Image credit: The Dark Mountain Project
I'll make no attempt to deny it. I am both an optimist, and a deeply impractical person. I suspect that's why I've always had a hard time accepting the darker visions for the future offered by peak oilers like Oily Cassandra, or the ever thought-provoking James Kunstler. Let's face it, I'm not likely to last long if the worst-case collapse scenario materializes. (Plus, I quite like my warm showers and cozy bed.) Yet while I love to write about new ways of doing things—whether it's kite-powered shipping or transition towns—it would take extraordinary levels of denial not to at least entertain the possibility that our current financial and social structures may not last forever. A growing number of people are doing more than entertaining the possibility. They are actively preparing for it. And they are turning their back on the conventional green movement in the process. Now a movement lead by a self-described "former environmentalist" is seeking to consolidate their efforts. The Dark Mountain Project was founded by Paul Kingsworth, former deputy editor of the Ecologist, and Dougald Hine, also a former journalist. Disillusioned with what they saw as environmentalists' state of denial about the crisis we face, and convinced that social unrest and collapse of civilization is more imminent than we might think, the pair issued a manifesto. The opening words in themselves are enough to put a comfort-loving greenie like myself on edge:
"Those who witness extreme social collapse at first hand seldom describe any deep revelation about the truths of human existence. What they do mention, if asked, is their surprise at how easy it is to die."
As Kingsnorth explains in a piece about the origins of the Dark Mountain Project over at the Guardian, that manifesto touched a nerve. And the manifesto seems to be growing into a movement. Next up is a weekend long festival in Wales this summer, entitled UNCIVILIZATION, and featuring "writers and thinkers, musicians, artists and storytellers who have woken up to the likelihood that we will outlive our way of living. The world of supermarkets and superhighways is not going to become "sustainable" - as the systems we grew up taking for granted start to break down, how do we go on making sense of our lives?"
Undoubtedly, with IEA insiders warning of inflated oil stats, and the US military warning of huge oil shortages by 2015, Dark Mountain and others are right to be ringing alarm bells. Where I part company with their approach, however, is dwelling on darkness, destruction and social unrest as the most likely outcome of such crises. It's almost like some people are willingly hoping for the end of a system they have always disliked—even if that end turns out to be bloody and unpleasant.
It's true that it will be almost impossible to run our society as it runs now without cheap oil—but why the heck would we want to do that anyway? Sitting in traffic jams to get to offices we don't need to go to. Driving miles to buy things from a giant big box store. Shipping in fresh vegetables by air. It is, in many ways, the sheer pointlessness of many, if not most, of these activities that gives me hope. We have an unbelievably huge energy footprint, not because we need it to feed ourselves or to live comfortably, but because energy is so cheap that we don't even think about it. Once energy starts hitting $150, or $200 a barrel, I think we'll be surprised as to how quickly much of the unnecessary usage drops off. And I for one believe that could buy us time to do things differently.
Yes it's going to cause major disruption. Yes that disruption could even cause civil unrest. It only makes sense to prepare ourselves and our families to be able to cope with even worst case scenarios. But assuming (perhaps hoping?) that these scenarios are the only ones possible seems misguided. As I've said before, activism beats prophecy every time. Pick the future you want to see and work to make it happen. Prepare for alternative scenarios. But never assume that anything is inevitable.