do something BIG and QUICK.

    3) quit doing all the wasteful, energy- burning suicidal stuff we do now that does nobody any good, and the world a lot of harm- SUV is the current metaphor for that sort of thing. This never-should-have-been-done stuff is about 73.5% of everythingl we do, according to my guy on the supercomputer.

    4) Take that money, talent, time, organizations, saved by quitting those stupid things, and use it right now to put the right slope on all those curves- population, CO2, carbon use, etc. We know how to do it.

    5) Live happily ever after, or a good approximation thereunto.

    Of course– I know, I know — “You can’t do that!” I have heard it many times.

    Shalom.

    PS. Fact is I AM too old to do that. But- heh, heh-you aren’t.

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