Transition and Collapse: Voices from the Margins

The Long Descent

It was at my suggestion that our Transition Book Group read The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, by John Michael Greer. Known online for his blog the Archdruid Report (he is a high priest of the Druid Order) Greer belongs to a small group of thinkers that I would call “collapse-theorists” (others might say “doomers”), who dare to describe the future of energy descent, the massive crises of the economy, climate and peak oil. All of the material we read in the book group is difficult. Jokes are made about who we are sending our therapy bills to each month as we gather. Something about Greer proved extra-challenging, and although we all liked the book as much or more than anything else we have read, it brought up the unique grief of contemplating a grim future.

Though gentler, and more rational than many writers of his genre, Greer has a knack for formulating the truth in ways that are hard to dispute.

“Some people in debates about the future of industrial society have argued that attempting to cushion the decline instead of preventing it is morally wrong because this way of approaching our predicament accepts the unacceptable. This sort of thinking is understandable, but it misses the central point at issue. We don’t necessarily have a choice about what we have to accept.”

Greer and his colleagues are iconoclastic, private, quirky. They do not write for major publications, and they do not appear to mind. Dmitry Orlov lives on a sailboat, expecting to be safer there in the coming crash. Chris Martenson has a one-year stockpile of food on hand. Sharon Astyk practices, and advocates, subsistence farming. (You can find all of them, periodically, on the fantastic blog Energy Bulletin.)

I find their voices are powerful because they are uncompromising. Many pundits, academic and journalists approach the climate and peak oil crises offering policy solutions, or alternative energy ROIs. They have all their factual ducks in a row; their work perfectly researched and rife with citations. The sheer abundance of such books can be tiring, because all the solutions offered presume political and social will to change and address the crisis. The collapse-theorists tend to focus the readers’ attention more on the scenarios that are actually unfolding. They differ in their tendencies to advocate solutions, but even when they do prescribe, the solutions are basic, often small: simplify, prepare, plant, scale back and skill up. 

To read these writers and take them seriously is to admit that the culture is not with us, that although solutions exists, they are smothered by widespread denial. Therefore we work in darkness and we struggle with those forces of denial--sometimes in the form of our own friends and family.

No matter how hard it is to hear, there is a comfort in recognizing a vision of future that seems real. But right now the truth is very hard. So much so, that I think many activists also practice distraction and some lesser forms of denial, rather than risk breakdown.

“There is no brighter future ahead,” John Michael Greer intones regularly on his blog, as a sort of mantra. He is referring to the “myth of progress” that drives our manic culture. Greer wants us to understand that this story will consistently fail to meet our needs in a time of grave crisis. The story of our survival is a different one, not found in the consumerist culture, but present in these odd, brave voices, if we choose to listen to them.

-Andree (see more about Transition Book Club bloggers here).


Read excerpts of the book, which was published in 2008, on Energy Bulletin here.

John Micheal Greer
Dmitry Orlov
Sharon Astyk
Chris Martenson 
Energy Bulletin

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