About a hundred years later (top photo)
Here’s a poem I wrote a couple of nights ago, that might appeal to my more environmentally and historically interested friends.
I’ve seen more and more discussion of late about the question of whether we ought to start talking seriously about the environmental problems we’ve set in-motion with our foolish and unsustainable behaviours.
That is – drop the comforting idea that “If we just pass x legislation and use y technology, then everything will be fine and we can all carry-on consuming, endlessly.”
It simply isn’t so – even were we to adopt a non-destructive lifestyle tomorrow, the overshoot involved in correction processes on the necessary scale (assuming bio-friendly homeostasis is still within the earth’s power, and on it’s agenda), is many orders of magnitude beyond our normal thinking.
George Monbiot, an unusually courageous and also self-critical environmental writer (that is, he’s still testing his ideas, and learning more) had one of his least impressive outings, facing this same challenge. Should someone be working on the question of what things might look like after the collapse? How might we organize politics, infrastructure, food?
With his angry responses, George revealed something true of almost every popular environmental thinker out there – they are still hoping for an outcome that is already (according to their own data) impossible. Sweet, but in an altogether tragic way.
Please note – I’m not suggesting any foolishness on Monbiot’s part. It is, (again, referencing McLuhan) unbelievably difficult to clearly see the paradigm from which one operates. Very much the same quality of problem as a fish studying water – one requires a contrasting ‘environment’ (his preferred wording, for entire ecologies of media and culture) in order to even be able to make the observation!
More recently, the Guardian ran an article about a well-respected scientist, Mayer Hillman, who is also trying to encourage realistic thinking about the future, echoing, in a way I can’t help finding fascinating, the great Alan Watts, when he spoke about the prospect of nuclear annihilation during the height of the cold war. (Paraphrasing here, from “man is a hoax”)
“Perhaps if we stop trying to deny that our culture is only meant to be here for a short time, we might actually be able to manage what time we do have left more realistically, and thus extend civilization more successfully. It may even be that our fretting about its finite nature, is itself, greatly hastening the end.”
The fun bonus in that Guardian article? A whole art-group who are dedicated to the idea of the impending shift in every social economic and environmental assumption on earth – The Dark Mountain project. (Reminded me of the brilliant satyrical “report from Iron Mountain”)
I even read their entire manifesto (not something for which I often have the patience) and found it both bracing and nifty in several ways.
Of course they suffer from the modern delusion – everyone wants to be a standard-bearing hero, don’t they? But no vanguard is required to inspire this movement – it has been growing a very long while already.
Not only the irascible and almost painfully sincere folks who were giving poor Monbiot such a hard time for his lovable naiveté a few years ago – but even silly cynical old bastards like myself.
For me, the happiest part of discovering that group was not their solemn and rather pompous presentation, but the sense of meeting like-minds considering important realities – I’ve been working on stuff about the next phase of the world for years (a few very long-view pieces are included in “Night Song for Cigar-Box Banjo”).
This is not because I worked in a hard-science discipline for many years, nor do I aim to score cheap sanctimony points – I just read way too much history, which makes it impossible not to see patterns.
The idea that what we are and do is ‘normal, important and everlasting’ is the same idea that all willfully-blind self-doomed people always have, just immediately before…