Facing the Long Emergency
How do we deal with "The Problem"?
I discuss the following in what follows: Living in the Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler; a post on John Michael Greer’s blog, ‘The Fire This Time’; Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of the World by Daniel Sherrell; and ‘A Hotter Planet’ from Sophie Pinkham in The New York Review of Books.
Until recently, I often wrote about the ecological emergency, making it a major theme in my books. In fact, the genesis of the psychedelic exploration that led to Breaking Open the Head, my first book, was my realization, in the late 1990s, that we were rapidly degrading the capacity of the Earth to support complex life, including ourselves, and needed tools for thinking and acting differently. The reason I started a company and nonprofit, Evolver, in 2006 was to unite people around grasping the scale of the ecological emergency and pursue a shared path to addressing it. My interest in this topic culminated in my book, How Soon Is Now (2017), where I put together many puzzle pieces to propose a systemic approach to what Daniel Sherrell, in his book Warmth, simply calls The Problem.
This truly seemed to me – as a generalist, writer, and thinker who could see where we were heading – the only sane, responsible thing to do. As a career path, however, it was difficult, financially masochistic, and demoralizing. Not only was it depressing to keep marinating in the details of what we are relentlessly unleashing upon our uniquely precious home, it was also not what most people want to hear.
When you keep speaking publicly about The Problem, you find your audience turning away from you, seeking the next distraction. My situation was more complex as I was also exploring, all at once, many topics that the mainstream considered taboo, from psychedelics to psychic phenomena to crop circles to end-time prophecies. All of these seem, to me anyway, linked together, although you have to go deep down the rabbithole to understand how (my book 2012: The Return of Quezalcoatl takes you there).
In any event, over the last few years I took a break from focusing on The Problem, while still tracking the unfolding clusterfuck in articles, books, and essays. One reason, among many, that I backed away from the topic, was the failure of the “Peak Oil” theorists to accurately predict a near-term contraction of global energy supply. I was very interested in this movement fifteen years ago. Peak Oil authors included James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, John Michael Greer, and Dmitri Orlov, among others. They followed the famous projection of “Hubbert’s Peak,” which accurately predicted a steep decline in US oil production after 1970, to argue that the world was going to start running low on fossil fuels during the last decade. According to their dire forecasts, we should be experiencing regular brownouts and shortages already.
What happened instead, of course, was that energy companies developed new, powerful techniques for accessing unconventional reserves of oil and gas, such as fracking and the extraction of fossil fuels from tar sands. America actually revved up its energy production to become the world’s leading producer of oil and natural gas once again. I started to wonder if I had a psychological tendency to gravitate to the darker, grimmer, interpretations of the evidence. Perhaps I was biased toward an apocalyptic framing and things weren’t actually quite so bad.
Wanting to catch up on some of the current thinking around climate change, I just read Sherrell’s Warmth and a recent book by Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency: Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adaptors Who Are Showing Us a Way Forward. A thirty-year-old Brown graduate who stays up to date with critical race and queer theory (“Woke,” in other words), Sherrell has made a career out of climate activism. A supporter of the Green New Deal, he is currently Campaign Director for the Climate Jobs National Resource Center, where he apparently intercedes between the labor movement and the climate movement. This is a noble enterprise; one can only applaud him for his efforts.
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