Shop local

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Resilience: individual and communal

Rather appropriate coming after my post about 'Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain' project I have just came across the following series.

Eight-part series of The Basics of Resilience by Chris Martenson

I have read some of Martenson's work in the past and while close to some aspects of the DM perspective, there are elements that overlap with the Transition Movement. However there is a distinctly American flavour to his perspective, one that can also I think be seen in the work of Sharon Astyk, the influential blogger and author of the wonderful Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front.
The American flavour I am talking about is the often very individual/family focus of their writings (combined almost always with clear, practice 'how to....' advice on everything from growing and storing food, house maintenance, health and making whatever money and energy you have go further). This very domestic focus - while not neglecting community or politics completely - stands at one end of a continuum of resilience with the community focus of the UK and Irish Transition Movement at the other. It is, as Astyk herself states a 'Little House in the Suburbs' (Chapter 9 of her book), and obviously echoes the pioneering spirit of those who went west in the 19th century in America, set up farms, villages and towns bootstrapping and laying down the infrastructure for themselves as they went. While of course not buying into the American myth of 'rugged individualism' completely, there is a clear individualistic focus to these conceptions of resilience which one does not find in the UK and Irish cases which are much more community and communal in focus. Though not definitive evidence it is telling perhaps that it is only the final of Martenson's series that addresses community. Astyk is more community orientated but even here her take on community seems to be one of neighbours and friends coming together to help one another out rather than a community which may include strangers and people we only dimly know, the connection being that they live in the same geographical space as we do.
So beyond telling us that different cultures and places are thinking about and practicing resilience differently is there more to be said about these differences (given after all that what they share is as important as what differentiates them)?
I'm not sure to be honest....and in these times of inevitable transition we need to try as many different ways of living, experiments in building resilience...and yet that dimension of the 'American' take on resilience canvassed here (and of course focusing on two writers cannot be taken to be representative of all American resilience thinking and action), that dimension which has a 'lifeboats' feel to it does spark a nagging doubt in my mind that when the shit hits the fan, it is communities not families or individuals that will be to be fore in offering responses to those inevitable shocks and transitions associted with peak oil, climate, food and resource crunches.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Dark thinking for dark times - The Dark Mountain Network

A couple of months ago, reading an extremely thought-provoking and provocative article by Paul Kingsnorth on openDemocracy entitled 'Confessions of a recovering environmentalist' (a colleague and friend Andy Dobson written a response), I followed a link from the article and discovered 'Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Network: A space for conversations in a time of global disruption' and ordered a copy of its first publication Dark Mountain, which I'm part-way through.

Part of me was repelled by the strong pessismtic (or realist) 'ecocentric' critique of human-centred green thinking - largely I supect because I detected or could only believe that the almost celebratory tone of 'the end of human civilisation as we know it' was motivated by a deep and disturbing misanthrophy...and therefore I was transported back over 20 years to my negative and gut reaction to certain misanthropic - and at times racist strands of - 'deep ecology'. It is clear that the Dark Mountain project is animated by deep ecological concerns, and can be seen as yet another spontaneous green/ecological response to the crisis of our time, and the great transitions that are unfolding and will quicken as this decade progresses. Other related responses include the Transition movement, the related peak oil /post-carbon discourse, such as the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, permacultural inspired thiking and movements (especially around food and land - is it perhaps no surprise, at least from my anecdotal evidence, that most Transition towns are focused around, are strongest in or at least have their foundation in local food production and connecting to the land?), to Collapsonomics and anarchistic 'eco-primitivism' .

But there is a growing number of reports and writings both within civil society and from within the 'state system' which point to the looming threats coming down the pipe in the coming years. These range from the recently leaked German Military report on the destablising political implications of peak oil to a report from the Irish think tank FEASTA, written by David Korowicz entitled 'Tipping Point: Near-Term Systemic Implications of a Peak in Global Oil Production - An Outline Review' .

Collapse, threats, apoclyptic thinking, dread and a clearly identifable 'endism' can I think be fairly used to characterise these new and emerging forms of green thinking and action. Dark thinking for dark times indeed...

And I think they all have a point, and whether one agrees or disagrees they should not be simply dismissed as doom-sayers, irritating 'teetotalers pissing on the party' - though no doubt they will and have been. They may after all be simply pointing out the bleeding obvious that 'the emperor has no clothes' and rather than trying to green our existing way of life (perhaps in a more regulated, perhaps even more democratic manner), we should prepare ourselves and our communities to live different lives, 'fit for purpose' for living in more resilient, low-impact societies. That issue - and its a huge one of course - will have to wait for another time.

For now what I'd like to conclude with is what attracted me about Uncivilisation. Apart from its brutal honesty, it was in both the Dark Mountain manifesto and subsequent edited volume, the integration of culture, music, poetry, imaginative fiction all tremendously 'life affirming' (or the sugar to sweeten the pill perhaps). It has always been my view that one of the appropriate responses to crisis is creativity and imagination, and certainly the style (if not necessarily) the substance of the Dark Mountain project is one that those of use active in thinking and acting about green issues and the pressing need to create and sustain individual and collective resilience in face of the inevitable transitions we are facing, need in these anxious times. To think about living life in a carbon constrained, climate changed world will require not only courage, something I think is evident in the Dark Mountain perspective, as it is is also in all those movements, practices and groups that stand against foundational aspects of our dominant culture (and here, and of course partly speaking from where I stand, people active in Green parties and environmental, transport, food, land reform groups etc. - though I feel the DM perspective wrongly dismisses the latter). But along with courage it is the creativity, the reaching into our culytural imaginary that I also think is to be applauded in the Dark Mountain intervention. An perhaps 'intervention' is entirely appropropriate here in that the DM call (for it is clearly such) is one which in part calls on us to 'stop', down tools as it were and re-think and re-act. If as the now commonplace view has it 'business as usual is not an option', why would we not entertain the prospect that 'thinking as usual is no longer an option'?

This cultural turn is to be welcomed not simply for the inlcusion of this life affirming perspective but also more importantly because it forces us to confront the deep cultural, ethical and psychological imperatives driving ecocide (if I were not weary, as a humanist, of the term, one could include 'spiritual' in that list). Perhaps my main worry here is the tendency (and one I detected long ago in deep ecology) for this cultural turn to also go along with or act as a prelude to a depoliticised or anti-political turn in green thinking. While of course a lot more argument is needed to substantiate my closing comment here - I remain unconvinced - and not a little troubled by - the claim that the solution to the deracinated contemporay human condition lies in a depoliticised reponse to our current crises. Perhaps one indication of this is when the The Dark Mountain Network becomes a Movement.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Saral Sakar 'Understanding the present-day World Economic Crisis: An Eco-Socialist Approach'

Interesting essay from an eco-socialist Indian colleague - Saral Sakar - offering an eco-socialist analysis of and prescriptions for the global economic crisis.

He notes the following:

It was said that in the first seven days after the stock exchange crash, wealth amounting to 2.5 trillion dollar was lost, and since the stock exchange peak of one year earlier, stock owners lost 8.4 trillion dollar (Wall Street Journal, 10.10.2008). But what does that actually mean? One says in such cases, the wealth vanished into thin air. But in reality, nothing concrete vanished, no house, no car. What vanished into thin air were only some numbers on paper, some zeros after a digit. The 8.4 trillion dollar were only fictitious wealth. A year before the stock prices peaked, the same stocks were valued much lower. Only speculation had driven the market value of the stocks upward. After the crash, what was in any case fictitious wealth ceased to exist.

Worth remembering of course that much of this lost wealth was illusory, paralleling the creation and circulation of 'fiat money' within an over-heated economy fulled by a double whammy of a stock market bubble and a housing bubble. But...while this correct, how many peoples' pensions were reduced or lost in that process of fictitious wealth destruction?

Later he suggests that what really triggered the crisis is the fact that the capitalist world has reached 'limits to growth'

Trade-unionists and all kinds of leftists may blame the current misery of the working people on brutal capitalist exploitation, on the weakness of the working class, on speculators without any conscience, on greedy bankers, on globalization that has caused the relocation of many production units in cheap-wage countries etc. Of course, at first sight, all these explanations are partly correct. But on closer look one cannot but realize that when, on the whole, there are less and less resources to distribute because it is getting more and more difficult to extract them from nature (think of oil exploration off the west coast of Greenland!), then, even in a better capitalist world with a strong working class, at best a fairer distribution could be achieved, not more prosperity for all. It is now necessary to think in totally new terms; a paradigm shift isnecessary, a shift from the former growth paradigm to what I call the limits-to-growth paradigm.

His analysis is that we are headed for a long period of economic contraction, which must, in his words, lead to a 'steady state economy' as we adjust our economic system to the available energy and natural resources we can exploit and use sustainably. And he concludes that what we are witnessing is "not simply the crisis of capitalism. It is the crisis of industrialism altogether, in whichever socio-political frame it might be packed. "

Interesting and provocative analysis as one would rightly expect from an eco-socialist perspective. It would have been useful if there had been some attention given to what one might call the classic question posed by Lenin 'What is to be done?'

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Peak oil and the coming world's energy mess

Interview here from the Energy Bulletin with Bob Hirsh about his forthcoming book The Impending World Energy Mess: What It Is and What It Means to You. He was the lead author of an influential US report in 2005 on peak oil - of course completely ignored by the Bush adminstration. Hirsch :

"I believe that the onset of the decline of world oil production is likely
in the next two to five years. And when I say “oil,” I mean all liquid

What's noticeable from the interview (though the book may be different) is
the typical American focus on the individual (how we as householders can best
protect and forewarn - and forearm - ourselves about the decline in world oil)
and the blame being put on the government. While there is talk of that new
buzzword 'resilience' there is no sense that this is a collective property or
venture. I'll hold off any further comment until I read the book but I would be surprised (pleasantly) if the analysis involved more than techno and individualistic options all filtered through a free market pro-innovation lens...