The Long Descent

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I've been reading John Michael Greer's The Long Descent, and have found it an extremely useful text in understanding political and social intransigence to ecological crisis. Early on he critiques two of our most dominant delusions: the myth of progress – that human brilliance and technology will always find solutions, and the myth of apocalypse – that industrial culture will end in one catastrophic McCarthian doomsday scenario.

His theory on our civilisation's descent is fairly original and compliments David Holmgren's work Future Scenarios. Greer is in no doubt that society is incapable of solving the interrelated problems of peaking fossil fuels and climate chaos. Therefore, rather than a problem to find a solution to (which we could have perhaps done thirty years ago), Greer argues we now have only a predicament which requires, not a solution, but responses.
"The chance that today's political and business interests will do anything useful in our present situation is small enough that it's probably not worth considering." p30
This sentence dovetails pretty nicely with my friend, Ian Robertson's, brilliant Victorian government adbusting (from last year).

The transportation of resources crisis; a revolving door.

Greer thinks there are parallels to make with the declines of previous civilisations. For example he reckons we can switch swidden agriculture for crude oil in the following paragraph.
"All the achievements of Mayan civilization rested on the shaky foundation of swidden agriculture – a system in which fields are allowed to return to jungle after a few years of cultivation, while new fields are cleared and enriched with ashes from burnt vegetation. It's a widely used system in tropical areas around the world, but, like dependence on fossil fuels, it has a hidden vulnerability. Swidden works extremely well at relatively modest population levels, but it breaks down disastrously when population growth takes over and farms can no longer return to jungle long enough to restore soil fertility."p25
By 2040, he projects, oil supply will be what it was in 1980, but with nearly twice the amount of people on the planet.

Energy Bulletin has posted a podcast titled Peak Oil vs Pathological Optimism just yesterday, which feeds off from these thoughts.


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