19 May 2010

Is it time to go to the Dark Mountain?

Is the planet stuffed? Is it all downhill from here? How can we really take on the challenges? Are we even making a tiny difference?

Just last week we have further evidence that rather than cutting emissions Britain has been increasing them (see here where George Monbiot notes that only the Green party have approached this issue 'honestly').

Photo: dusk in Randwick woods

Well this blog covers three articles that I found interesting in response to those feelings that many of us feel when we look at the enormity of the challenges we face - firstly Chris Johnstone looks at how we need to face the reality of the challenges then Alex Steffen argues we need to really understand that a bright green future is like nothing that has ever come before. Lastly Paul Kingsnorth has given up on environmentalism - read his manifesto of the Dark Mountain Project.

See here Chris Johnstone write about "How should environmentalists deal with an onslaught of bad news?" He argues that facing problems and thinking about them can, in the long run, make us happier individuals. Here is a clip: "If, like me, you find yourself horrified by the planetary emergency we face, this might seem a touch over-positive. Yet my interest is in how we can start from where we are, feeling what we feel, and respond in a way that is good not just for our world, but also for our mood."

It is certainly true that doom and gloom and telling about the horrors of ecological collapse will not win friends - greens in the past and still some today try and get folk to act out of guilt - I have long argued we need to empower people - interestingly the Mental Health Foundation looked at our emotional reactions to global issues and they found powerlessness to be, by far, the most common response - this was experienced by more than half of the two thousand people they surveyed. Powerlessness, as Chris Johnstone points out, is a contributing cause of depression... indeed he writes: "the more powerless someone feels, the more depressed they get, while the more stuck they are in depression, the more this adds to their powerlessness."
Read Chris Johnstone's article here.

Challenges ahead are vast

A while back I came across this thought provoking piece by Alex Steffen:

His piece entitled "The Revolution Will Not Be Hand-Made: A Quick Sunday-Morning Rant" where he says we are reaching a turning point. The task ahead is almost too big. He writes: "It's not enough to be less destructive, to be more sustainable. We need to actually start being non-destructive, being as close to sustainable as we understand how to get. And we need to do it quickly. As Dana Meadows said, in an era where we seem to be running hard up against the limits of so many natural systems, the ultimate limit turns out to be time. If we don't make truly massive shifts in the next decade or so, we're committing ourselves to huge troubles; if we here in the developed world don't transform ourselves in the next two decades, we're committing ourselves and our descendants to catastrophe."

How can we all reduce our CO2 impacts by 95%? As he notes: "Almost all of us believe that someone who buys local food, who drives a hybrid, who lives in a well-insulated house, who wears organic clothing and who religiously recycles and composts and avoids unnecessary purchases is living sustainably. They are not."

Alex Steffen argues that some of the "solutions" we embrace don't actually motivate people to change at all. He writes: "There's hard evidence suggesting that most of the time, small steps do not actually motivate people to later take larger steps (most people adopt a small change or two and then feel they've done their part and stop)....That's not to say that its wrong to garden or recycle or buy CFLs. It's not. It's never wrong to try to live a life that's internally consonant with the change we want to see in the world. Most of those life choices also make us healthier, happier and better off in the long run....Some personal choices, like forgoing beef and living without a car, not only create some measurable impact, they're also public enough to signal your beliefs. But we still shouldn't mistake these things for creating sustainable systems. Until we have systems that reduce the numbers of cows and cars we all use, we're not making any real progress at all."

Our future will look like nothing that has ever come before, and will involve us changing the fabric of our lives. As Alex Steffen writes: "We're redesigning our civilization...The answer to ...apathy and disengagement is not to demand less from people. That hasn't worked. Instead, I think, we need to regard not being boring as one of our cardinal design principles. We need to make change interesting, and fun, and provocative, and full of good times and relationships with others and meaningful work. We need to approach complex, vast systems in terms of art, and game design, and public festivals every bit as much as in terms of reports and committees and NGOs. We need a cultural movement, for sure -- it just has to be a cultural movement aimed at making systems geekery a passionate part of the lives of regular people."

No more environmentalism

I'm not sure Alex Steffen's words cover what is needed as a response but his article is a great reminder that the changes we need are enormous. It is perhaps not surprising that Paul Kingsnorth "stopped believing in environmentalism" - as he says himself "none of his campaigns were succeeding....It was increasingly obvious that climate change could not be stopped, that modern life was not consistent with the needs of the global ecosystem, that economic growth was part of the problem, and that the future was not going to be bright, green, comfy and 'sustainable' for ten billion people but was more likely to offer decline, depletion, chaos and hardship for all of us. Yet we all kept pretending that if we just carried on campaigning as usual, the impossible would happen. I didn't buy it, and it turned out I wasn't the only one."

Read the full article in The Ecologist here or The Guardian here about how Paul Kingsnorth came up with "A manifesto for change...Uncivilisation: the Dark Mountain Manifesto". The manifesto argues that environmentalists now work on "sustaining human civilisation at the comfort level which the world's rich people – us – feel is their right". Instead of seeing what really needs to be done we are just replacing old technologies that wreck the planet with new ones like wind turbines that destroy our wild places....we are disconnected from nature....and we cannot stop the juggernaut of growth and instead should be planning for the planet's collapse.

The Manifesto has met with many responses - many have felt relief as they had been going through the motions of trying to save the planet but had lost faith long ago that it was possible. Humanity has failed to respond to the crises it has created. As Paul Kingsnorth writes: "The civilisation we are a part of is hitting the buffers at full speed, and it is too late to stop it...Together we are able to say it loud and clear: we are not going to 'save the planet'. The planet is not ours to save. The planet is not dying; but our civilisation might be, and neither green technology nor ethical shopping is going to prevent a serious crash."

A first collection of writings is out this month - I've not seen it yet - so am I ready to climb the mountain?

Well I am tempted - was going to leave this blog post with that line but have just come across George Monbiot's article last week that I had missed saying he was also not ready to climb the mountain - see it here. Monbiot's comments include: "Like all cultures, industrial civilisation will collapse at some point. Resource depletion and climate change are likely causes. But I don't believe it will happen soon: not in this century, perhaps not even in the next...To sit back and wait for what the Dark Mountain people believe will be civilisation's imminent collapse, without trying to change the way it operates, is to conspire in the destruction of everything greens are supposed to value."

The Dark Mountain responds here to those thoughts in The Guardian here. This is certainly a healthy debate that needs to take place. Find out more at www.dark-mountain.net


Russ said...

well, it's wrong to say that industrial civilization can't be saved, as it would have been wrong once to say that there wouldn't be a cure for small pox.

Science can come up with the goods if it is given the chance, but many greens are anti-science, while at the same time being quite happy to use its products..There is an illusion of what the world would be like without technology, and I suppose people are quite happy to dwell on it as they drinking their Waitrose tea while listening to a CD.

More greens should put their money where their mouth is an actually cycle up a few hills around Stroud, then they might just see how hard life would be without the evils of modern technology.

Russ said...

sorry; I don't get out much. :P

Anonymous said...