Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Beyond Fuels 10: The Ecotechnic Path

Surprisingly, the most practical, rational, and hard-nosed of these four paths comes from a book written by a druid who also writes books about the occult (his recent books focused on UFOs and Secret Societies). This is actually the 'Archdruid' John Michael Greer who I've blogged about several times (see A Magical Way of Thinking, 8/3/08 and The Archdruid Report, 8/5/08).

I've referred to Greer (aka JMG) in two of my previous posts in this series since he has commented on the writings of both Warren Johnson and David Korten (the former positively and the latter negatively). The Ecotechnic Future is his attempt to look at life beyond fuels and he subtitles the book 'envisioning a post-peak world'.

The title is somewhat misleading however since he never really describes what an Ecotechnic Future is. The closest he comes is in the introduction where he says that "an ecotechnic society... will support a relatively complex technology while maintaining rich and sustainable relations with the rest of the biosphere." But Greer's real interest in writing this book is describing the path to that future, particularly focusing on what we can do now and in the immediate period ahead. He uses history and particularly the evolutionary perspective of succession to look at several stages that he thinks we will go through before we even near his ecotechnic future.

Greer sees us now in 'The End of Affluence' moving into a time of 'Scarcity Industrialism' where we will continue as we have been but with less and less resources and needing to get the most out of anything we have. As these resources run out, we will transition to an 'Age of Salvage' where people will recycle many things in ways they were probably not intended for--because he thinks at this point we won't have the resources to create many of the things we now take for granted. (He envisions a time when steel girders, for example, will be hacked free and then used by blacksmiths to forge nails, plows, knives, etc.) Only when we have used up most of what we can salvage are we likely to begin building an 'Ecotechnic Future'.

JMG then looks at how we can find, create, and use resources such as food, housing, and energy, as well as maintaining community, culture, and science through these changes. He thinks that 'dissensus' (which he defines as 'the deliberate avoidance of consensus') as a useful tool since he sees the period ahead (and indeed the whole future) as quite unpredicable and having different people exploring a variety of paths makes it more likely that some of these folks may stumble on the right thing to do in their own situation. He also thinks that different strategies may well work in different areas, so he doesn't think that anyone (including himself) would be able to come up with a plan that would work everywhere. Greer supports what he calls 'the mariner's two hands'--that is, having one set of skills and tools to deal with whatever crisis we may be facing at the time, while preserving other 'legacies of the modern world' for future generations that may be able to use them.

He also writes a section on work where he talks about what skills might be useful to have in the immediate future. (He calls this section 'the deindustrial want ads'.)

All in all this is a very useful book to think about both the intricacies as well as the difficulties in creating a path beyond fuels. JMG's notion of dissensus applies to his ideas also (as he freely admits), which is just as well because I'm not ready to agree with some of his ideas about community and culture. Still, this is absolutely worth reading--and, in fact, balances out some of the optomism of the previous three books nicely without falling into the trap of gloom, doom, and collapse.

In my next post I want to see what we can learn from looking at all four paths together.

Quote of the Day: "The road to the ecotechnic future can only be guessed at in advance, and will have to be built step by step as the human societies of the future struggle to adapt the legacies of our age to the hard limits of a finite planet and the unguessable possibilities of their own time. What we do now, or leave undone, may have a potent influence on their successes or failures. Challenging though it will certainly be to take action on that basis, I can think of no task more richly worth our efforts." - John Michael Greer

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