By Carolyn Baker
Speaking Truth to Power
Monday, 10 November 2008
Throughout the Peak Oil and collapse of civilization milieu, much speculation abounds regarding the speed with which collapse might occur. Some theorists insist or imply that the descent will be rapid and dramatic while others argue for a more “slow burn” scenario, less dramatic and more stair-step-like in progression. The tone of proponents of acute collapse reverberates with urgency while the tone of authors who perceive collapse as occurring in a more protracted fashion is notable for its moderation and skepticism of the rapid descent theory.
Such is the perspective of John Michael Greer in The Long Descent: A User’s Guide To The End Of The Industrial Age (New Society, 2008). Greer provides an excellent read and argues astutely for his theory of catabolic collapse which he describes as “the declining arc of industrial civilization’s trajectory through time. Like the vanished civilizations of the past, ours will likely face a gradual decline, punctuated by sudden crises and periods of partial recovery. The fall of a civilization is like tumbling down a slope, not like falling off a cliff.” (32)
While Greer gives the intellect a robust workout, there is much in the Long Descent that must be rigorously questioned because of what is not addressed and because of the dangers I perceive are implicit in Greer’s resolute, and I believe short-sighted, argument.
First, Greer devotes merely a handful of sentences to the climate change phenomenon which starkly omits a conversation about the interplay of Peak Oil and climate chaos. He does mention the climate nightmare inherent in increased coal burning globally, but absent from a defense of the long descent theory is an analysis of the interplay of the two phenomena. In an excellent 2004 article “Global Climate Change and Peak Oil,” geologist and Peak Oil researcher, Dale Allen Pfeiffer explains among other things, “how will Peak Oil and the North American natural gas cliff affect global climate change.”
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