I Can Save the World Better Than You, Nyah Nyah!: A Short History of the Peak Oil Movement and Reflections on Wizards, Transition and the Interstices of Reason

Let us start with persona, since one goes to any prizefight to see the metaphorical battle of two created characters, embodying sides, virtues, faults.

In this Corna... John Michael Greer, owner (by a whisker over Bob Waldrop) of the finest beard in Peak Oildom, Archdruid, moral descendent of Toynbee and Gibbon, considerer of declines in centuries, not weekends. No Zombies for Greer - we are Rome, and we might as well deal with it, dammit.

And in this Corna...Rob Hopkins, beardless founder of the Transition movement, permaculturist, endless energetic optimist and municipal leader, student of the first half of the British century, bent of reorganizing his community and the world to adapt to energy descent. If we could live without that energy once before, well, we can do it now, and let's get at it.

For the record, I like them - and their work - both a lot. I met John Greer for the first time this summer, and immediately felt like I'd met my long-lost older brother - you know, the kind of person you like but can't resist bickering with. We have the same publisher, we agree 85% of the time - and we fight like cats and dogs when we don't. Once we were asked to blurb each other's books, at the same time we were having an online debate, and we ended up proposing mock-insult blurbs for each other. This, I think, is probably a good representative of our relationship.

Hopkins I've never met and am not likely to - both of us adhere to the "stay off the planes" policy for the most part, so the odds are low. But Hopkins and I have emailed back and forth and interacted from time to time. I've written things critical of the Transition movement, and have always been impressed by the good humored and thoughtful way he takes criticism, and by the enormous amount of work he does. It is impossible to overstate how impressive Hopkins' accomplishments in essentially creating the Transition movement are.

In some ways, I think of the three of us and some other people as the "second wave" of emergent peak oil writers - our accomplishments and worldviews are different, but as peak oil thinkers we have some essential commonalities. By this I mean that the first wave, which began in 1997 with Colin Campbell's publication of his first paper on peak oil, and included a large number of petroleum geologists (Ken Deffeyes), some political scientists (Michael Klare) and a mix of early-aware writers (Richard Heinberg), folks working out of their fields but doing important research (Julian Darley and Matt Simmons) and journalists (Jim Kunstler). That first wave of books was mostly about raising the alarm and awareness - and it was extremely effective and important. Most of us can date some measure of our awareness to books like _Twilight in the Desert_, _The Party's Over_, _Beyond Oil_ and _The Long Emergency_.

These books were mostly about raising the alarm, doing the difficult work of telling a public never educated about petroleum production or resource depletion how we know this might happen, why they should be worried, and what a post-peak future might look like. And they were enormously successful and important books, most of them published before 2005, and most of them still being read now by people who are still experiencing a sudden "oh crap" recognition of the data they are seeing.

The second generation of us came along around that time, I think, for the most part, give or take a year. We'd read the books. We had spent our time reading the latest figures and the data. We knew what the books said was true - and built from there. And we emerged precisely because all the first generation peak oil thinkers had already laid the groundwork for us. There was now a population, however small, of people who have grasped that the world can't go on this way - and that population was ready for a more complicated narrative of what that would mean for them. All of us began, I think from asking that question "what will this world look like?" And then "what do we do next?"

My first speaking gig was pretty much at the cusp of this moment of emergence into a new focus - in September 2006, I spoke at the Community Solutions conference on peak oil, the third one they'd ever held. The speakers included Heinberg and Darley, and both of them gave speeches they clearly had given often before - speeches explaining the issues, describing the resource problems, with lots of slides and data. And for the first time at these conferences, the audience wasn't that engaged - don't get me wrong, the presentations were good, but for the very first time, the audience had heard it before and had enough time to absorb the information. I think that's one of the reasons I was reasonably successful there - because I started from the implicit presumption that we all pretty much knew this stuff. A year earlier, I don't think I could have done that. Without building on those who came before me, I couldn't have done it.

The second wave of peak oil writers is a pretty weird group, frankly. There's Hopkins, a permaculturist professional optimist mantra is pretty much "if pre-petroleum Britain could do it, we can" and who spends a lot of time on pre-war Britain. There's Greer, the Druid and lover of long dead historians who sees in us falling empire a la Rome. There's me, the leftist feminist farmer/social history type who sees this in terms of a mix of home economics, social history and WWII agitprop. There's Dmitry Orlov, the funniest of us, the Russian boatman who sees in the US the Soviet Collapse. There's Nate Hagens, who sees this through an evolutionary psychology lens, with a focus on finance. There's Ran Prieur who is hard to categorize, but sees it all as kind of a zen thing, inevitable in human development. There's Amanda Kovattana who comes at this from a leftist, internationalist "stick it to Global Industrial society" perspective, and Nicole Foss who comes at this through money and energy like Hagens, but with a focus on finance and economic history. There are others too, I'm not trying to do a full cover the landscape here, just give you a sense of how weird this is (there's also a third wave, which I'll write about another time).

What's interesting about the second wave is that quite honestly, given our short summary identities, you'd think no one would read us. I mean that quite seriously - who the heck wants to view the fall of the world through a feminist literary domestic historian turned farmer turned science writer? If you were writing an ad "read the Toynbee loving archdruid about catabolic collapse" would probably not sell. I don't think you could pitch a book to an American publisher cold by saying "this is how the US is pretty much just like the Soviet Union, except not as healthy during the inevitable collapse." I know that when I started blogging I pretty much thought that maybe my Mom would read it - once. And yet, that's not what happened - for any of us.

Now you could use this as proof of the insanity of the peak oil movement, but I don't think so - or rather I don't think that's all there is to it. I think it was, instead, proof of something else - the desperate desire of many people to go from "here's what is happening" to "now what?" And there are a lot of answers to that "now what" question - a lot of different ways to look at the world, a lot of different ways to predict what will happen, a lot of different ways to organize, a lot of different ways to respond, a lot of different experiences to work from. And a surprising number of people have found that somewhere in the interstices between all of these rather strange worldviews, a common set of useful assumptions has started to emerge - not that any of us has a whole picture, but that between us, readers can begin to garner a worldview.

At the same time, each of us writers is locked up somewhat in our head and our experiences, with our sense - often strong sense - of what may happen and how it will happen. As writers, we are largely rewarded for unified worldview - that is, one of the things that gets people reading us is that we have a particular and unique vision that we can make into a coherent (or in my case, semi-coherent) narrative. This is extremely useful to a lot of people - because it helps them envision things. Through our writings and our eyes they come to look at the events unfolding differently. And my sense is that a lot of readers develop a complex, nuanced vision of how this works, precisely by looking through all of us second wave writers' eyes. Sure, we all have our primary adherents - people who read just us - but a lot of folks read us all, at least some of the time.

I think that's why I think the emerging consensus of almost all the comments on Greer and Hopkins' respective blogs about their battle over Transition vs. Green Wizardry is that both are probably more valuable than either one. Indeed, Hopkins and Greer have pretty much agreed that they agree on the most important things while still thinking that their disagreements matter. And that's probably good - but I hope that the pressure to emphasize agreements won't stop them from fighting. Maybe that's a weird thought, but it is true (I have faith that it isn't really a danger ;-)).

I too disagree with Greer and Hopkins - fairly regularly, actually. Some of the disagreements are trivial - I think a lot of Transition activities I've encountered function as the kind of spirit-building activities that I absented myself from as frequently as possible in high school. I love appropriate technology, but I admit, like Hopkins I don't think the best stuff ever came out in the 70 - some of it sure, (I still don't know why Hopkins goes hatin' on Ruth Stout ;-)), but I don't see the case for 70s publications over say, the work of Scott Kellogg and RUST in the present. This is totally trivial stuff, though.

Then there are the serious ones - I think Greer gets climate change really, really wrong, and have written before about why I think that is. I think his long view erases deep suffering in the short term, and focuses only on the rich world. I think Hopkins' refusal to deal seriously with a harder, faster crash possibility sometimes undercuts the potential utility of Transition - the deep problem I see with Transition is that it only works if there's plenty of time to make it work. I also think that the municipal level may be too large for many communities - that the most urgent work has to be done at the neighborhood level.

I think the criticisms we make of each other matter - and we deal with each other most fiercely probably when there's truth in those critiques. There is, frankly, truth in Hopkins' observation that the 70s appropriate technology may not be the best place to start. There is truth in Greer's point that just because you organize doesn't mean that your organization strategies actually will function in a decline. There is truth in the critiques they've levelled at me over the years.

Whenever these debates go on, a lot of people try to smooth them over by observing we all have more in common than not. And that's absolutely true, but maybe the difference matter more than they credit for. At the recent gathering where I met Greer in person for the first time, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Hagens, Greer and I were all together with Heinberg and a group of other people, trying to describe the future. And what we found was that those different lenses did lead to a 90% overlap in worldview. Most of what we were telling people was the same. Most of the strategies we were advising were mostly the same. In the end, the realities of peak oil, climate change and the consequences of our wild financial overextension led to a largely similar set of parameters.

That's why Greer's Green Wizards and Hopkins' Transitioners and my readers are all focused on shifting the food system. That's why Nate Hagens' sense that this is mostly our neurology pushing us down the wrong path and Prieur's sense that we are drawn to overextension by our inner natures are so close. This is why Nicole Foss, Dmitry Orlov and Amanda Kovattna are all so concerned with how people will hold on to housing. When you turn your head to the realities we are facing - a lot fewer resources, more people, a less stable climate, a less stable economy, environmental degradation, the stories aren't that different. All of us reject the idea of cartoon apocalypse. All of us reject the idea of techno-optimism. All of us live in the grey middle space of the future.

And at some level, all of us are consumed with the need to imagine that space and that future. I think all of us would probably agree that a future we can't imagine is the scariest possible place. Even the dark places of a society in decline are less disturbing than knowing that the stories you've been told about progress and techno-optimism are false, but not knowing what lies ahead, living in a world where all the maps of beyond just say "here be dragons."

I do not, however, want to emerge from this with a lyrical praise of our common ground, a sense that the differences don't matter. In fact, I suspect they do - I think there is real value in the battles, in what one commenter calls "dueling blogs" - and it isn't necessarily in the emergence, as we have here, of the clear common ground. Sure, that's useful, but you can get that from any one of us. What's most valuable instead is that between the second wave peak oil writers, the emerging third wave, countless others I haven't mentioned for lack of space and the continued and deeply important work of the first wave, between all those thinkers and their ideas, their investment in theory and worldview, and their organizations and the work they set out to do, there's a better picture emerging than any of us could have made on our own.

Greer thus chastizes me for having too short a view of history. I accuse him of erasing the suffering of the short view. Hopkins argues for community organizing strategies. Orlov points out that his direct experience is that those communities are self-organizing. And all of us are picking up on real faults in the thinking of others - not all the truth, but real faults sometimes, and new ways of thinking sometimes. The interstitial spaces have probably the greatest degree of truth in them - that the long and the short view will both be lived, that communities will both self-organize in unpredictable ways and be served by previous organization. The fighting is at least as important as the agreeing.



More like this

From The Onion: Admitting they had "absolutely no idea what the fuck [they were] doing," millions of Americans immediately ceased trying to manage the country's large-scale, ongoing disasters and pleaded with U.S. scientists, economists, educators, philosophers, and inventors to intervene and make…
I was asked this by a friend recently, and it has been stuck in my head (even though the whole idea requires an egomaniacal suspension of disbelief) - "If you could sit down to dinner with the people you think see the world we're in most clearly and spend dinner working on how to change things and…
One of my many other hats is the one I wear as a member of the ASPO-USA board and editor of the Peak Oil Review Commentary. My favorite kind of commentary is the one that puts together short pieces from a lot of thinkers, all answering the same question - and this must be the favorite of a lot of…
1. To hang out with me, of course ;-). 2. To make your voice heard in Washington about this issue - because we don't have much time to begin to act, and every person here who says 'I care deeply about this' helps reinforce our message of the centrality of this issue. 3, To hear Wes Jackson talk…

Of the two in this ring, Greer has always struck me as having a more reasoned (or better applied) view of history. I don't think Hopkins' model will work except in relatively small and undivided communities. Too many people would rather scapegoat, blame, and deny than abandon cherished cultural beliefs or power; if you try to get the mobs of anti-mosque protesters to relocalize, they'll just put you on their list of people to kill and eat when the balloon goes up. The nice thing about the "green wizard" approach (which I agree should not rely on Western 70's tech) is that the only person who has to sign on is YOU.

I wrote on Greer's blog that for me the Transition approach probably wouldn't work because I get restless in meetings! Plus, I don't think there's much in the way of Transition activities in my city, which at any rate is probably much too large for a real Transition. There are other initiatives going on here that I think will be helpful as we enter the twilight of the fossil fuel age. At any rate, I like the Green Wizard approach because it involves things I can do, am already doing, and/or know I need to do. Plus I like learning new skills, and at any rate, I'm insatiably curious--always have been.

Sharon, I'm reminded of your "anyway" approach. These are things we all should be doing "anyway" and the Green Wizard project is, in one sense, simply reminding us of that fact.

If there's a drawback to Greer's approach, it might be information overload! The Green Wizard project has attracted so many people, many of them with great ideas and years of practice that they are more than willing to share, that I'm finding it hard to figure out, for example, which books of all the ones they are recommending might be best for me to read; which composting, mulching, or green manuring approach will work best for me in my location; which season-extending methods might be worth trying first, etc.

Dewey, I don't think it's quite accurate to say that Greer's approach relies on 1970's appropriate technology, but rather that appropriate tech is his starting point because that was his own starting point. Newer methods, publications, etc., are certainly welcome on the Green Wizards' site.

Sharon, don't disparage your writing abilities by accusing your writing of being "semi-coherent." You're a very good writer. We very much appreciate your putting your thoughts down and sharing with us. Keep up the good work!

I'm really enjoying the Green Wizard project. I'd probably be excited about a Transition locale if there were one here in Southern Rhode Island. But as far as I know, there isn't. Not that there aren't Transition-minded people around - and I could go through a thousand emails and a tankful of gas a week networking with them. But that would feel like a dispersal of energies rather than a marshaling. I especially like Greer's focus on just doing it. I think that if I find a Transition community it will not be be because I've gone to the meeting at the library, but because I've stood at the neighboring farmer's manure pile chatting about tomato blight and negotiating a delivery for the garden.

Because, you know, assuming that anti-mosque protesters are going to turn cannibalistic in a blink isn't scapegoating at ALL.

I think they're idiots too, but geez, way to illustrate your own point.

I read the critique, and the response. Let's just say I didn't find them equally well done, and it comes down to tone. I completely agree with the idea that there really is no one-size-fits-all solution, and that we need a lot of approaches. As long as no one feels that they have The Solution wrapped up, and starts belittling others. That's when I get annoyed.

The question is can we keep the healthy disagreements, and the exploration of different territories, while keeping the discussion a discussion? Of course, if anyone actually knew how to do this effectively, all the time, we likely wouldn't have political parties.

I find the level of commentary on your blog, and Greer's blog to be much higher than average. Only one other blog (not peak oil at all)that I read regularly has more informed and generally respectful discussion. That fact alone gives me a lot of hope we can keep the discourse reasonable decent.

One thing we must admit...it is very hard to predict the future and how it will all pan out.
Human beings act in unpredictable ways.
One thing for certain...better come up with some ways to cook up grass and kudzu, because we are farmers of both!

By michaeljones (not verified) on 03 Sep 2010 #permalink

Thanks for thoughtful and clear overview Sharon (I agree with Don- your writing is v. good).

I came here via leavingbabylon.wordpress.com, which I would recommend. I suspect the latest post there is inspired by watching Hopkins and Greer going at it. Without being all anti-theory (which I'm not), isn't it important to get going in generally the right direction (I think - without having read enough - your 'anyway' approach). Is it possible that we who have absorbed the peak oil and climate change implications (I look forward to your 'third wave' post) are - aware that we are relatively powerless to prevent the Titanic hitting the iceberg/doing anything about the lack of enough lifeboats - still prevaricating on doing anything ourselves. Are we still secretly hoping for a saviour, and not doing anything practical while we wait for that saviour to arrive. And revelling in the narcissism of small differences in the meantime? Or is that just cod-psychology?

"I'd probably be excited about a Transition locale if there were one here in Southern Rhode Island. But as far as I know, there isn't."

Then start one, if you've got a few others in your social circle that might be willing.

There is a possibly major difference between Greer and Hopkins. Hopkins has a worldwide movement behind him to support. The consequences of Hopkins realising he's on the wrong track are much greater than Greer's admitting he's wrong. Consequently, I think there is an almost subconscious resistance to criticism, in Hopkins that may make it difficult for him to openly discuss problems with his approach.

I'm not saying who is right and who is wrong but I think the different consequences of conceding a poor approach may affect how each sees criticism.

By Tony Weddle (not verified) on 03 Sep 2010 #permalink

Here's a comment I posted on Greer's blog, and it's germane here as well:
I'd been going to a local Transition Towns meeting for about a year, and then we decided to stop doing it, because outside of the 4 or 5 people who were involved, we could find no one else interested. I live in Kansas, and usually what happens is that things get atomized, organizations blow apart, people get sick of going to three-hour-long meetings which accomplish nothing.

Organizations tend to be the outgrowth of the leader's ego; followers are solicited at first, but then comes time to do the real work, and the leader ends up doing it all alone, and the organization dissolves soon after.

Cities here tend to be tremendously unresponsive to this sort of thing, too, they'll form advisory committees who spend years working out elaborate policies and plans of action which are routinely discarded. One medium-sized city's Bicycle Advisory Board managed, after four years of hard effort, to get a bicycle lane designated along four blocks of a city street, next to a line of parking spaces. The Transition Movement is really premature for Kansas, we'll have to wait for a real crisis, gas prices going over $6 per gallon, truckers going out of business, and local stores not getting restocked, for anything to happen on a community basis.

One of the things we've seen with the Transition Movement in the US is its commercialization, offering "Transition Trainings", with certified "Transition Trainers" for $200 per person for two six-hour days (some more $$, some less). Right now, and for the foreseeable future, we're in a recession, and the people selling these courses and suchlike may see the Green Wizard bit as competition for market share, and are reacting in that manner. At this point I've got strong doubts about both the New-Age-y commercialization of Transition, and its applicability and timeliness here in the US.
Incidentally, someone took the time to look up costs for Transition Trainings and they came up with figures very close to what I cited:
"Well, after reading Stream's post, I got curious, and this is what I was able to turn up in just a few minutes of poking around...



$195.00 per person for those two" Source: PanIdaho

By Hudson Luce (not verified) on 03 Sep 2010 #permalink

Not to be disagreeable, but I find Hopkins and Greer to be identical in one crucial respect: Neither recognizes that civilization is irredeemable. They both work very hard to defend and prop up civilization.

The most important point in the peak-oil conversation centers on the recognition that industrial civilization is making us crazy and killing us (along with every aspect of the living planet). Everything else is just details.

"Not to be disagreeable, but I find Hopkins and Greer to be identical in one crucial respect: Neither recognizes that civilization is irredeemable. They both work very hard to defend and prop up civilization."

So what do you suggest we do? Storm Discovery channel and use hostages to demand that they cover overpopulation? Maybe do as Derrick Jensen wants and start bombing dams and cellphone towers?

Ed, I suggest we get out of the system that is making us crazy and killing us. I've done so by leaving my high-pay, low-work position as professor at a major university. If a life-long academic with a huge ego can get out of the system and develop a durable set of living arrangements, I'm guessing anybody else can, too. But first we need to terminate the industrial economy, even if it kills us. I'd certainly give my life to bring it all down.

Guy, you don't need to think about a system that's "making (us) crazy". You're already there. Derrick Jensen writes tons of stupid and totally irresponsible stuff, and someday someone will take him seriously and take out some industrial plant or a dam, and kill dozens or hundreds of people in the process, and then you'll see Jense backtrack so quickly and disavow any responsibility it'll make your head spin. He's totally out of touch with anything outside of his academic cult readership, so much so that he refuses to abide any criticism of his writing. If the industrial economy collapses, we're going to be in big trouble, because a lot of the things that make life livable, like sanitation and (relatively) pure drinking water aren't going to be there any more, and we'll have to deal with cholera and typhoid once again (not to speak of what to do with dead bodies from epidemics. And that's just a small part of it. Nope, so far as I'm concerned, Jensen and his ilk are beneath contempt and deserve the resistance they get (and will get if they try to bring any of their ideas into fruition).

hluce, do you prefer we continue to overshoot an overshot planet? If so, what do you propose we do with the 205,000 people we add each day to a planet with too many people to sustain? Of course we're in trouble when the industrial economy collapses -- we have come to rely on a system that is immoral, murderous, and ultimately suicidal. I'd rather we change course instead of maintaining the path of disaster. You?

If you can break down the peak oil, climate change, economic collapse responses in three categories of intentional communities, Transition initiatives, and Green Wizards (and other DIY'ers), I'm of the first category. Being an IC person doesn't make me not a Green Wizard though. I think both Rob Hopkins and John Michael Greer both put down IC's for being isolationist "lifeboat ecovillages" that are "self-selecting". Green Wizardry is pretty specific to skill acquisition, though, so someone could be a GW and be involved with Transition initiatives or IC's.

In a future where economic collapse means government social supports disappearing faster still, I think community organizing is essential. Rob Hopkins is given credit for his "community organizing" stance, however, I think that is false. In Transition circles I have been in, the word "community organizing" or any mention of a formal group decision-making process hushed. The words "emergence" and "self-organizing" are thrown out as part of Transition 2.0 (both words being as meaningless as the word "holistic"). Michael Brownlee, from Transition US, at a talk I had gone to here in NJ in speaking of the official Transition stance, spoke against community organizing, and said that formal group decision-making processes like Consensus or Robert's Rules of Order can sometimes be against the principles of "emergence" and "self-organizing". He said people who come from a community organizing background may find it a hard fit with the Transition philosophy. He's a UFO cult-following fellow, so I don't if what he says is just his view, but he spoke in the context of talking about what the Transition position is, which he shied away from doing in most of the talk. This to me sounds like what the feminist writer, Jo Freeman, wrote on The Tyranny of Structurelessness, in her classic essay. With a lack of formal group structures, the group relies on informal hierarchy, namely they have to keep going back to the boss to find out what the official word is at any time whether it's 1.0 or 2.0 or something later down the road. Getting popularity throughout many communities doesn't mean that any of those communities understand effective community organizing.

I believe community organizing is essential! I hate to see both miss that point. When I've talked to people about my wife and planning a common treasury, 501(d), intentional community, I have heard a good many people speak about how they really want to be involved with the community, not isolated. This is the assumption a good many people still have, of a hippie commune hidden from civilization in the woods. Albert Bates once wrote to me, "Another thought is that ecovillages are not lifeboats. You can't grow your own food in a lifeboat. It gets you off the ship and safely ashore. Ashore you will find both transition towns and ecovillages. I continue to be active with both.

I tend to think the TT analogy better fits lifeboats."

Another assumption we get is that we are trying to "save the world" and that IC's won't save the world because not everyone is into community meetings and cooperative sharing. While I think those skills would be very, very useful in a world in decline, I'm not trying to save the world. I have no idea how to effect societal change. I can only imagine the community level. For my wife and I, we like the concept of community as family, where the community takes care of individual needs and individual members take care of the community. We look forward to getting on the land (hopefully within the next 12 months) and homesteading, foraging, staring cottage industries, building appropriate technology DIY projects (like the passive solar food dehydrator, passive solar water distiller, and the pedal-powered washing machines that I'm building) with others, and supporting each other in the ways we can.

The round of various blog posts on community were a great start to a very important topic. I think that this RH and JMG "discussion" touches slightly on it. Overall, I think the importance of effective community organizing (AND, YES, THAT MEANS MEETINGS!) is not highlighted enough!

By Abe Karl-Gruswitz (not verified) on 03 Sep 2010 #permalink

Guy McPherson, I'm not sure why you think Hopkins and Greer support a continuation of civilisation as we know it. Some form of civilisation, maybe, but the approaches of both would surely change civilisation utterly.

By Tony Weddle (not verified) on 03 Sep 2010 #permalink

In my opinion it is all a case of 'horses for courses'.

The US and the UK are two very different countries and what works for one may not work for the other.

Large areas of the US are only sparsely inhabited and so homesteading and living off grid and in splendid green wizard-like isolation is possible to one degree or another to a large number of people.

The UK by contrast is the most densly populated country in Europe (it used to be Holland but this has now changed). Like it or not we cannot distance ourselves from the community - the zombies are all around us ;-).

My village, pop 1000, started a pre-transition group about a year ago. There aren't many members yet but we are very diverse in terms of education, perspective, and background. While we currently have no idea what the future holds for us it is at least comforting to know that there are others nearby who can see the bigger picture.

By Cornish_K8 (not verified) on 03 Sep 2010 #permalink

Guy McPherson - have you read much of Greer's work? His core argument is that industrialism physically cannot continue indefinitely, because we will run out of resources to feed it. He's not in the habit of spouting about the desirability of collapse (which he notes will mean greater hardship and shorter lifespans for many people) so maybe you've missed the point that he believes it is inevitable. He's not calling for us to choose the decline of our civilization for moral reasons, but he is saying we cannot avoid that fate, and had better start thinking about how to go through it as humanely as possible. Personally, I find his analyses to be very cogent and useful in shaping my own view of the future.

I too would certainly give my life to save the biosphere (or just one bunch of parrots, say) from human depredations. Trouble is, I don't see any opportunity to do that. Any one of us trying to stop the gears of the industrial machine would be like an ant trying to turn the path of an SUV. Yes, human rapacity can be very depressing to watch, but if you respond by feeling that the only worthwhile action would be one that brings the machine down fast and completely, you leave yourself unable to do the smaller things that might do a little good somewhere. The good news for the ants, if you believe the models, is that the SUV is headed for the edge of a bluff anyway. After it's rolled over, they can start repairing the damage it's done, one grain of earth at a time.

Sharon wrote

"Rob Hopkins, beardless founder of the Transition movement, permaculturist, endless energetic optimist and municipal leader, student of the first half of the British century, bent of reorganizing his community and the world to adapt to energy descent. If we could live without that energy once before, well, we can do it now, and let's get at it."

I did not know that Rob could be summed up this way, and I hope Sharon is wrong.
I am in the UK, and when I was a child, during and after WWII, our heating and electric lighting came from coal (in our house and in the nation; for industry and commerce as well as for domestic use). Our then absolutely vital rail transport, goods, coal etc as well as essential mass commuter transit for London, ran on coal.
Our coal production peaked in 1913 and even during WWII could not be raised to that level again. We now import most of our coal (for electricity).
We have not been able to feed ourselves since circa 1850 when organic agriculture and horses fed a population in England (numbers only for England in this case) of ~18M. (More than 70% of our food as calories was imported in 1939, for a total UK population then at about 50M, although doubling mechanized horse-power, and NPK, and increasing the area of plowed land - i.e. using lease-lend machinery and oil from USA - and heavy rationing, reduced imports to about 35% of calories during the emergency.)
Neither John nor Rob seem realistic to me when doing the numbers for example for dig-for-victory feeding urban populations, and certainly not for a locally fed version of our 98% urban people in UK where total arable/crop potential acreage is not much better than 4 persons per acre.

By phil harris (not verified) on 04 Sep 2010 #permalink

...better come up with some ways to cook up grass and kudzu, because we are farmers of both!

Posted by: michaeljones | September 3, 2010 2:41 PM

Actually, the kudzu plant is quite edible, so get the water boiling and have at it!

As for those who are willing to 'give their life' for the planet, you might consider dedicating your life rather than giving it up. By being a living example of what a life lived in harmony with Mother Earth looks like and by being there to inspire the next generation, you do more good than by sacrificing yourself. Ghandi said it beautifully -- "Be the change you want in this world."

By gaiasdaughter (not verified) on 04 Sep 2010 #permalink

Hi Sharon! I got my alert on Peak Oil from Mike Ruppert's FTW. You left him out of the first wave list. Awkward cuss that he is, it's just mistaken to leave him out. A key figure. Oversight, perhaps? Best wishes.

By Rhisiart Gwilym (not verified) on 04 Sep 2010 #permalink

dewey, I have read much of Greer's work. He recognizes the industrial economy is doomed in a couple centuries -- I suspect one of the reasons people like his writing is because it requires no change on the part of the reader -- but he isn't happy about it. Like Hopkins, he (1) wants to keep industry going, and (2) fails to recognize the attendant costs to the living planet, including to our species. On the other hand, I agree with Derrick Jensen about the costs of industrialization to the living planet and even to our own species.

In the short run, we have many reasons to keep the industrial economy kicking, including continued persistence of our own lives. In the mid- to long-term, though, this approach is catastrophic. Just as adding debt will not cure the problem of too much debt, adding more people will not cure the problem of overshoot.

Guy makes valid point. Neither of the programs discussed here see the larger picture. They seem obsessed with easing us into an impoverished future rather gently than letting the chips fall where they may. Fine and good, but the reason we are finding ourselves in this giant bowl of crap is not for lack of oil, or even too many people, or climatic vagaries (of concern though they are) but because civilized human society has been mismanaged for millennia by ruling classes whose primary concern is domination.

Here is an example. There is plenty of food being grown for everyone at the moment (and more). Yet there are people starving. The reason they are starving is that they don't have access. Which is a political problem. If we *really* want to feed all those people, then we must change the socio-political system. Which involves, as Guy pointed out, distancing oneself from the domination system known as this civilization.

Who sees this? Where are the folks working on this?

Ugh. You people who want to destroy civilization make me hopping mad. As a civilized person, I take it that you're declaring yourself my enemy. Weirdly, you are apparently also the enemy of everyone else you know, including yourselves (after all, you're typing away on the Internet for chrissakes). I guess you oppose every great work of art, architecture or literature? And consider every scientific discovery a mistake? You'd spit in the face of Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Beethoven, Darwin? How far are you taking this? Do you oppose printing? Learning? Written language? Spoken language? Music? Cooking? Walking upright? To desire or celebrate the destruction of civilization is to be a completely deranged idiot, in fact, a pervert. What distinguishes you from the Unabomber or this guy who took hostages at the Discovery Channel?? Seriously, what does?? If we were to meet in person, I'd be sorely tempted to give you a well-deserved sock in the nose like the one Buzz Aldrin gave to that nut who thought the moon landings were fake. "Oh yay, let's destroy civilization" -- truly horrifying and disgusting. Pathetic.

What a well done rant! Congratulation on constructing a very vivid and colorful strawman.

Mike, I do not wish to destroy civilization. I only wish to destroy the menace called "this civilization." Wouldn't a civilized civilization be a wonderful idea? :-)

Once we begin to see that the whole course of civilization from the earliest beginnings of mammalian intelligence has accumulated enormous problems that now threaten to destroy all of us, the next thing to look into is: how much have I and others been infected deeply with these basic inherited dysfunctions, and what can I do to get rid of them in myself, and then in others?

Does anyone imagine they can do this work alone? Then how do I find others to work with in the name of our mutual healing? This de-civilizing is a new kind of therapy, and needs to be developed. There are no basic manuals or researched methods for this. Small groups dedicated to this practice will be inevitably experimental.

At the same time folks find ways to uncover and dismantle their basic inherited dysfunctions, they will need to replace the ideas, behaviors, and structures of the old paradigm with new and better models. Working together in a deep intimacy and open sharing at depth that society has in no way prepared us for will need to be learned. To think that those of us who have recently become aware of peak oil, climate change, population imbalance, etc. are already fully awake and ready to found a new world is a foolish illusion. It is this kind of hubris which has made us such a danger to ourselves and others.

In short, what kind of situation is needed for us to restructure our damaged selves? It is really frustrating to observe peoples cocksure attitude that they are OK, it is just other people who need to change. The degree of unconscious arrogance and denial evinced by many is breathtaking. Why not admit that our lives demonstrate that we donât have a clue how to live together in peace and harmony? I will not here get into the preconceived biases folks have towards the mere mention of: therapy, small groups, spirituality, meditation, etc. It only goes to show how deeply conditioned we are, and how little truly open to new ideas. So many are hot for âactionâ, with little regard for the whole history of things undertaken without a deeper basis of consideration.

By Michael Kavanaugh (not verified) on 04 Sep 2010 #permalink

Vera, apologies if I misrepresented your views. I think I may have accurately represented Michael's, however, since he seems to be against everything since the "earliest beginnings of mammalian intelligence." That goes further than I would have guessed (I was thinking the first objectionable thing might have been raising food, or wearing clothes. But no, it was being mammals). Michael, if you think therapy groups can make our minds non-mammalian, well, good luck with that. Guy, I beg to differ. I'm not insane, nor driven by a death wish. Derrick Jensen, on the other hand, is a nut. Have fun, all -- I'm not wasting any more time on this exchange.

I certainly hope I'm not one of those people you desire to physically attack, Mike, 'cause I approve of lots of modern technology ... like handguns. You might be surprised how many of us "enviros" feel the same.

Guy McPherson, I just do not read into Greer what you read into him. His historically correct statement that major civilizational declines often take a couple of centuries should not be taken as a statement that BAU can continue for 200 years. Nor does he think we should try. He wants us all to get out of our cars and start walking or cycling ASAP, for example. OTOH, he does think it would be nice if we were able to preserve some science and technology, so that we did not go back to, say, blaming infectious disease on witches. If you've got a problem with that, then you're as unreasonable in your own way as Mike, who turns any perceived threat to his SUV into a demand for a return to the Stone Age.

As the juggernaut of industrial unintended consequence nips at our heels it may be time to consider seemingly impossible alternatives. One I have dreamt of for years now is an episode of high altitude nuclear explosions extensive enough to disrupt the entire industrial system and therefore bring the consumption of oil and other industrial commodities to a near standstill. Imagining the future is a come as you are event. No conformity is expected just passion preferred.

Turns out that the use of a small number of primitive nuclear weapons, the more primitive the better (the sort of thing North Korea and Pakistan are thought to have), in low earth orbit (easily accomplished by equally primitive rocketry) would effectively derail the entire industrial system. In addition to the immediate destructive effects on microcircuitry making near space forever (or about 100,000 years, whichever comes first) a no mans land, domination of the earth by space based weapons becomes impossible. Satellite digital technology, GPS, orbital imaging, and the like, has made globalized corporate culture, including most especially its high tech armies, possible. All that would be washed away in a near instant.

In line with the published experience of spiritual groups reporting from England on their reproducible successes at transforming formerly crime ridden locations by focusing their mental energy, I have recently been promoting the idea that cooperating individuals spend a brief moment at noon each day trying visualizing high altitude nuclear explosions coming about. Each day the news seems to be pushing the probability of this project ever more into the realm of probability. Maybe we are helping. Think about it. What do we expect a Pakistan or North Korea pushed into a corner to do? Just politely give up and turn in their weapons?

For some of you who find yourselves on the fence about this proposal, I might add that ALL debts would be effectively erased. Some call it the "Jubilee Bomb" for this reason. Of course there will be much suffering in the wake of this transformative disaster, but much less death and suffering than in any other possible scenario I have heard of.

A convenient way out of mental anguish is to use ones imagination to create a narrative with a positive outcome, no matter how seemingly impossible. The more plausible the fictitious narrative the more effective in relieving the stress. In the vernacular this is referred to as "bullshitting oneself into a better mood." If you haven't tried it don't knock it. Positive change comes out of a positive mood based on real expectations.

In the course of my study of the current state of this mass psychosis, that history books call "civilization," I find no evidence to allow me to believe that reform is possible at this point. I have encountered no other narrative as plausible as that incorporating high altitude nuclear explosions that offers any hope of an eventual happy outcome for our species. And let us not forget the shared fate the suite of other complex organisms current on the Earth that will become extinct with expected climate outcomes. I am not as much a misanthrope as to not want my species to survive. No species is perfect, Let's give our species a chance in spite of our faults.

Join me at noon each day to visualize nuclear destruction of near space and save our species.


herb @ 31:

For some of you who find yourselves on the fence about this proposal, I might add that ALL debts would be effectively erased.

Does this mean your name is Robert Paulson?

Dear NJ,

No my name is as advertised, just herb. Given name, though I am not happy with it. I am a sixty five year old white male pediatrician. I am fond of Fight Club though.

Here's hoping for some high altitude nuclear action soon.


Herb - One problem with your scenario is that it would not make the contributory negligence of every high-consuming human obvious to the denser portion of the population, who would find it all too easy to blame the instant economic collapse that followed on Them. In the short term, they would go out and lynch Pakistanis or North Koreans (and probably all sorts of brown folks just on principle), and in the long run, they would put all their energies into getting the breed-and-consume machine up and running again, because they just know the party could go on forever if They were better kept down.

There are peoples who live or did live in relative harmony with their environment. I suspect that the traditional practices and beliefs that allowed this were in all cases derived from painful experience with the consequences of unsustainable behavior. Humans are primates, contrary to what Mike may think, and they do not have the kind of minds that can worry about the consequences to future generations of overfishing, say, enough to avoid it until they have seen it happen. If our empire collapses from a resource and pollution crisis that cannot honestly be blamed on anyone but ourselves, future generations may well be shocked into rejecting our most destructive beliefs. Yes, there will be more short-term damage to the biosphere, but perhaps less long-term.

While not automatically privileging human suffering over the suffering of all other intelligent animals, I also think that your scenario would cause much more human death and suffering than a slow decline. In the latter, people will have generations to develop lower-energy ways of meeting their needs so it needn't be the case, say, that diabetics drop dead en masse from lack of insulin. I think this is why some doomers don't like Greer; he doesn't envision high enough piles of bodies in the streets.

Just going to toss this into the ring here. I have an archaeology degree, and the defining features of "civilization" we used when studying the earliest ones were as follows:

3)large scale defensive structures (usually city walls)
4)specialization of labor (i.e. people had, for lack of a better term, "careers," rather than everyone doing most things for themselves)

-Maybe not a perfect definition, and not entirely translatable into the modern world. But I thought it might contribute something to this discussion about "civilization." It's interesting to me as a newbie homesteader and someone trying to live a more ecologically and socially just life that I must now eschew specialization and become a generalist, with as many varied skills as possible.

And now I'll back slowly out of the room.

Kate - I like that definition, and I think it's something most of us would like to preserve. Agriculture is problematic because it's so often destructive, but it CAN be practiced sustainably, as can pastoralism, and it's virtually impossible for foragers to acquire the spare resources necessary for any significant degree of specialization. Foragers do avoid extreme hierarchy; the cost is they don't have many comforts in life.

Interesting discussion - btw, when I used the term "semi-coherent" I wasn't actually thinking of my writing, but of my worldview (mentioned in the same sentence). That is, I think I bring a less explicitly coherent worldview to the discussion than someone like Greer, Orlov or Hopkins. They tend to write through a fairly unified lens - and I do in some measure too, but I think one of my actual strengths (which doesn't make the more ordered version a weakness in anyone else) is that I don't feel a huge pressure to make all my thinking cohere into a single larger narrative - except in a very, very broad sense.

And yes, I did leave Mike Ruppert and several others off the first wave discussion.


It's worth adding to Greer's list of credentials that his "Archdruid" status - is really entirely his own proclamation. There are real Druids out there- ancient survivors, even; beyond the New Agers- and none of them anointed him arch anything. So, perhaps "Self-proclaimed Archdruid" would be more accurate.

To me, I might add, that fact adds useful perpective to his other proclamations.

"It is impossible to overstate how impressive Hopkins' accomplishments in essentially creating the Transition movement are."

I agree 100%.

" I think Hopkins' refusal to deal seriously with a harder, faster crash possibility sometimes undercuts the potential utility of Transition - the deep problem I see with Transition is that it only works if there's plenty of time to make it work."

I think, here, that Rob has the better grasp of how people, and communities, work.

They need hope. He allows them to have it. Forcing lots of people to face fast collapse scenarios results not in action, but in paralysis and despair; and he knows it.

Once a community is FORMED - it can and will react, if/when a fast collapse happens.

Rob; you're bang on. :-)

As I understand it, Greenpa, you aren't quite accurate. Greer was, I believe, elected Archdruid by one of the several Druid organizations in the US. He's probably not the *only* archdruid in the US, but he didn't say he was, unless I missed something.

Well, you may want to check it, Sharon. My understanding- he found an "organization" which consisted of exactly one remnant person with no real interest; when asked if he minded if Greer joined, etc, he basically responded "who cares". As I understand it, presently. Could I be wrong? Sure.

Dear Dewey,

Thank you for your thoughtful response to my comment.

I wish I could think of a plausible scenario that does not include mass suffering. In choosing between the various options those that further promote the interests of the sociopathic elite at the expense of the rest of the population and those that don't, I am in favor of the later.

A lot of the confusion, maybe all of it, in discussions today has to do with the version of "human nature" that has been brainwashed into our skulls by decades of "education" in the service of our masters. Once we come to a reasonable agreement about what really constitutes "human nature," what are our reasonable expectations of ourselves, we can begin to have a useful dialogue. Might I suggest Rebecca Solnit's book Paradise Built In Hell as a useful aid in purging the demonic view of human nature from our thinking. WE are strong, we endure, we invent, we care. We just forgot who we were under the mass assault of propaganda that has continued since the founding of dominator culture.

Human potential is capable of great technological progress, it just seemed to have stopped with the imposition of dominator culture. Historically there are a vast number of examples of healthy cultures from the Minoan civilization to the Cathar civilization in medieval France that succeeded in living gracefully and well. It is just that the dominator culture has effectively purged any record of their existence from the historical and archeological record, just as it suppresses news of mutual aid movements alive today throughout the world.

In Diamond's book, Collapse, there is the story of a small polynesian island that did reinvent themselves and rejected the destructive physical culture that they brought with them and. like the Easter Islanders, was driving them to destruction. I take encouragement in the demonstration that, no matter how improbable, deep change is demonstrably possible.


Sharon, one small quibble. I would put those you identified as first wave as the second. First wave would date from the 70s and include the likes of Donella Meadows, Paul Ehrlich, EF Schumacher, Raymond Dasman and many others, some of whom might have gotten the timing a bit wrong, and no one used the term, "peak oil", but who were essentially talking about what we're dealing with now. Of course, M King Hubbert would be in this group also. I suppose, ironically enough, also Stewart Brand. These maybe should be called the Prophets.

In your first wave, my second, I would have to add Jay Hanson of dieoff.org, and maybe Matt Savinar. These maybe should be called the Evangelists.

I don't read much of those first two groups anymore. JHK a bit because he's entertaining. Not that they weren't great, but it's all water under the bridge. You and JMG are my main sources for ideas now, but I'm not sure what y'all ought to be called. I suppose I should give Hopkins a look, since you put him in the same league as the two of you. I really doubt, though, whether the TT concept is going to have any utility around here any time soon. That and I helped start a cohousing community, and my meeting card is punched for the next several lifetimes.

Herb, I agree with your analysis. Not with your solution. Adding another disaster on top of all the other disasters is no solution at all, IMO. Hope you drop in to my blog sometimes; I am working on a solution myself.

Greenpa, that is funny!!!!!!!
Could well be true. Maybe that is part of JMG's strategy? He is at the moment trying to take over the nearly defunct masonic lodge in his town.... :-)

Herb - That's true, but you notice it was only the culture on the island that didn't get butchered by its less sustainable neighbors. Foragers today have been pushed into the worst environments on earth, and still in some places engage in violent conflicts over territory. I am sorry to say that for any group that wants to live without outbreeding its carrying capacity, either geographic remoteness or considerable military competence seems necessary. Maybe in future, the human race will improve itself so that it no longer sees theft and rapine as a good survival strategy; until then, we and our descendants have to be prepared to deal with the unimproved variety.

And I, as an atheist, see no reason to write off every single word a person has to say because he's a Revivalist rather than a Reconstructionist Druid - or a Jew or a Mormon, or whatever.

Hi Dewey,

I hope I am not importuning by carrying on an essentially private conversation.

In todays world, violence is the answer to everything, the solution to nothing. Any community, including the world community now living with global intimacy, that tolerates organization through violence and coercion will fail eventually, it just takes too many generations for folks to become aware of their impending fate. Violence should be thought of as a contagious disease, like a contagious cancer similar to the one that is snuffing the Tasmanian Devil. Interpersonal violence is inseparable from ecological violence. Industrial culture is violence incarnate.

This current geological era's (we are now in the Anthropocine) biological suite is is toast unless something drastic happens to stop the petrochemical industries in its tracks. For instance, as it is (see Living Down Stream) the "developed" part of the world is being pickled in toxins and the rest of the world is gleefully taking on as many poisons as they can afford. A necessary, but not sufficient measure needed to allow for survival of the species is to stop using fossil fuels and chemical feedstocks and severely limit heavy metals and other toxic materials. Peak oil will not come soon enough to accomplish this passively. I have tried very hard to imagine a plausible solution to this problem other than an EMP attack. Hoping others come up with something else. I would eagerly jump to any alternative scenario.

Absolutist fantasize about harm prevention. I am willing to settle with harm minimization.

One of the reasons that I recurrently decide to not participate in these internet discussions is that there is an irreducible elitist bias constantly intruding because of the digital divide. For the bulk of the worlds population today, misery unto death is already at the door and the preoccupations of elite populations with keeping the world destroying party going. Hydrogen technology? Wind farms? Why?

I am more concerned about the abject misery of my most dispossessed brothers and sisters than I am about the ranks of the privileged. Destroying the dominant civilization is in the interests of the poor even though few them understand why. I stand with the poor and the weak. We know what civilized (as opposed to Civilizing) moral life needs to look like, kindness, generosity, interdependent self sufficiency, etc. Industrial civilization in its current growth and resource dependent iteration is a total abomination. I can't stomach any "solution" that retains dominator culture values and privileged hyper-consumption. Industrial development is the face of modern depravity.


"I can't stomach any "solution" that retains dominator culture values and privileged hyper-consumption. Industrial development is the face of modern depravity."

Well said.

I stand with the poor and the weak.

..even as you advocate nuking them from space. Dude, please stand against me. With friends like you the poor and the weak, along with everyone else, is certainly not in need of any enemies.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 07 Sep 2010 #permalink

..the first wave, which began in 1997..

.. 2005.. The second generation of us came along around that time, I think.. give or take a year.

What would you make, then, of George Perkins Marsh's "Man and Nature; or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action," which came along in 1885? In it he describes what a potent geomorphological force human activity had become even then, and warns of pending resource depletion. Or Vladimir Vernadsky's "The Biosphere," published (in Russian) in 1926? This is the book that took what was then known about ecology and scaled it up to the level of the entire biosphere. Or what about the late 18th & early 19th century wisdom and warnings of John Muir? Or of Aldo Leopold in the 1940s, Rachael Carson or Paul & Anne Ehrlich in the '60s, or of Marion King Hubbert himself, for that matter?

I've said it before but perhaps it bears reiteration: many of us studied resource depletion & environmental degradation issues in quite exhaustive detail in ecology & environmental science classes in the 1970s. It strikes me as quite hubristic to claim that "the first wave" of resource depletion awareness "began in 1997." Marsh had anticipated virtually all of the modern concerns in this regard 112 years previous. I would say instead that the current crop of blah-blah-blahggers, Greer and Hopkins among them, are nothing more than popularizers with little or nothing novel to add to a discussion decades if not centuries old.

Much of what I object to is summed up in the very title of this blog entry: "..the Peak Oil Movement.." Since when did awareness of resource depletion, human overpopulation, environmental degradation issues, etc., become a "Movement"? We have had environmental thinkers warning of the consequences of our profligate ways since Thales & Anaximander in the 6th century bce, down thru Malthus and the previously listed bunch. Who are these "first wave" and "second generation" youngsters, many of whom aren't even professional ecologists, to appropriate this venerable understanding into a latter-day "Movement"? Faux intellectual bowel movement, maybe. Forget the likes of Greer & Hopkins, I say, and read Darwin & Marsh, or read Ed Abbey if he's easier for folks nowadays to follow. Just don't think that "this moment of emergence into a new focus" is anything new, nor that it is the special perview of "The Movement's" cognoscenti.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 07 Sep 2010 #permalink

..the late 18th & early 19th century wisdom and warnings of John Muir?

Ooops. Make that "late 19th & early 20th century.." My bad.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 07 Sep 2010 #permalink

To respond to a couple of earlier comments - most of the REALLY poor people in the world use little or no electricity and very few manufactured goods (these durable and often scavenged) - so if you could snap your fingers and wipe out the electrical grid, it wouldn't cause them much immediate suffering. In fact, I suspect they'd end up better off because there would be a lot fewer white people coming around to extract their resources and leave pools of carcinogens behind. (Or Chinese - my favorite African country is showing signs of considerable Chinese investment, and it's undoubtedly because China will want to take advantage of their mineral resources and food-producing capacity.)

..it's undoubtedly because China will want to take advantage of their mineral resources and food-producing capacity.

So when Western economic neocolonialism oppresses the peoples of Africa it's just an example of free enterprise offering opportunities for trade & commerce of mutual benefit to the African people and their Western business partners. But when the Chinese beat the capitalists at their own game it's because they "want to take advantage"?

The deal is that there's no strings attached when the Chinese make a deal with sovereign African nations. No civil rights or environmental obligations come with the deal. While I support civil rights & environmental protections, I don't believe that paternalistic impositions are appropriate or appreciated. China is only interested in trade, not in imposing values on people who may not share or appreciate them.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 08 Sep 2010 #permalink

@greenpa: you really need to check your info regarding modern Druidry. Greer's Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) is one of a number of Druid groups in the English-speaking world. At least one other prominent group (ADF) designates an Archdruid as its leader; at least one of the others (OBOD) prefers the title "Chosen Chief." As an independent organization, the AODA has a right to designate its own leadership, both in terms of who fills that role and what title they assume. The only possible argument you could have is that Greer's election is Archdruid of the AODA was somehow improper, in which case the burden is on you as the accuser to provide evidence.

Moreover, there are no "ancient survivors" of Druidry in the modern world. This is a persistent fantasy among many Pagan-minded individuals and groups of the last century or two, but it *is* a fantasy. Ronald Hutton's historical works on British Wicca (*The Triumph of the Moon*) and British Druidry (*Blood and Mistletoe*) are excellent correctives to this view. All modern Paganism is constructed, with varying proportions of scraps of literary and archaeological remnants as well as invention from whole cloth. This does not, by the way, constitute a criticism of modern Paganism's religious value - it's a statement of fact regarding historical origins.

@Scott: Agreed. Moreover, Greer says as much in all of his writings on Druidry. It would behoove those who are interested to pick up a few of Greer's books about the subject. They are excellent and informative reads.

This comments page is scary for four reasons.

Number one, the takeover by the execrable Jensenites in the middle who have no idea how much worse they are going to make the situation with their foolishness.

Number two, that Sharon failed to call them on it.

Number three, that Greenpa's consistent dislike of Greer actually slipped into full-on slander.

Number four, that even that took such a long time to be corrected.

This is a sad page. If this is the calibre of thinking in peak oil, we are all in serious trouble. Self-righteousness is winning over truth. Get a grip.

From his own autobiography page:

"His journey to the northern chair, the seat of the Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America, was made complex by the Order's own difficulties during and after the resignation of Grand Archdruid Robert Johnson in 1998. Unbeknownst to him, his first attempt to contact AODA - after reading about it in a reference book, and finding its traditional Druid Revival approach intensely appealing - was made during the middle of this crisis and went nowhere. He finally succeeded in making contact with one of the Order's Archdruids in 2001, only to find the Order inactive."

Ah, and how hard is it to be elected head of a defunct organization?

"In 2003, after a series of discussions about AODA's potentials, he was brought into the Grand Grove as Archdruid of the East. On December 21, 2003, on the resignation of Grand Archdruid Betty Jean McCloud Reeves due to ill health, he moved to the North as the seventh Grand Archdruid of AODA."

Pardon me- but....

Scribbly; et. al.; Greenpa did his homework - you didn't. I'd have to read that exquisitely worded (written by Greer) diversion exactly the same way Greenpa did - he found a vacant organization, and elected himself head. And, confessed to that ahead of time, so no one can accuse him of covering it up. Well done, that. Still; IS he an "Arch Druid"? puuhleeze. I can, with equal authority, proclaim myself Grand PooBah. Just as many people voted for me, as for him.

You owe Greenpa an apology; and maybe you'll actually do some homework, next time?

By ranklebiter (not verified) on 08 Sep 2010 #permalink

Scott: "Moreover, there are no "ancient survivors" of Druidry in the modern world. This is a persistent fantasy among many Pagan-minded individuals and groups of the last century or two, but it *is* a fantasy. Ronald Hutton's historical works on British Wicca (*The Triumph of the Moon*) and British Druidry (*Blood and Mistletoe*) are excellent correctives to this view."

Hutton certainly has heavyweight credentials. However I have personal knowledge of individuals who sincerely believe themselves to be actual lineal descendants of ancient Druids. They are certainly not "neo" types.

History professors have been mistaken occasionally in the past. I merely reserve judgment.

darwinsdog @55 - "So when Western economic neocolonialism oppresses the peoples of Africa it's just an example of free enterprise offering opportunities for trade & commerce of mutual benefit..."

That's not even remotely what I think; didn't you read what I had to say about white people in the preceding sentence? I would say that the Asians (so far) do less damage than Westerners because they are "only" interested in sucking out Third World resources, not in jamming down everyone's throats a set of cultural values that makes them feel grateful to be sucked dry. This means that they have to actually give some semblance of fair value, rather than just free-market propaganda backed by military threats. It's still probably detrimental to the locals in the long run; not everyone uses the fancy new conference center, but everyone gets to drink the carcinogens when the mining is done sloppily.

Greenpa, I trust you're not speaking of Ar nDraiocht Fein, which is entirely modern. I have heard of people in the British Isles who claim that their families secretly maintained a pagan tradition through all the centuries of Christian persecution, and it's fascinating if true - but I'd make two points about that. Firstly, even their traditions have surely changed over two thousand years, which is good, really (anyone want to go back to performing a human or animal sacrifice when there's a crop failure?). Secondly, because they do not publicly recruit nor publish the details of their practices, people who wish to pursue European pagan religious or spiritual paths do not have access to those traditions, and pretty much have to join or found "neopagan" groups. That's what the founders of today's major Wiccan traditions did, and there's no reason others can't continue to do likewise today. Since I am not a practicing pagan, my opinion on what level of historical correctness or "orthodoxy" should be required of would-be pagans has no particular value, but it doesn't seem wise to me, for multiple reasons, for any faith to set the barriers to entry too high.

Scott, Scribbly, etc.

First let me begin by stating that I am a lurker, I read Sharon's blog, but rarely if ever comment as I am very private person. However this conversation bothers me as many conversations of druidism do because of their lack of understanding.

As a descendant of the celtic people and a hereditary druid I agree with Greenpa's statements regarding JMG. While I find some of what he does valuable, it is mitigated by his posturing with the whole Archdruid title and the sideways method he used to obtain it. Yes the AODA, ADF and OBOD are recognized groups of neo-druids who worship in accordance to what is thought to be historical druidic practices. Yes older Druidic groups acknowlege their validity. However they are relatively new organizations in the pagan world.

I would be considered a mesopagan by the modern definitions of and a member of the AOD which was officially founded in 1781. However many members of the AOD were sought out because we are descendants and have an oral tradition of beliefs and practices unlike many neo-pagans that predates the rise of Christianity in Europe. My ancestors in fact fled the British isles or were carried off as Roman slaves, but they passed their beliefs to their descendants.

Are those beliefs "pure" paganism. Probably not, because anyone who practices the religion now calls themselves a Druid when it was once the title for a priest not a believer. Who really knows what is authentic? What the AOD knows and I know is that this oral tradition is very accurate and compelling and my lineage can be historically documented.

I have no interest in lecturing online about the differences in pagan groups. I just thought you would like to know that we are out there and find Greer's claims to authority to be amusing.

By Descendant (not verified) on 09 Sep 2010 #permalink



You are correct. We don't advertise ourselves. But we are out there and willing to teach if we really believe that the intention of those approaching us is true.

By Descendant (not verified) on 09 Sep 2010 #permalink

Descendant - Thank you very much for the fascinating comments! You're actually kinder than I would be to Revivalist Druidry - I have read JMG's book on the subject and it's well-written, but I cannot swallow the idea of being asked to take seriously concepts like "nuivre" or whatever that are acknowledged to have been made up out of whole cloth by a specified Englishman. (Of course, all comparable concepts were made up by someone at some point, so perhaps the recency of the imaginative effort does not predict its usefulness or lack thereof.)

The attitude you describe is frustrating to those interested in your faith, I'm sure. Maybe a would-be learner doesn't live near any of you, or doesn't know them to be such, or can't manage to convince them of his likely dedication. I have heard pagans and devotees of some Eastern traditions say "if the student is ready the master will appear," which strikes me as a way of denigrating individuals who can't find compatible groups to join - it's not that external factors or practical considerations make that difficult, it's that "you must not be ready." Your tradition may be much deeper than AODA's, but if AODA's is what's accessible, what is the seeker likely to do? In a society where people feel free to study and adopt religions whose "homelands" are thousands of miles from their own, those that spread (which, I understand, is not a goal of some faiths) will be those that have some way to make knowledge and practice available to interested parties in remote locations.

Dewey - (and Descendant, you can just cover your ears and hum, if you like- :-) )

As an evolutionary ecologist; my tentative observation on the survivors - they're going to be the really shy ones. All the rowdy pagans got killed; for about 1500 years there. At this point, it could actually be genetic.

And that stuff still goes on; ask any Wiccan if some of their neighbors do or don't mutter under their breath about burning witches.

So any real seekers better be prepared to do some long hard seeking. But that's what it's supposed to be about, yes?

@Sharon: my apologies for continuing to divert the comments thread on this post, but baseless allegations against people that I respect really bug me.

@greenpa and ranklebiter: I would recommend augmenting your knowledge of Greer's affiliation with the AODA by listening to the opening six minutes or so of the episode of Thorn Coyle's "Elemental Castings" podcast in which she interviewed him. The broadcast date was 5/4/09; you can find it on iTunes or at http://www.thorncoyle.com/podcasts.html. For your convenience, I'll paraphrase: Greer read about the AODA and spent a couple of years tracking down contact info for them, and when he found them, realized that he was "thirty years younger than anyone else in the Order" and "the first person to express an interest in it for rather a few years," and so offered to take a leadership role in the organization in order to ensure its survival. (Bear in mind that Greer was coming to the AODA as a long-time ceremonial magic practicioner and a graduate of the OBOD training program, not just as some random guy off the street.) I don't see how this narrative suggests any self-aggrandizing motives on Greer's part. I'll also point out that Greer's description of the Order in your quote is "inactive," which is not quite the same as "defunct." Greer, so far as I know, has never claimed to speak for all Druids, or in fact to be anything other than what he is: the elected Archdruid of a particular Revival Druid organization.

@Descendant: While I'm sure that you sincerely believe in the lineage of your tradition, I hope you'll understand that from a historical point of view your claim is exceedingly unlikely, and so I must remain skeptical unless you can provide some more compelling evidence than "this is what my teachers told me."

I understand the difficulty people face when trying to find us. We are a closed group. In my years as a practicing Druid I have only been a teacher for one druidic student who successfully joined our order and have also been a source for several anthropology and history professors.

I also do not want to divert Sharon's thread. If you would like to talk (virtually) post an email I can reach you at.

*Covering my ears* lol

You have just illustrated why none of us wanted to talk to Hutton.

By Descendant (not verified) on 09 Sep 2010 #permalink

@Descendant: because he would require you to substantiate your claims? I don't think it's unreasonable for an academic historian to want documented sources to back up his information - especially when the claim is extremely unlikely on its face which, you must admit, yours is. You assert that an oral tradition that you received is verifiably the direct descendant of a religion for which there has been no documented evidence of practice for well over a millennium, and that a British voluntary society of the eighteenth century whose organizational bylaws expressly forbade discussion of both politics and religion at its meetings (the Ancient Order of Druids) deliberately sought out and contacted these secretive holders of the ancient faith. Again, I don't doubt that you are sincere, but it is unreasonable to expect anyone else to take these claims seriously unless you can provide evidence supporting them. Did these other "anthropology and history professors" for whom you were "a source" not require documentation? And will you name them, so that I can investigate their work for myself?

It's ironic that a comment thread of a blog by a bridge-building woman attempting to constructively intervene in a snit between two guys (who I both like), seems to have been inhabited by mostly men snitting with each other.

I don't visit the comments thread of Sharon's blog much, but my memory is that of a much more affirming and constructive discussion.

Anyhow, my tomatoes are bigger than yours; and my bookshelves longer. Nyah nyah.

Well, it has been interesting enough to keep my attention for longer than I can afford, but I really can claim no interest in Druids and the like. Glad you all are having a good time.


Re: Greer's "credentials".. the phrase "ad hominem" comes to mind. What possible relevance does this have to discussions of peak oil and responses to it? Squabblings within the pagan community (within which JMG is recognized as a leader regardless of what his exact career path might have been) are pretty irrelevant here; many neopagans spend way to much time challenging other peoples validity and veracity, it's almost the national sport.

Since when did it become a bad thing to see an organization that is floundering or fading and work on bringing it back to life? Isn't this a positive community organizing activity?

By Bill Pulliam (not verified) on 09 Sep 2010 #permalink

Well, Bill, some of us think that the designation of a title like archdruid ought to come from more than two people and one of them saying "meh." :-)

Not that I really care. Humans are funny doofuses.

Hilarious stuff. But Sharon's point, if I got it, is: "let's get out there and grow th' food. If you know a better way to grow it, say so. Say it loud, though, 'cuz you're weeding in your row and I'm weeding in mine."

It drives me nuts that Greer talks about magic and druidry, but that says more about my own prejudices than it does about him. He also talks a good line on the food; and he's he's growing it. So's Rob & so's Sharon.

So are we all gonna lean on our dissin' hoes here, or get crackin'?

"IS he an "Arch Druid?"

Yes of course he's an archdruid. I'm not interested in the 'my lineage is longer than yours' arguments, or the squabbles within druidry about who is authentic, since I'm not interested in druidry myself. I do know that Greer has never claimed to be authentically descended from the ancient druids. But he is the head of a modern druid order and as such is entitled to call himself an Archdruid. He has druids in his order calling him that, it's not a question of him simply looking in the mirror.

But that's just tittle-tattle. My main worry was the Jensenites, and they seem to have scarpered.

Archbishop, archdeacon, archdruid, archduke, archfiend, what is it but lusting after status? I say, let's greet it all with a snicker and a snee.

The world I am dreaming has ad hoc, meritocratic and rotating leadership.... none of this silliness...

"Archbishop, archdeacon, archdruid, archduke, archfiend, what is it but lusting after status?"

It's the name given to the leader of a druid group. You have to call them something, this is the word they chose. That's the whole matter, there's nothing more to it than that.

Leadership is important and when it comes to leadership skills, Greer certainly has them. I don't see any 'silliness' in that, any lack of merit, nor anything to snicker at. Someone can aim to be a leader, not in order to preen, but in order to provide leadership. (Read Lao-tzu on the difference.)

If you have a good system of leadership in mind and reason to believe it would work, whether for druids or for anyone else, you can detail it on your blog and show people who are interested how it would work. But I hope it doesn't mean throwing away good leaders because you don't happen to like their nomenclatures; they are in short supply.

Will do, Scribbly. But in a nutshell... organic leadership is fluid. Different people lead at different times, according to talents, inclinations and needs of the moment. Freezing this process and congealing power into an individual seems to be a path with predictable problems. The only way not to abuse power is to share it and circulate it. :-)

Vera, the proof of such a philosophy will be in what you end up building with it.

But we already have plenty of evidence of what happens when power gets hoarded.

OK, Vera, are you just saying that AODA should make sure to rotate its leadership, instead of leaving one guy in the top job long-term, or are you really talking about Greer's status as a de facto leader in the peak oil community?

If the former, that sounds like wise advice for any spiritual or religious group (that is large enough to have multiple people able and willing to do the job), but it is up to members of each such group to demand it, if they indeed want it, or vote with their feet if their demands are ignored. I think the Catholic pope-for-life thing is a terrible idea, but since I am not Catholic, there's no reason I should have any say in the matter.

If the latter, the reason I pay sustained attention to Greer is that he thinks with more clarity and froths less than certain other author/bloggers. (I happened to see his book on the UFO phenomenon and thought it was also very well reasoned - not at all the sort of credulous fluff that might have been expected of a mystically inclined author.) I pay attention to Sharon for the same reason. Others who wish to replace them in my affections, so to speak, are welcome to use the same tactic, if they are able to do so.

So all this discussion is because RH says that 'Green Wizardry' might not work? Transition Network, the owner of the Transition Movement franchise has always said in its 'Cheerful Disclaimer' that Transition itself might not work.
"We truly don't know if this will work. Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale." So why worry?
(Actually I think 'massive scale' is grandiosely over-optimistic.)

By tom rainboro (not verified) on 10 Sep 2010 #permalink

I can give him a 99.99% guarantee that it would not work where I live.

Dewey, I totally meant the former... re leadership in the AODA. As far as his leadership in the peak-oil etc community, his leadership is based on current utility and fits my prescription. If he turns into a babbler, people will stop listening to him. That is how true leadership works... it goes with those who are doing useful things, and moves on to others as situation changes. And you are right... there are no titles or special privileged status he could acquire in the peak oil community to stand in the way of those emerging leaders who have the ability to say things equally well or better.

Seems we have Green Magicians and other resilience pioneers like Sharon, who are individualistic and inspire others. Then we have TT which seems suitable to small green-yuppie towns. (Though I don't like all that proprietary garbage behind it; how come it's not open source?)

What we don't have, yet, is a way that could work for anyone anywhere, and yet provided community along with the various resilient doings.

i have read very little about greer but have on the other hand read a a fair bit about hopkins and been very inspired. However i often prefer to get on with doing things for myself or seeking out people who have done similar things and whose knowledge and skills i respect and not to organise meetings. This would presumably put me in the green wizadry zone, yet from my brief look at green wizadry it seems to be an online library of hints,tips and links of good books and would like to knwo if it is this or if there is something more to it. Apologies for not doing the research myself but my computer is tiringly slow and just writing this comment seems to take an age.

i am sometimes critical of the transition movement in that it is only engaging certain pockets of society but on the up-hand at least it is engaging some of the society and helping these people to meet and do something pro-active. Where as learning lots of skills for yourself is great but in hard times the more friends you have with wide ranging skills the more adaptable you can be so surely the community approach (even if it is only a small percentage) is better than the individual approach?

P.S i have never posted on a blog before,normaly find these discussions about where faults in others movements lie slightly absurd yet felt compelled to write something. strange - must have been building up inside of me for the last 8 years or so

bar - I agree that a community approach is ideal, but it has to be handled carefully because most members of most communities do not believe they need to change. I have been doing my bit to encourage gardening in my neighborhood, for example, but I don't present it as being anything but a hobby - getting myself ostracized for being "extreme" or "weird" will not make my neighbors more prepared now, but might put me at more risk if things got scary later. And speaking of scary, I live in a large city with serious racial tensions and class issues. The various groups involved have not been willing or able to pull together in good times or in bad. What they'd do in a real catastrophe, I hate to think. Certainly they are not all going to join a Transition movement.

Whether the roots of neopaganism go back to the fertility & cave bear cults of the paleolithic or were invented whole cloth by Gerald Gardner & Aleister Crowley in the 20th century, they're equally superstitious & silly in either case. "Gaia" isn't conscious. PZ Myers ought to get ahold of this thread & have all his syncophants jump in to ridicule it.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 13 Sep 2010 #permalink

Scribbly, just to be clear, I don't censor comments unless they actually descend to ad hominem, racism or other unacceptables, completely takes over a thread or involves threats. Period. Personally, I don't think this was one of the best comment threads ever to appear on this blog, but I don't think a greater degree of ideologically-based censorship results in more interesting discussions - ever. I tend to be more interested in how my readers respond to one another than in making obvious "call them on it" comments.

My personal opinion on Greer and Druids is that I don't have a strong opinion. I don't care very much. I think the reinvestment of old organizations with new life can be good (I think it is kind of cool that Greer wants to be a Mason and likes that stuff, even though I don't), and even if he did take over an organization, he's now what he pretended to be (or didn't pretend to be), to paraphrase Vonnegut. I don't have any opinion on descent from Druids or the passing down of traditions - no one believed that long-disconnected African Jewish populations were actually Jewish either until we demonstrated they were. On the other hand, I also don't believe that anyone definitely is anything in particular. I simply don't care very much, in the net.


DD, you are of course right that resource use and depletion are long term issues, which is why I phrase it very specifically - as a "peak oil movement" - a subset and subsequent group whose primary focus is not just writing, but what to do about our present situation, which is different than the situation in different times. And if we're all such excresences, why on earth are you here? No weeds in your garden ;-)?


..why on earth are you here? No weeds in your garden ;-)?

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 14 Sep 2010 #permalink

DD, I don't want you to stop commenting, I just wonder sometimes why you bother with me and us, given your sense that no one else really "gets it."


I just wonder sometimes why you bother with me and us, given your sense that no one else really "gets it."

What would be the point of only interacting with those who "get it" already? You yourself sum up your essay by saying: "The fighting is at least as important as the agreeing." Actually, I think that you and much of your readership actually do "get it," and are merely in denial about the full consequences of your own insights. Abandonment of our ego defenses is scary but is absolutely necessary for seeing the world clearly.

But to be perfectly honest, what draws me to your blog is... nostalgia. Your family and your way of life, the garden, goats, food preservation, your writing, your proselytization for a low impact lifestyle... all remind me of myself & family years ago when my wife was healthy, kids were small and I actually thought I had something meaningful to say. The real reason I frequent your blog is in order to vicariously relive my own young adulthood and youthful zeal. This probably sounds creepy to you but is as close to the truth as I know how to come.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 14 Sep 2010 #permalink

I also think you bring a great deal of value to the discussion, DD (though it bugs me when, as in 93 above, you attribute disagreement to "denial," "ego defenses," or some other psychological failing in your interlocutor rather than to the possibility that different conclusions can be rationally drawn from the same incomplete data).

I actually find that very flattering, DD. I'm glad we provide something useful to you - and I'm glad you are around.


Sharon: "I don't think a greater degree of ideologically-based censorship results in more interesting discussions - ever."

I wasn't recommending censorship, I simply thought you would have more to say about the destructive views some people here laid out in such a self-righteous way.

if he did take over an organization, he's now what he pretended to be (or didn't pretend to be), to paraphrase Vonnegut.


As I said, it's not whether druids are legitimate that interests me. It's whether people can call themselves Archdruids without being accused of power-hungry megalomaniacs interested only in dominance dynamics and thus standing in the way of the liberation of our species! I also don't give a toss about the religious argument, it is not my scene. But when good people are falsely accused by those with ideological and personal axes to grind, a scene is not the better for it in my opinion. YMMV.