Collapsing Cons ThumbnailCollapsing Consciously will be available for purchase November 19 from North Atlantic Books as part of its Sacred Activism Series. Pre-order at North Atlantic Books or Amazon

Author John Michael Greer manages The Archdruid Report Blogspot 

There was a time when most people living in industrial nations thought that the big questions had been answered once and for all.  If nature still kept a few of her secrets hidden from the prying eyes of scientists, she would sooner or later be forced to hand them over; if people in the world’s less privileged countries still sweated under the burdens of poverty and ignorance, foreign-aid programs and the unstoppable engines of economic development would bring them into the modern era; if discrimination still pressed down on the lives and hopes of the urban poor, the onward march of social progress would take care of that in due time.  Utopia hadn’t quite arrived yet, but people across the industrial world thought they knew what it looked like—and what it looked like was the world they saw around them, with the last few problems neatly filed off.

The splintering of that comfortable consensus has given the last half dozen decades their central theme. When neoconservative pundit Francis Fukuyama insisted in a famous 1989 essay  that history was over and his side had won,[1] what had once been an unquestioned faith had already morphed into a partisan polemic.  The years since then have seen every detail of the former consensus faced with questions for which there are no easy answers.  The peaking of global petroleum production, signaling the end of the glut of cheap abundant energy on which our entire civilization is based, and the first serious impacts of climate change are only two of the most inescapable warning sirens announcing the failure of business as usual and the coming of a troubled age for which the modern world, for all its self-proclaimed orientation toward the future, has made no meaningful preparations at all.

The most common response to the crises I’ve just named, on the part of those who have grappled with the issues at all, has been a frantic search for some technical solution that could prop up the existing order of industrial society.  From Sarah Palin fans chanting “Drill, baby, drill” and corporate hucksters pitching hydrofractured oil shales to Wall Street and the media, straight through to proponents of solar power, windpower, biodiesel and other supposedly green alternatives, there’s no shortage of people insisting that industrial civilization can be kept running on some energy source other than the one that created and sustained it in the first place.  That crippling problems of scale and net energy make it impossible for any of the alternatives to fill the gap simply adds to the bitterness of the debates, as partisans of one or another option use problems faced by rival systems as rhetorical ammunition while ignoring the equivalent difficulties that beset their own choice of options.

The failure of all attempts to find a technical solution for the crisis of industrial society is easy enough to understand, because that crisis isn’t a technical problem.  It’s the inevitable consequence of any attempt to achieve infinite material growth on a finite planet.  Industrial civilization’s blind pursuit of that foredoomed goal isn’t a technical problem either; its tangled roots reach down into the deep places of the human mind and heart, to the realm of dreams, visions, and unspoken beliefs that shapes the surface of consciousness and behavior. That’s the territory in which the crisis of our time has its source, and it’s also the place where meaningful responses to that crisis must be found—and to that shadowy but crucially important territory, Carolyn Baker is one of the peak oil movement’s most capable guides.

It was in 2006 or 2007—around the time that my blog, The Archdruid Report, was attracting its first readers—that I first started seeing the occasional essay by Carolyn on the peak oil newsblogs I frequented.  At a time when the discussion around peak oil was even more rigidly focused on technical solutions than it is now, her essays consistently broke new ground, raising challenging questions about the psychological and personal dimensions of the end of the age of cheap abundant energy.  Her blog posts and books have continued to push the boundaries of the peak oil conversation, exploring the end of the industrial age as a personal and, ultimately, a spiritual reality: a journey of transformation through which all of us alive at this turn of history’s wheel must pass in one way or another.

That sense of a journey—waiting for us, forced upon us, or both at once—runs all through Carolyn’s writing, but Collapsing Consciously seems to me to embody it even more clearly than most.  Her introduction sets the tone with a discussion of her own journey out of the familiar belief systems of modern American culture, and what follows develops the same wayfaring spirit in a variety of ways.  The resulting book once again takes the collective conversation about the deindustrial future further than it has previously gone, pushing past the increasingly sterile debates around peak oil as an abstraction to come to terms with the human realities of loss, awakening, and renewal that accompany every great historical change.

In facing such a transformation—or, to return to the metaphor I suggested above, embarking on such a journey—a guidebook is essential. Since the journey into the future is one that none of us can make ahead of anyone else, the best guidance available comes from those who have looked further down the path ahead than most, and can report back clearly and honestly on what they have been able to see.  Carolyn Baker is such an observer, and Collapsing Consciously offers one of the best sources of guidance for the journey ahead.


[1]    Fukuyama, Francis, “The End of History?” The National Interest, Summer 1989.

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