50 Shades of Green

A Spectrum of Environmental Thought

“You seem to spend a good bit of time slagging off environmentalists” complained a particularly earnest student to me recently. His gripe seemed to be to do with some fairly incidental comments I had made in passing about fracking being OK in principle, and Permaculture offering no silver bullet for delivering sustainable agriculture.
The thing is though, who are these “environmentalists” of which we speak? It is misleading to speak about “environmentalists” as if they all agree on things like nuclear power or GMOs; in fact, when it comes to the Green movement , we are talking about a very broad church indeed.
Here then, is a selected range of thinkers, movers and shakers on environmental issues, most of them who would identify with being “environmentalists” in some way. This also roughly equates with Professor Steve Fuller’s suggestion (see below) that we are seeing a dramatic 90-degree shift in the poles of political thought- no more so much “Left wing” and “Right wing”, much more “Down-wingers” (Dark Green environmentalists) and “Up-wingers” (eco-pragmatists and technophiles).
As we move through the spectrum, we see a shift from focus on the Precautionary Principle with regard to technology- a general aversion to any more “meddling with nature”- and gradually move closer to Fuller’s “Pro-actionary imperative”- the view that as humans, we are all but compelled to keep innovating and developing new technologies, leaping further into the unknown of the future, if we are to continue to thrive.

There are of course hundreds more writers I could have included. The exact placement of each writer is open to interpretation, and not intended to be precise, not least because many will be further one way on some issues (eg nuclear power or climate) and further the other way on others.

Here we go then- 50 Shades of Green:

Dark Green
This end of the spectrum tends to be quite extreme and ideologically motivated, characterised as:
-anti-capitalist
-Suspicious of technology
-romanticizing the past
-romanticizing “Nature”;
tends to make apocalyptic predictions- the “Doomers”;
emphasis on “over-population”;
follows “Limits to Growth” philosophy: the Earth’s resources are finite, and humanity is approaching the limits- soon there will be severe shortages of energy, minerals, food, leading to a likely population collapse;
Peak Oil= Peak Energy- humans are like “bacteria on a petri dish” and subject to the same laws of limits as other species- it is only our hubris and arrogance that blinds us to this truth;
Humans must cut back and end economic growth, restrict use of technology, live simpler lives;
Moralistic- Humans are an inherently malevolent influence on the planet
Often Misanthropic = human-hating- seeing Nature as Pure and Humans as Polluted.

At the very extreme end of the spectrum…
Eco-fascism: eg Nazi Germany- Rudolph Hess was a leading Nazi Nature Mystic who believed the purity of the German race was intimately connected with the purity of the Land and its Soil –Blut und Boden– (“Blood and Soil”)- the Nazis were the first and only movement to promote Steiner’s mystical practice of Biodynamics on a large scale, which was also inspired by this view;
The Nazi mystics believed there to be a powerful, ordained connection between Das Volk and Das Vaterland– the notion of a sort of chosen land for a chosen people, the Aryan race. This link was expressed naturally enough through farming practices, which needed to be “pure” so as not to pollute the blood through “unclean” food. Purity of the soil- the Land- meant purity of the food; purity of the food maintained purity of the Blood- and therefore, purity of the Race.
Organic farming emerged after this time as a reaction against the rise of industrial farming which was seen as polluting, not just the soil and the land, but the Race.
This kind of thinking, while not explicitly racist in content, can still be found underpinning the Darker side of the Organics and anti-GMO movement. In many ways, the foodie movement in general is best seen as versions of Kosher foods- a modern take on the age-old tradition of identifying ones tribe by the food it eats. “Pig meat unclean” and only eaten by the Infidels becomes “GMOs unclean”.
This position is perhaps best exemplified in the figure of Dr. Vandana Shiva, who, while feted widely by western environmentalists who would prefer to see themselves on the Left, in her native country is more closely identified with right-wing nationalistic interests who shun modernity and have vested interests in the maintenance of the caste system.

Deep Ecology

Anarcho-primitivsism- Derrick Jensen “The Culture of Make-Believe”

Dark Mountain

We are the first generations to grow up surrounded by evidence that our attempt to separate ourselves from ‘nature’ has been a grim failure, proof not of our genius but our hubris. The attempt to sever the hand from the body has endangered the ‘progress’ we hold so dear, and it has endangered much of ‘nature’ too. The resulting upheaval underlies the crisis we now face.

– from the Dark Mountain Manifesto

Thomas Malthus 1766-1834- predicted food supply would fail to keep up with population increases, leading to inevitable famines;

Paul Ehrlich The Population Bomb 1968:

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…

Giving society cheap, abundant energy … would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.

– Paul Ehrlich, “An Ecologist’s Perspective on Nuclear Power”,

May/June 1978 issue of Federation of American Scientists Public Issue Report cited here

Silent Spring Rachel Carson 1962

Limits to Growth 1972 Club of Rome report by Meadows and Randers;

Jared Diamond 2005 Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Richard Heinberg The End of Growth 2011
Heinberg is an influential figure in the Peak Oil movement, which sees the peaking in world oil supplies to be happening now and leading to inevitable collapse of modern industrial society;

Transition Towns Network
A world-wide network of community projects started in Tones, Devon in 2004:

is a charitable organisation whose role is to inspire, encourage, connect, support and train communities as they self-organise around the Transition model, creating initiatives that rebuild resilience and reduce CO2 emissions…Ultimately it’s about creating a healthy human culture, one that meets our needs for community, livelihoods and fun.

TTN promotes the urgent need for a response to the “twin threats” of Peak Oil (resource depletion) and Climate Change (pollution of the Global Commons) by forming re-localisation projects. The vision appears to be a return to more-or-less self-sufficient local and regional communities growing their own food and producing their own energy and other resources, in a general move away from globalisation, technology and progress; they could be characterized as a “neo-feudal” movement.

Supporters and alliances include Prince Charles and the Schumacher College; their seems much in common with the ideology espoused by Rudolph Steiner and other early 20thCentury reactions against modernity.

Permaculture –again, closely aligned with and informing of Transition, Permaculture began as a landscape design method, but now represents a very broad movement claiming to work towards a “Permanent Culture”, Permaculture clearly began as a reaction against industrialisation and modernity and a conviction that society is surely doomed should it continue down its current path;
Also linked with Anthroposophy, Organics and the Food Sovereignty Movement.

The giant multi-national green NGOs Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth probably fit in around about here, with a strong anti-GMO and anti-nuclear stance;

George Monbiot
Monbiot is one of the UK’s leading environmentalists, and aligns strongly with the anti-capitalist, anti-corporate Left; but he also has links with Dark Mountain and the darker Greens on many issues, while at the same time breaking ranks in a rather fundamental way through his advocating of nuclear power as the “lesser of two evils” when considering the need for base-load low-carbon energy to tackle climate change.

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Thus far those cited have tended to believe in the inherent unsustainability of the modern world and call with varying degrees of urgency and optimism for a retreat “back to Nature”;
Coupled with this is frequently found at root a rejection of Enlightenment values- which see human agency as liberating us from the confines of an often merciless “Nature”- as hubris. Instead, they argue, the escape from “natural limits” is a dangerous illusion.
Most mainstream environmentalism including the Green parties of Europe and the US tend towards this view.

Now we look at those who support conservationism and environmental protection in various guises, but who see this as best happening in the context of modern industrial society which should continue to use human ingenuity and technology to solve environmental problems without a wholesale abandonment of modernity:

Eco-Pragmatists:

Sometimes also known as “neo-Greens”;
Mark Lynas
The myth of Easter Island’s Ecocide

In this article, Lynas points to recent research suggesting Diamond (above) was wrong to point to Easter Island as a metaphor for ecological over-shoot and collapse.
Lynas falls between the two ends of the spectrum as he also has very dark views of potential climate apocalypse (viz his 2006 book “Six Degrees” and more recent “The God Species” about planetary boundaries.)

Other thinkers are less concerned about any concept of absolute boundaries.

Eco-pragmatists believe technology can really help the environment- indeed, it is unethical in the extreme to abandon the poor, and they see bringing the rest of humanity out of poverty to be the number one priority. As people become wealthier they naturally take more care of the environment and reduce family size;
See Maslow
Advanced technologies like nuclear power and genetic engineering are cleaner and can both feed and bring energy to the world and help solve some of the problems of earlier technology; “Nature” is something to conserve, but not something we should be aiming to return to.

James Lovelock

The maverick scientist is the hardest of anyone on this list to categorise- on the one hand, his Gaia hypothesis inspired a generation of Deep Ecologists, and also the broader environmental movement, to think differently about the planet; on the other hand he has in recent years made a dramatic turn-around from stating climate change will result in the end of humanity, to “noone really knows” and advocating technofixes including fracking, nuclear power and the geo-engineering.

Hans Rosling Population Growth
TED Talks: Global Population Growth

Rosling shows how development and the demographic transition is leading to a reduction in fertility rates and decline in population growth rates, which is happening all over the world more rapidly than expected.
Essential viewing: The Magic Washing Machine

Emma Marris Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World

Fascinating look at changing perspectives in ecology and conservation in a world where very little if any “nature” that hasn’t been modified by humans remains.

Peter Kareiva, Chief Scientist at the Nature Conservancy.
In this talk, Kareiva takes issue with the romantic notions of Nature of Thoreau and Edward Abbey.
Failed Metaphors and a New Environmentalism for the 21st Century

Stewart Brand Whole Earth Discipline

We are as Gods – and must get good at it.

Brand, one of the founders of the environmental movement and a pioneer in permaculture and appropriate technology in the ‘60s, discusses 4 Environmental Heresies:
-cities are green
-nuclear power is green
-genetic engineering is green
-geo-engineering is probably necessary to tackle climate change.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger and the Breakthrough Institute: The Death of Environmentalism
-a Key article from critics of the mainstream environmental movement

Norberg and Shellenberger reject the idea that it is human population and overall human impact that is the problem, instead embracing enlightenment values, seeing technology and human progress the key to solving climate change and other environmental issues.

Daniel Botkin Botkin challenges the “Balance of Nature” narrative in Darker Green Environmentalism

Matt Ridley The Rational Optimist

To go back to Nature would be a disaster- for Nature

Self-sufficiency is poverty.

TED talk: When Ideas Have Sex

Ridley believes human beings became the dominant species through innovation, specialization and trade, aided by our unique ability to communicate through language;
the “optimist” in his book’s title places him further towards the “upwing” of the spectrum, believing that technological innovation can continue to improve life for humans, overcoming environmental problems;
unlike most of the previous writers, he is controversial and outspoken on climate change, believing it to be less of a threat than the Darker Greens.

Bjorn Lomborg
The Skeptical Environmentalist 2001
Cool It! 2011 Book and Film

key article: Lomborg Explains how to Save the Planet

How we live today is clearly unsustainable. Why history proves that is completely irrelevant.

Lomborg was influenced by Julian Simon (d.1998)

In The Ultimate Resource (1981) Simon argued that human innovation and economic forces would always overcome apparent or temporary resource limits, as in the saying ”The stone-age didn’t run out because we ran out of stones”- in other words, we will always be able to find better substitutes long before a resource actually expires.
Lomborg continues to be skeptical of the more doom-ridden end of the spectrum, and in particular, while accepting that man-made climate change is a problem, believes the mainstream policy response is all wrong, and the key is once again technological innovation- we cannot move away from fossil fuels until we have a cleaner alternative that is also cheaper- and in the meantime there are far more pressing human and environmental problems we should be spending our money on solving.

Patrick Moore Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout 2010
http://www.greenspirit.com/index.cfm

Pure science made me a Greenpeace drop-out.

Moore believes much of the “Dark Green” environmental movement had become irrational and reactionary and anti-science.
More than other “eco-pragmatists” mentioned, Moore is skeptical of the science behind man-made climate change, tending to argue that CO2 plays little if any role in warming the planet, and is certainly not a risk.

At the extreme end- Promethean Greens
Believe technology and human innovation will ultimately lead to a better environment- there is no “Nature”- only what humans decide will remain;
Even asteroid-mining or deep space travel will be possible eventually;
Transhumanism– human-computer link-ups; nano-technology; and even eternal life after the Singularity is reached and life-expectancy advances faster than real time.
Eg Jacques Fresco’s The Venus Project
See Mark Stevenson An Optimists’ Tour of the Future for an entertaining survey of future technologies that may not be that far off.

As mentioned in my intro above, in his 2014 book The Pro-actionary Imperative Professor Steve Fuller takes issue with the dominant Left-Right dichotomy, instead positing “Down-wingers” (anarchist Deep Ecologists and Conservatives) and “Up-wingers” (Marxists and Libertarians). He himself advocates Transhumanism as a political strategy, embraces technological fixes- but, in sharp contrast to the more secular/atheist tendencies of other Prometheans, this emerges from his Christian belief that God made us in his image ie our destiny therefore is to literally become As Gods, and not just metaphorically as per Stewart Brand. Successful risk-taking is what has made us human, and the last thing we want to is allow the Dark Greens to slow this down.

***

So there you have it. Let me know if you think there are any major omissions. In truth, we are all environmentalists– once we have sufficient wealth and security to worry about things beyond our immediate survival.

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Whole Earth Discipline

As mentioned in my last post for GMO-Skeptics Forum, one of the major influences in my journey from Dark Green Chicken-Little to pragmatic techno-optimist was Stewart Brand’s seminal Whole Earth Discipline.
This makes interesting reading for me four years later, as I was on the cusp of a new understanding on some key environmental issues: I was still in the grip of peak oil paranoia; I had not yet grasped what is really happening with population or even how fundamental the issue has been for environmentalism; and I would also be much more skeptical these days of apocalyptic climate predictions.

In particular, this book started me questioning the assumptions of my environmentalist tribe on GMOs, which I have since learned a lot more about and written many more posts on.
The review comes over to me now as wordy and long-winded, but this reflects partly the inner struggle I was going through as some of my core beliefs began to be re-aligned, so it serves as a testimony to that process as well as a hopefully useful review of a still important book.

From the Archives: First published on Zone5 March 22nd 2010

Book Review:
Whole Earth Discipline -An Ecopragmatist Manifesto
by Stewart Brand
Atlantic Books 2009 316pp

IMG_1572

“Civilization is at risk, but civilization is the problem”.

Stewart Brand is one of the iconic founders of the environmental movement, an original old hippy whose influence on the boomer generation should not be understated. With his latest book Whole Earth Discipline he takes that same movement to task for rejecting science and getting sidetracked by ideology at the very time when the practical application of science through engineering and technology may be the only way to save ourselves.
I came across an early copy of The Whole Earth Catalog, founded by Brand in 1968, on an early visit to a small “back to the land” commune about 25 years ago. It was a thrilling introduction to the possibilities of the burgeoning “alternative” lifestyle of organic gardening and renewable energy I was joining at the time.

Over the coming years, I read about his early involvement in LSD in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and currently have a copy of his 1999 book The Clock of the Long Now on my bookshelf.
In a recent interview, I heard Brand take on the environmental movement’s anti-science stance on various issues. I have been grappling with this issue myself for some time now, particularly in the credulous acceptance by most green organisations of “alternative medicine” for which there is no evidence, and the anti-science diatribes that are inevitably summoned up in defense.

More recently I have discovered for myself how little science there is behind the health claims of organic food, and how organisations such as the Soil Association are often pseudo-scientific in their claims and their treatment of evidence.
Whole Earth Discipline challenges the greens on four more holy cows: population, urbanisation, nuclear power and Genetically Engineered crops, and in reading this compelling and fascinating book I have had to do some serious re-thinking around these issues myself. Continue Reading

The Perils of Prediction

A couple of weeks ago The Royal Society published a major new report called People and the Planet(pdf),which has drawn a lot of criticism for its apparent commitment to outdated “Limits to Growth” type thinking.

Who can know the future?

As Tim Worstall points out, while there is much to merit in the nuanced analysis of the main report, in the actual discussions of what we should do about both consumption and population,

it appears that we really are running out of “reserves” and that we should hand out condoms to all and sundry. That last isn’t all that surprising, as Jonathan Porritt is part of the team and he’s incapable of saying anything else on the subject.

Indeed, Porritt is not of course a scientist at all, more an activist, and his presence here which does in itself raise serious questions about the integrity of the study, if it means that the science is being mixed up with ideological interpretations and policy recommendations.

Similarly, Mark Lynas argues

Whilst using a lot of dark language about increasing numbers of humans globally, the report nowhere acknowledges that the current median level of total worldwide fertility has fallen dramatically from 5.6 in the 1970s to only 2.4 today. In other words we are already close to natural replacement levels in terms of total fertility – the reason that the absolute population will continue to grow to 9 billion or more is that more children are living long enough have their own children. To my mind a reduction in infant mortality and an increase in life expectancy are self-evidently good and desirable – and their impact on world population levels should be celebrated, not bemoaned.

Lynas goes onto to explain that the main failing of neo-Malthussianism is that it assumes resource consumption is a “zero-sum game”- that there is a finite pie to be shared by an expanding population, with only one possible outcome- not enough pie to go around. While this might be true in an absolute sense, it ignores technological developments which allow economic growth – “qualitative” rather than just “quantitative” growth to continue even as per capita, and ultimately even total impacts may plateau and even decline.

Chris Goodall at Carbon Commentary picks up on this theme by arguing that more resource consumption and growth need not necessarily result in greater impact. He uses the example of waste and rubbish:

Waste production per person in the UK peaked at around 520 kg a year in the year to March 2002. The latest two quarters figures are fifteen per cent below that level. The latest quarterly figures suggest a figure of about 443 kg. The decline from year to year isn’t smooth but is probably getting steeper.

As societies get richer, they become smarter, more eco-conscious and generally have a tendency to clean up our act. Goodall wryly continues

In contrast to what the Royal Society says, growth may be good for the environment. We waste less and are prepared to devote more cash to ecological protection. Technology improvements mean things last longer and use fewer physical resources to make. Regretfully, I have to say that the world’s most prestigious scientific institution should spend more time checking its facts.

Continue Reading

Can religion help us solve climate change?

After the interesting the debate with @DarkOptimism on doomerism a couple of posts ago, I was intrigued to see him tweeting a link to the latest BigIssue which carries an article by Adam Forrest called Climate Change: A Matter of Faith and asks the question, Can Science and religion work together to save us from ourselves? (pdf download here.)

Many climate skeptics and environmental critics have long felt that these movements are best seen as religious ideologies rather than being based on objective science; but while these charges are normally dismissed as absurd conspiracy theories, here we have an example of activists who not only freely admit to a religious dimension to their cause, but actually advocate the deliberate creation or invention of religious ideas in order to motivate the kind of change they want to see. (Simon Fairlie provides another example of this approach here.)

All the peer-reviewed studies and strategies of persuasion known to Green PR have failed to fundamentally alter the way we live… the green prophets in the persuasion business do not have an easy task

So why has the green movement failed in its stated task of fundamentally changing the way we live? The article, which references Transition Towns and the Dark Mountain Project as guides to a Post-Collapse Society, goes on to quote Stefan Skrimshire, who specializes in Theology and Climate change at Leeds University, who asks:

How do you get people to believe in the end of civilisation enough to make them hopeful and proactive enough to help forestall disaster?

Hmm difficult question that one. What is odd- or perhaps predictable- about the whole article is that it is based on an absolute presumption, total conviction, that we are facing the collapse of civilisation, and the fact that most people and society at large is snoring is a result of some kind of denial, or the usual human frailties of greed and selfishness. Alistair McIntosh, author of Hell and High Water, points to traditional narratives of doom going back to biblical times, but draws completely the wrong conclusion:

The metaphysical matters, for without it we miss the whole picture…I would like to see the use of [science] tempered with some of the wisdom the pre-modern world possessed.

There are so many garbled ideas and messages contained here that it is hard to find one’s way through. Science is not about telling stories, but about considering the evidence. The Grand Narrative of Environmental Doom being proposed here is laden with the Guilt of Original Sin and Revenge Fantasies. The problem is, environmentalists of this ilk do not value the gains of the modern world, and imagine a romantic past that never existed. There was wisdom of a sort in traditional cultures, but it was not a sort of wisdom that will do us any good now- and the last thing we need is to be dragged back into a superstitious Dark Age.

The reality is, humans have used their innovations and technologies to drag themselves out of the extreme hardships that Nature bequeathed them, and that this has certainly exacted a cost to the environment- but by and large it has been worth it because the past was in fact so terrible. Those who yearn for some kind of idyllic simple life in the stone-age should remember that life expectancy was pitifully short and infant mortality was generally very high.

The way to address environmental problems is to embrace technology and innovation. Simply developing cars with higher mileage, for example, will have a far, far bigger beneficial impact than any amount of “lifestyle change” simply because the kind of lifestyle changes Greens like to proselytize about, were they to actually mean anything in reducing environmental impact, equate to poverty. And poverty in the here and now is far, far worse than some vague and abstract notion about climate change sometime in our grandchildren’s time.

“It is, inevitably a spiritual change and we will be more and more pushed to think about these things.” muses McIntosh. “It’s bigger than anything we’ve ever faced before and we are going to have to strengthen our personal resilience.”

How can climate change sometime in the future, the effects of which are highly uncertain, our ability to adapt largely dependent on wealth and technology (not to dismiss community and “resilience”- those things are important as well) possibly be bigger than anything “we” (humanity? White Western Males with University tenures?) have ever faced before?

When, as an angst-riven teenager just becoming influenced by such post-modern ideas complained to my parents about how awful things were getting in the world some 30 years ago, I was reminded that they had grown up during a World War. I had no concept of what that must have been like. But if WW1 and 2 do not suffice, how about the Black Death? That must have been pretty bad, when some 30-60% of the population of Europe was wiped out in the space of a few years.

There have been hundreds of other plagues, famines, natural disasters and wars throughout history, but science, progress, development and technology have allowed us to mitigate many of the worst effects for much of the world. Not, of course enough- there is still 2billion too many in poverty; we are not going to help them by hand-wringing about how awfully materialistic we have become. Materialism is the result of our incredible success, and with it we have developed liberal values of the Enlightenment, democracy and, hey, we may even be becoming less violent.

Instead of celebrating these astonishing gains, and the fact that we are here to witness them, these noble Green Theologians believe that if they only tell Joe Public the right Story that we will all See the Light and mend our evil ways. Unfortunately, as another ancient myth, that of Pandora’s Box, tells us, there is no going back, we can only continue on our path of progress, and for that we should be surely thankful.

Review: Peak Oil Personalities

Peak Oil Personalities

 

A Unique Insight into the Greatest Crisis Facing Mankind

Edited by Colin Campbell

Pbck; 337pp

Inspire Books 2011

Dr. Colin Campbell has collected short biographies from 27 contributors, many of them oil geologists and petroleum engineers, who have worked with Colin over the past 20 or more years on the issue of peak oil and its implications for the world economy.

One of the most striking impressions one gets from reading this fascinating collection is what a colorful life it must have been to be an oil geologist or engineer during the Golden Age of Oil.

His own chapter makes for colourful and entertaining reading on the professional career of one of the founders of the peak Oil movement.

Colin read geology at Oxford and went on to work for Texaco, BP and Amaco, taking assignments in Trinidad and Columbia, Australia and Papua New Guinea, and later in Europe, including Norway, before taking early retirement in 1989. He continued work as a consultant, and it was during this period that he published the first book on the subject of Peak Oil, The Golden Century of Oil 1950-2050, published in 1991. He lived in France for some years and then settled in Ballydehob, West Cork, in 1999.

Much of the early oil exploration in Latin America was adventurous and risky work:

{In 1958} I then had two heroic and fantastic years doing field work in the Andes and Magdalena Valley. It involved riding mules with about twelve Columbian field workers and camping in very remote and often bandit-infested country.

Continue Reading

Colin Campbell interviewed

Dr. Colin Campbell, retired oil geologist and founder of ASPO, was recently interviewed by Walter-Ryan Purcell in West Cork.

Colin outlines his peak oil thesis which sees energy constraints as inextricably linked to the economic collapse: the bankers and bond-holders borrowed vast amounts from the future, predicated on continuing growth. This growth has stalled because, Colin believes, we passed a peak in world production (of “conventional” oil) in about 2006, and are now “peering over the abyss” at a future of declining energy supplies.

Hence the current financial collapse, which Colin sees as precipitating over the next few decades, a societal collapse which will inevitably lead to population collapse as a world with less liquid fuels must contract, and the heavily oil-dependent agricultural sector struggles to feed the world’s still growing population.

He points out that the trade in oil futures exceeds actual oil production 10-30-fold, and that financial traders do not like stability- it is in their interests to have fluctuating markets and boom-and-bust cycles.

The densely populated UK is in a “desperate situation”, and should look to controlling immigration; while Ireland, with good farmland and far less people is relatively better off and could look forward again to becoming the food basket for the UK. He suggests however that Ireland should strengthen its navy in order to fend off burgeoning numbers of refugees desperate to reach our green and fertile land.

China’s economic boom has arrived “at 5 minutes to midnight” and considering its depleting aquifers, horrendous pollution and huge population, the future for this giant country looks extraordinarily bleak, with the return of famine on a massive scale to look forward to;

whilst in dire need of radical reform, including the downsizing of its “completely unnecessary” military, with its vast natural resources and innovative and resilient populace, Colin sees the USA as being relatively well placed to adapt over time. (Interestingly, this viewpoint is in stark contrast to fellow-doomer Dmitri Orlov for example, who sees the plight of the US as being worse even than that faced by Russia in the 1990s.)

Colin feels a move to more regionalism, with regional currencies based on real measurements of value like work, will be necessary, pointing to the potential devolution of Scotland from the UK.

All is not bad news however. The survivors- those who can achieve local self-sufficiency and make a life for themselves outside of the global financial system, may still look to a bright future and a simpler existence that may even be preferable in some ways.

Thanks, Colin! And Happy Christmas 🙂

My Peak Oil Story

Just received my copy of the new collection Peak Oil Personalities from Inspire Books.

Compiled by Dr. Colin Campbell, founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) in 2000,the book includes essays by 25 contributors from both sides of the Atlantic- some of them oil geologists, describing how an understanding of Peak Oil has impacted their lives, and what consequences it will have for society.

I wrote the first draft of my chapter in March 2010; when Colin came back to me nearly a year later to ask if I had any revisions, I felt that my views had changed so much that he should leave me out of the book. Still keen to have my input, Colin persuaded me to just make some revisions to reflect my current thinking on the issue,so here I present the chapter as it appears in the book.

I will write a full review of this fascinating book in a subsequent post, and continue with a critical look at the Peak Oil movement in the coming weeks.

While reading my contribution again makes me squirm a little as I remember the evangelical fervor with which I preached the message of Peak Oil Doom for a few years, I think it still gives an important insight into some of the motivations and thinking behind aspects of the peak Oil movement.

My Peak Oil Story

My views on Peak Oil and its possible consequences for society have changed considerably from when I wrote the first draft for this collection.

I come from a small town in the south of England. My father was a tree pathologist, and my parents were keen gardeners. I certainly picked up a lot of my love for Nature and the outdoors from them, especially trees and woodlands, but also had a keen interest in social issues and politics, opting for sociology for my degree.
I was brought up with a strong conservation ethic, although far from austerity, and clearly remember the power cuts of the early 1970s, which I now understand to have been a result partly of the US peak in oil production around that time and the “First Oil Shock”. My father’s injunction to turn the lights out! and save energy is still with me today.

Sociology opened my eyes to the complexities of human behavior and the injustices of society, but rather than continuing with any political activism, I opted for solutions: learning to grow my own food and become more self-sufficient, rather than continuing to depend on an industrial system that seemed both inhumane and unsustainable, became my main priority.

In 1989, I completed my first course in Permaculture Design in Shropshire. Permaculture fitted my needs and aspirations perfectly: a practical approach that leads to self-reliance through simple, appropriate design solutions and a low-tech approach with the emphasis being on working with nature.

I was, by this time, already convinced that industrial society’s days were numbered: the big question was always: how long before major systems failures? How long before collapse?
In a burgeoning world population, ever-increasing calls for more growth and consumption in the industrial world, pollution, species extinction… it seemed clear that something would have to give. Continue Reading