"In the first book, A Place Beyond Man (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975), two other sentient beings who have long shared our solar system, and have been"In the first book, A Place Beyond Man (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975), two other sentient beings who have long shared our solar system, and have been anxiously watching us destroy our world, decide it’s time to introduce themselves and help us right our course. However, humans' shortsighted nature dooms this initial effort to failure."
Hippie-esque SF novel, written by a female author and involving weird romance elements, that features two very different alien species trying to teach humanity an ecological perspective, about the limits to growth, in order to keep us from destroying our world. ...more
The cover is one of the three cool parts of this book; the second is the introduction by Bill McKibben, and the third is this image, from early in theThe cover is one of the three cool parts of this book; the second is the introduction by Bill McKibben, and the third is this image, from early in the book, of the burning oil platform and the parallel plume of crude oil a mile deep:
We all need to contemplate deeply this image, consider what our addiction to oil means for the rest of the world, and work to change our own lives accordingly.
The rest of the book consists of a a few portraits of poor folks, black and white, from the Gulf Coast, and the "clueless Oregonians" who pay them a visit. The former had survived a Cat-5 hurricane just five years before they then had to deal with the Deep Water Horizon disaster/crime against nature. After lifetimes spent working in an economy that undermined the larger world (i.e., "the environment") in which they lived, these people didn't need to endure a tour group of painfully stereotypical affluent, white, liberal Left Coast "fact finders" who send their kids to private schools and talk glibly about "saving the world."...more
The Great Work now, as we move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth
The Great Work now, as we move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner. This historical change is something more than the transition from the classical Roman period to the medieval period, or from the medieval period to modern times. Such a transition has no historical parallel since the geobiological transition that took place 67 million years ago when the period of the dinosaurs was terminated and a new biological age begun. So now we awaken to a period of extensive disarray in the biological structure and functioning of the planet. (3)
To appreciate the numinous aspect of the universe as this is communicated in this story we need to understand that we ourselves activate one of the deepest dimensions of the universe. We can recognize in ourselves our special intellectual, emotional, and imaginative capacities. That these capacities have existed as dimensions of the universe from its beginning is clear since the universe is ever integral with itself in all its manifestations throughout its vast extension in space and throughout the sequence of its transformations in times. The human is neither an addendum nor an intrusion into the universe. We are quintessentially integral with the universe. (31–2)
To understand the human role in the functioning of the Earth we need to appreciate the spontaneities found in every form of existence in the natural world, spontaneities that we associate with the wild—that which is uncontrolled by human dominance. We misconceive our role if we consider that our historical mission is to "civilize" or "domesticate" the planet, as though wildness is something destructive rather than the ultimate creative modality of any form of earthly being. We are not here to control. We are here to become integral with the larger Earth community. The community itself and each of its members has ultimately a wild component, a creative spontaneity that is its deepest reality, its most profound mystery. (48)
The universe carries in itself the norm of authenticity of every spiritual as well as every physical activity within it. The spiritual and the physical are two dimensions of the single reality that is the universe itself. There is an ultimate wildness in all this, for this universe, as existence itself, is a terrifying as well as a benign mode of being. If it grants us amazing powers over much of its functioning we must always remember that any arrogance on our part will ultimately be called to account. The beginning of wisdom in any human activity is a certain reverence before the primordial mystery of existence, for the world about us is a fearsome mode of being. We do not judge the universe. The universe is even now judging us. This judgment we experience in what we refer to as the "wild." We recognize this presence when we are alone in the forest, especially in the dark of night, or when we are at sea in a small craft out of sight of land and for a moment lose our sense of direction. The wild is experienced in the earthquakes that shake the continents in such violence, so too in the hurricanes that rise up out of the Caribbean Sea and sweep over the land. (49–50)
Because such deterioration results from a rejection of the inherent limitations of human existence and from an effort to alter the natural functioning of the planet in favor of a humanly constructed wonderworld, resistance to this destructive process must turn its efforts toward living creatively within the organic functioning of the natural world. Earth as a biospiritual planet must become for us the basic referent in identifying our own future. (59)
One of the must essential roles of the ecologist is to create the language in which a true sense of reality, of value, and of progress can be communicated to our society. This need for rectification of language in relation to reality was recognized early by the Chinese as the first task of any acceptable guidance for the society (Analects XXII: 11). Just now, a rectification is needed in the term progress. There is a sense in which progress is needed in relieving humans from some of the age-old afflictions that humans have borne. Yet this sense of progress is being used as an excuse for imposing awesome destruction on the planet for the purpose of monetary profit, even when the consequences involve new types of human psychic and physical misery. (63)
Education and religion, especially, should awaken in the young an awareness of the world in which they live, how it functions, how the human fits into the larger community of life, the role that the human fulfills in the great story of the universe, and the historical sequence of developments that have shaped our physical and cultural landscape. Along with this awareness of the past and present, education and religion should communicate some guidance concerning the future. (71)
The transformation of human life indicated in this transition from the Cenozoic to the Ecozoic Era affects our sense of reality and values at such a profound level that it an be compared only to the great classical religious movements of the past. It affects our perceptions of the origin and meaning of existence itself. It might possibly be considered as a metareligious movement since it involves not simply a single segment of the human community but the entire human community. Even beyond the human order, the entire geobiological order of the planet is involved. (84–5)
The tendency is to insist that ecologically oriented persons will accept the existing situation with some slight modifications. The system itself must continue in the existing pattern of its functioning. The alternative, the radical transformations suggested by the ecologists—organic farming, community-supported agriculture, solar-hydrogen energy system, redesign of our cities, elimination of the automobile in its present form, restoration of local village economies, education for a post-petroleum way of life, and a jurisprudence that recognizes the rights of natural modes of being—all these are too unsettling. Even though such books as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring are proving to be valid statements of the future that awaits us, they are still considered as too extreme to be accepted. (109–10)
As we reflect on this imposition of immense global corporations trying to take over the responsibility of "feeding the world," we can only wonder at the reduction of the peoples of Earth to a condition of being nurse-maided by some few corporate enterprises. We might conclude that Mother Monsanto with her sterile seeds wishes to take over the role of Mother Nature herself. The people of the world need the assistance of each other, but only such assistance that enables them to fulfill their own responsibility for doing the essential things themselves. Village peoples everywhere, indeed all of us, need assistance within the pattern of our own inventive genius, not being reduced to a franchise of some distant corporation. (135)
We are into a new historical situation. The forces that we are concerned with have control not simply over the human component of the planet but over the planet itself, considered as an assemblage of natural resources available to whatever human establishment proves itself capable of possession and exploitation. The intellectual, cultural, and moral conditions sanctioning this process have already been worked out. The truly remarkable aspect of all this is that what is happening is not being done in violation of anything in Western cultural commitments, but in fulfillment of those commitments as they are now understood. Thus any critique or quest for betterment cannot be supported simply on the claim that the present situation is in violation of Western cultural or moral commitments. Our Western culture long ago abandoned its integral relation with the planet on which we live. (146–7)
We might describe the challenge before us by the following sentence. The historical mission of our times is to reinvent the human—at the species level, with critical reflection, within the community of life-systems, in a time-developmental context, by means of story and shared dream experience. (159)
We need to reinvent the human at the species level because the issues we are concerned with seem to be beyond the competence of our present cultural traditions, either individually or collectively. What is needed is something beyond existing traditions to bring us back to the most fundamental aspects of the human: giving shape to ourselves. The human is at a cultural impasse. In our efforts to reduce the other-than-human components of the planet to subservience to our Western cultural expression, we have brought the entire set of life-system of the planet, including the human, to an extremely dangerous situation. Radical new cultural forms are needed. These new cultural forms would place the human within the dynamics of the planet rather than place the planet within the dynamics of the human. (160)
From this we can appreciate the directing and energizing role played by the story of the universe. This story that we know through empirical observation of the world is our most valuable resource in establishing a viable mode of being for the human species as well as for all those stupendous life-systems whereby the Earth achieves its grandeur, its fertility, and its capacity for endless self-renewal. (163)
[The] myth of progress supplanted the earlier myths of personal presences manifested throughout the natural world. At this same time we lost the world of meaning in an evolutionary world governed by chance without direction or higher significance, a world of emergent process that would eventually come to be spoken of as the work of a "blind watchmaker," as in Richard Dawkins's book The Blind Watchmaker. Yet a different interpretation of the data of evolution is available. We need merely understand that the evolutionary process is neither random nor determined but creative. It follows the general pattern of all creativity. While there is no way of fully understanding the origin moment of the universe we can appreciate the direction of evolution in its larger arc of development as moving from lesser to great complexity in structure and from lesser to greater modes of consciousness. We can also understand the governing principles of evolution in terms of its three movements toward differentiation, inner spontaneity, and comprehensive bonding. (169)
Each of the symbols we have mentioned has a new richness of interpretation. The journey symbol is no longer simply the journey from the circumference to the center within the context of the mandala where the divine, the human, and the cosmos become present to each other. The journey must now be understood also as the great journey that the universe has made from its primordial flaring forth until the present. This journey is carried out through a new mode of presence of these three to one another. (172)
In these opening years of the twenty-first century, as the human community experiences a rather difficult situation in its relation with the natural world, we might reflect that a fourfold wisdom is available to guide us into the future: the wisdom of indigenous peoples, the wisdom of women, the wisdom of the classical traditions, and the wisdom of science. We need to consider these wisdom traditions in tersm of their distinctive functioning, in the historical periods of their florescence, and in their common support for the emerging age when humans will be a mutually enhancing presence on the Earth.... (176)
Indigenous wisdom is distinguished by its intimacy with and participation in the functioning of the natural world.... (177)
The wisdom of women is to join the knowing of the body to that of mind, the join soul to spirit, intuition to reasoning, feeling consciousness to intellectual analysis, intimacy to detachment, subjective presence to objective distance.... (180)
The wisdom of the classical traditions [i.e., religions] is based on revelatory experiences of a spiritual realm both transcendent to and imminent [sic] in the visible world about us and in the capacity of humans to participate in that world to achieve the fullness of their own mode of being.... (185)
The wisdom of science, as this exists in the Western world at the beginning of the twenty-first century, lies in its discovery that the universe has come into being by a sequence of evolutionary transformations over an immense period of time.... We might say that the universe, in the phenomenal order, is self-emergent, self-sustaining, and self-fulfilling. The universe is the only self-referential mode of being in the phenomenal world. Every other being is universe-referent in itself and in its every activity.... (189–90)
It becomes increasingly evident that in our present situation no one of these traditions is sufficient. We need all of the traditions. Each has its owne distinctive achievements, limitations, distortions, its own special contribution toward an integral wisdom tradition that seems to be taking shape in the emerging twenty-first century. (194)
We are now experiencing a moment of significance far beyond what any of us can imagine. What can be said is that the foundations of a new historical period, the Ecozoic Era, have been established in every realm of human affairs. The mythic vision has been set into place. The distorted dream of an industrial technological paradise is being replaced by the more viable dream of a mutually enhancing human presence within an ever-renewing organic-based Earth community. The dream drives the action. In a larger cultural context the dream becomes the myth that both guides and drives the action. (201)
I found this book more powerful than Dr. Baker's previous book, Navigating the Coming Chaos, although that might be a function of the intervening yeaI found this book more powerful than Dr. Baker's previous book, Navigating the Coming Chaos, although that might be a function of the intervening year-plus of business-as-usual in the face of worsening predicaments(i.e., maybe I need to read what Baker has to say more than I did last year) instead of an objective assessment of the merits of both books.
The first half of this book comprises a series of essays that Baker initially wrote for the blog of the late Michael Ruppert, and while it reveals the piece work nature of those essays, their content remains a valuable assessment of our current situation as a species and of the role that the world's wisdom traditions have to play in helping us endure and perhaps even flourish.
More important, at least to me, is the book's second section, a collection of 52 weekly "meditations" on death, suffering, and transformation that draws on a diverse set of sources to provide unflinching yet compassionate commentary on the growing challenges we face individually and collectively. (A photocopy of these meditations now resides in my "transition/collapse" binder, next to the gardening books.) ...more
I literally could not put this one down. Baxter presents an unfolding situation of such awesomeness and implacability (simply outside the scope of ourI literally could not put this one down. Baxter presents an unfolding situation of such awesomeness and implacability (simply outside the scope of our technoscientific fixes) that it staggers the imagination. The explanation for the titular flood was less than fully satisfying, but I think that misses the point. The planetary flood, with its inconceivable enormity, is a reminder to the reader that nature bats last, and that some problems are really predicaments (to use the terminology of John Michael Greer) which don't lend themselves readily (or at all) to solutions. While the book was not without its flaws, it has haunted me since I finished it. ...more
Brown's opening paragraph sums up the contemporary metapredicament nicely:
The future has never looked brighter or more bleak. Never before in human hi
Brown's opening paragraph sums up the contemporary metapredicament nicely:
The future has never looked brighter or more bleak. Never before in human history has there been so much cause for both hope and alarm. We are living in a world of increasing uncertainty, and each day brings new reasons for both celebration and concern. Are we headed toward a glistening new world of technological marvels and wonders or own extinction?
Unfortunately, Brown doesn't have quite the interviewing chops necessary to rise the bar he sets with this introduction and the title. Which is not to say that this isn't an interesting read. It was interesting, enraging, thought-provoking, challenging, and even funny. That Brown managed to score interviews with many of these luminaries—including Noam Chomsky, George Carlin, Robert Anton Wilson, Douglas Rushkoff, Clifford Pickover, Bruce Sterling, Ray Kurzweil, Alex Grey, and Kary Mullis—is impressive in itself, and he is a brave/stupid enough interviewer to ask questions about psychedelics and alien abduction to Chomsky. He asks similar (and sometimes exactly the same) questions to different interviewees and usually in the same order. This allows the reader to compare the different worldviews articulated by the interviewees, I guess, but by the end of the book it was coming across as canned and tedious technique. Luckily, the range of personalities encountered and ideas explored was vast, with lots of intelligence and clarity of thought, but little overarching agreement, about topics as diverse as our contemporary media ecology, ecological collapse, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, the Singularity, psychedelics, alien abductions, spiritual transformation, and the existence of God. ...more
Full disclosure: I read this book soon after reading other, more substantial and, in my opinion, more well written books about the constellation of isFull disclosure: I read this book soon after reading other, more substantial and, in my opinion, more well written books about the constellation of issues entailed in Elgin's notion of an evolutionary wall/evolutionary bounce: The Great Work by Thomas Berry, The Wealth of Nature by John Michael Greer, and Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher. Although the present book pales in comparison with those sobering works, it is better than nothing as an introduction to the challenges our species faces in the current century and beyond.
In this lukewarm helping of weak tea, Duane Elgin, author of Voluntary Simplicity, describes the "evolutionary wall" our species is meeting headlong and at ever greater speed. Here he is in good company, addressing many of the same challenges—human-induced catastrophic climate change, resource depletion, population pressures, mass extinctions, increasing economic inquality, etc.—as authors like James Howard Kunstler, the aforementioned John Michael Greer, Derrick Jensen, Michael Ruppert, Dmitry Orlov, and Guy McPherson, to name only a few.
He recognizes these as crises, but insists that we as a species may use them as a wake-up call which he calls an "evolutionary bounce" (instead of grappling with them as the potentially insoluble predicaments that they seem to me to be). With this evolutionary bounce, humanity would realize a utopian society whose virtues read like a wishlist from a protest rally in Golden Gate Park. Apparently, all we have to do to avert total catastrophe is undergo a radical cultural transition. (Whew! I thought it would be something difficult. Thankfully it only requires changing the habits, hearts, and minds of 7 billion people.)
"Simplicity is not about a life of poverty, but about a life of purpose." (p. 75) Initially cute, until you realize, along with John Michael Greer, that poverty probably plays a larger role in our collective future than those of us in the middle-class want to consider, and so ultimately a simpler future will also be a poorer future, if only materially. Not surprisingly, Mr. Voluntary Simplicity lives in Marin County, CA, one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. I have in-laws in Marin, and I absolutely love the place for its natural beauty, but the folks there rarely connect the dots between the bottom-line of their robust financial portfolios and their airy-fairy quests for "spirituality," self-actualization, and change without pain. Volunteering for simplicity is a snap when you've got a trust fund to fall back on after the commune falls apart, and it is painfully ironic to see all of the involuntary simplicity of the homeless just across the Golden Gate Bridge.
In sum, this book is short on details, about either the converging predicaments or the proffered solutions, and long on vague hopes involving cultural transformations and evolutionary leaps. ...more
Inessential collection of essays on wide-ranging topics: the myth of value-neutral technology, a meaningful definition of "sustainabiRating: 2.5 stars
Inessential collection of essays on wide-ranging topics: the myth of value-neutral technology, a meaningful definition of "sustainability," the painful implications of exponential growth for progressive values (drawing on Al Bartlett's indispensable talk "Arithmetic, Population, and Energy"), a peak oil-themed review of the documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, thoughts on bridging the divide between those concerned with Peak Oil and those worried about Climate Change, and a fictional communique from the future addressing the failings of the early 21st century.
I describe this volume as inessential because either Heinberg himself or another author (like James Kunstler or John Greer) has addressed these issues elsewhere and at greater length. This collection seemed like something the publisher put together simply to make more money off the Peak Oil/Climate Change crowd, and there is something about that that seems profoundly self-contradictory. ...more
"Human beings, in two million years of cultural evolution, have several times succeeded in taking over additional portions of the earth's total life-supporting capacity, at the expense of other creatures. Each time, human population has increased. But man has now learned to rely on a technology that augments human carrying capacity in a necessarily temporary way--as temporary as the extension of life by eating the seeds needed to grow next year's food. Human population, organized into industrial societies and blind to the temporariness of carrying capacity supplements based on exhaustible resource dependence, responded by increasing more exuberantly than ever, even though this meant overshooting the number our planet could permanently support. Something akin to bankruptcy was the inevitable sequel." p.5
Something akin to bankruptcy, eh? Makes ya wonder if there isn't a connection between the debt crises currently encircling the world and human overshoot.
The challenge, as Catton sees it:
"The paramount need of post-exuberant humanity is to remain human in the face of dehumanizing pressures. To do this we must learn somehow to base exuberance of spirit upon something more lasting than the expansive living that sustained it in the recent past. But, as if we were driving a car that has become stuck on a muddy road, we feel an urge to bear down harder than ever on the accelerator and to spin our wheels vigorously in an effort to power ourselves out of the quagmire. This reflect will only dig us in deeper. We have arrived at a point in history when counter-intuitive thoughtways are essential." p.7
"Unless we discard our belief in limitlessness, all of us are in danger of becoming its victims." p.10
"Desire changes entail unwarranted changes. Changed human activities involve changes in man's environment. Environmental change leads to succession; it can threaten human life. Non-competitive human interaction is imperiled by excess numbers and proliferating technology. Ecological antagonism begets social and emotional antagonism. These [are] the principles people [need] to learn to read between the lines of the news in post-exuberant times." p. 208
[B]elieving crash can't happen to us is one reason why it will. The principles of ecology apply to all living things. By supposing that our humanity exempts us, we delude ourselves. It is not just the yeast cells we put into wine vats that bloom. It is not just the recognized detritovores that crash. We have been backing into the future with our eyes too firmly averted from the detritivorous nature of our modern lifestyle. It is time to turn around and see what's ahead." p. 213
"If, having overshot carrying capacity, we cannot avoid crash,perhaps with ecological understanding of its real causes we can remain human in circumstances that could otherwise tempt us to turn beastly. Clear knowledge may forestall misplaced resentment, thus enabling us to refrain from inflicting futile and unpardonable suffering upon each other." p.214
"Profound as it might seem by standards from the culture of exuberance, if the debate about how to cope with the future was going to resolve itself into merely an argument over how to 'produce' our way out of trouble, the essential nature of our predicament would be overlooked. As it has been necessary to say repeatedly already, overlooking that predicament could not protect us from it. What really needed to be discussed was not only the dire need to conserve resources, but also this: What kind of role are human beings going to play in their own impending crash? How much will our efforts to avoid the unavoidable make it worse?" p.231
"We must learn to live within carrying capacity without trying to enlarge it. We must rely on renewable resources consumed no faster than at sustained yield rates. The last best hope for mankind is ecological modesty." p.260
"Mankind is condemned to bet on an uncertain future. The stakes have become phenomenally high: affluence, equity, democracy, humane tolerance, peaceful coexistence between nations, races, sects, sexes, parties, all are in jeopardy. Ironically, the less hopeful we assume human prospects to be, the more likely we are to act in ways that will minimize the hardships ahead for our species. Ecological understanding of the human predicament indicates that we live in times when the American habit of responding to a problem by asking 'All right, now what do we do about it?' must be replaced by a different query that does not assume all problems are soluble: 'What must we avoid doing to keep from making a bad situation unnecessarily worse?'" p.262
"Our best bet is to act as if we believed we have already overshot, and do our best to ensure that the inevitable crash consists as little as possible of outright die-off of Homo sapiens. Instead, it should consist as far as possible of the chosen abandonment of those seductive values characteristic of Homo colossus. Indeed, renunciation of such values may be the main alternative to renewed indulgence in cruel genocide. If crash should prove to be avoidable after all, a global strategy of trying to moderate expected crash is the strategy most likely to avert it." p.266
"What frightens me in retrospect about The Sheep Look Up, with its vision of a world where pollution is out of control," said John
From the Afterword:
"What frightens me in retrospect about The Sheep Look Up, with its vision of a world where pollution is out of control," said John Brunner, "is that I invented literally nothing for it, bar a chemical weapon that made people psychotic. Everything else I took straight out of the papers and magazines...."(373)
"As far as there are any guides for science fiction writers wanting to make their near-future societies credible, the rules of thumb that have proved most reliable in my experience are these," lectured John Brunner near the end of his life. "take it for granted that the government will disregard long-term dangers—such as those affecting the environment—in order to cling to power; that the citizenry will do the same because thinking is too much like hard work; and when the handful of Cassandras are proved right, they will be held to blame and very likely stoned or shot." (380)
Concisely explains the Green Revolution and its coming crisis in the context of peaking exploitation of oil, natural gas, and fresh water. Provides loConcisely explains the Green Revolution and its coming crisis in the context of peaking exploitation of oil, natural gas, and fresh water. Provides look at two modern societies, North Korea and Cuba, which have both experienced agricultural crises related to the unavailability of oil and other essential resources, and explores the radically different approaches these nations took to the crises. Briefly explores alternatives to the technology- and resource-intense Green Revolution and provides an excellent set of resources at the end for folks who want to do their part to prepare for the coming agricultural crisis. ...more
"He tried to think of something to say but he could not. He'd had this feeling before, beyond the numbness and the dull despair. The world shrinking d"He tried to think of something to say but he could not. He'd had this feeling before, beyond the numbness and the dull despair. The world shrinking down about a raw core of parsible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believe to be true. More fragile than he would have thought. How much was gone already? The sacred idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality. Drawing down like something trying to preserve heat. In time to wink out forever." (93)
"There is no God and we are his prophets." (181)
A father and son. A dark, desolate, and desperate post-holocaust world. Ubiquitous ash, blackened trees, the corroding remains of civilization. A voyage from nowhere to nowhere. Slavery and cannibalism. A father and son.
Stark, poetic, interesting, but in the end not entirely satisfying. ...more