I spend quite a bit of time reading the work of other bloggers. Believe it or not, I’ve read a few books, too. This post follows my usual approach of being an equal opportunity offender as I comment on the philosophy of James Howard Kunstler, Dmitry Orlov, and John Michael Greer, along with a few others. As always, it should be clear that this post is filled with my opinions, which likely won’t match yours.
Rather than commenting on the entire blogosphere, I focus on bloggers who actually understand some part of the connection between the twin sides of the fossil-fuel coin, even if they fail to understand the connection between the three E’s: environment, energy, (industrial) economy. I ignore the many blogs that deal strictly with economic issues because they tend to be administered by people who do not acknowledge, and probably do not understand, the links between energy and the industrial economy, much less between fossil fuels and climate change. A large portion of these writers think anthropogenic climate change is a hoax, and they uniformly cheer for economic growth, failing to recognize — and likely failing to care about — the consequences for the living planet. They claim denying anthropogenic climate change makes them skeptics, but, echoing George Monbiot, I think it makes them suckers instead.
I recognize that this exercise will make me as popular as a lightning rod during a thunderstorm. On the other hand, I welcome the same sort of criticism. I retain all my hate mail simply because it serves as a check on my expansive ego. Nonetheless, I doubt I’m sufficiently well known to warrant attention from these other writers, although upon posting this entry I sent an email message to each of them (except John Michael Greer, who puts a firewall between himself and the general populace). Readers, feel free to dive in.
Lest you think I’m all about unwarranted criticism, the reason I keep turning to these particular blogs is because I enjoy their writing. So, although I’ll be poking a little fun and pointing out the absurdities I observe, I’ll keep reading these folks as long as they keep me entertained or informed. I’m especially inclined toward humor, and especially writers who manage to take their own messages seriously without taking themselves seriously. I’m commenting about blogs, so I’ll ignore writers who put out their essays online but do not allow comments (e.g., Carolyn Baker, Joe Bageant, peacenik doomer Jan Lundberg, consummate scientist and seeker of objectivity Richard Heinberg, and off-the-charts doomer Matt Savinar).
My own thinking has been influenced quite heavily by Daniel Quinn. Like Quinn, I believe industrial culture is absolutely omnicidal. In fact, I think the first admission of any writer should be that he (here and elsewhere, I’m using the gender-free “he”) depends entirely on western civilization’s culture of death to make a living. The second admission is a litmus test, of sorts: Either he supports the ongoing omnicide, or he wants to terminate the industrial age as quickly as possible. Full disclosure: As I’ve stated many times, I will gladly give up my life to see industrial culture breathe its last, and therefore relieve other cultures and species from the ongoing oppression of empire. I recognize that most people would rather kill the entire living planet than give up a few creature comforts.
For the sake of standardization and in the name of organization, my critique employs three axes: doom, gloom, and message control. Obviously, I’ll comment about many other attributes, but these three axes provide an opportunity to rank the writers according to sort-of measurable criteria.
Me first, of course, and feel free to weigh in: I think I have a good grasp of the link between fossil fuels and climate change, as well as the links between the three E’s (the industrial economy runs on cheap energy, which is a subset of the environment). We’re destroying the environment on which we depend for our own lives. On a scale of 1 to 10, I score myself a 10 as an economic doomer. I recognize, in other words, that an economy based on ready access to inexpensive fossil fuels is destined for failure. For that matter, so is any civilization based on hierarchy and therefore oppression. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give myself a 2 as a gloomer. I’m seriously optimistic about life on Earth in the wake of economic collapse. I’m not quite as sanguine as some writers about the human suffering associated with completion of the collapse, but I can hardly wait for the collapse to be complete because of the associated alleviation of suffering throughout the world (human and otherwise). In terms of information control, I score myself a 1. Throughout the history of this blog, including its time at another website, I’ve deleted two comments that were not obviously spam. At the time, I explained why I deleted them: They were mean-spirited toward other readers in this online community. I have not altered or deleted critical comments about me.
Onward to the master of the metaphor, James Howard Kunstler. There is no finer producer of doomer porn than Kunstler. His writing is witty enough to make me laugh out loud and creative enough to keep me coming back, and he clearly understands the connection between cheap oil, growth of the industrial economy, and anthropogenic climate change. I really liked The Long Emergency, which was one of the first books to tackle the topics of peak oil and climate change in a meaningful manner. Kunstler is brazen enough to make predictions, which I admire. And his predictions have been right on the mark, with the exception of timing nearly as atrocious as mine. For example, he nailed the subprime meltdown, the collapse of the financial sector, the ongoing destruction of large entities, and the ongoing economic contraction. Although Kunstler keeps expressing disappointment with Barack Obama, I think it’s time to get over the notion that the current leader of this increasingly totalitarian state can turn around the imperial cruise ship long after it hit the iceberg, or would even want to. Kunstler is a serious doomer: I score him a 10. He’s a defender of industrial culture, though, so I give him a gloomer score of 9. Kunstler gives me the impression that he foresees a lot of suffering in the years ahead, unbalanced by the alleviation of suffering in places such as Gaza, nearly all of Africa, and the entire non-human world. The industrial economy has been pulverizing the living planet for decades, and I’ve got to believe Kunstler knows it — but he’d like to keep the current game going, in reduced form, so we can keep track of the level of pulverization until we’re reduced to six bands of hardy scavengers living near the poles. Finally, I score Kunstler a 1 on controlling the message. He takes more hits on his blog than anybody deserves, and he doesn’t edit them into oblivion. If he removes comments, they must be the ones paying him compliments.
Dmitry Orlov is milk-through-the-nose funny. Reinventing Collapse is a wonderfully witty and informative book, and Orlov writes intelligently about a wide range of issues. Unfortunately, he has decided to focus his blog on a much narrower range of topics in the future. As with Kunstler, Orlov clearly understands, and patiently explains, the connections between cheap oil, economic collapse, and climate change. He’s a 10-point doomer. Orlov is an engineer, and he is careful to be careful, so much so that he refuses to put a timeline on any prediction. As a result of his studious carefulness, I cannot determine a “gloomer” score for him. Although comments on his blog formerly were very interesting, he has disabled comments. As a result, I score him a 10 on controlling the message (and I recognize the difficulties in dealing with the rampant dumbassery of trolls, spam, and a generally ignorant and hateful populace).
John Michael Greer is stunningly learned, with a strong grasp of history and philosophy. So it surprises me that he borrows his online name, without acknowledgment, from the original archdruid (the presiding official at the National Eisteddfod of Wales) and the best-known archdruid in memory (the great conservationist David Brower). And yes, I know he’s the grand archdruid … but still. Although Greer is a doomer, he’s a half-hearted and unfunny one, constantly seeking the “middle way.” As I’ve indicated previously, there’s no half-way with economic contraction and global climate change. According to recent climate projections, we either complete the ongoing collapse in the very near future, or we run out of habitat for humans by mid-century. The notion that we can power down relatively smoothly, over a span of three centuries, is ludicrous. The Long Descent is a fine title, but a terrible idea. So, I give Greer an ironic mid-range score of 5 on the doomer front. Because of his measured approach, it’s difficult for me to evaluate Greer’s level of gloominess, so I won’t try. With respect to controlling the message on his blog, I score him a solid and unimpressive 8, in part because he moderates every comment. Of course, we cannot know what he edits out, but I know he’s purposely deleted comments when a reader sought clarification on issues raised by Greer. Why? What’s the point of claiming to conduct an online conversation if you’re so concerned about rogue comments that you don’t let them into the discussion? All in all, Greer is a great student and also a great teacher, at least for the American system of education (i.e., K-12 concentration camps). But I hate to take a class from somebody who thinks he has all the answers.
I was just about ready to give up on Sharon Astyk because Casaubon’s Book had become terribly boring. She had abandoned her earlier lucid and prolific writing about peak oil and climate change, opting instead to write about gardening and raising children. I have no problem with these topics, mind you: They just don’t interest me as much as the collapse of western civilization and the extinction of humanity. Alas, Astyk is back with a very welcome vengeance. Most recently, she pointed out the lunacy of Greer’s “balance” in a recent post of his (after I wrote the critique above, which remains unchanged). She certainly understands the link between fossil fuels and anthropogenic climate change. I haven’t paid close enough attention to her writing to draw any conclusion about her knowledge of the relationship between cheap energy and the industrial economy, but I’ll assume she’s literate enough to understand that link. She’s a 10-point doomer and a 2-point gloomer. I have no reason to believe she edits or deletes any comments, so I score her a 1 on that front. My only complaint is Astyk’s sense of humor: If she has one, it doesn’t match mine (therefore, it doesn’t count). On the other hand, she’s actually blogging about living a life: She walks the walks, instead of just blogging about it, like the rest of us.
Kathy McMahon takes a decidedly and expectedly humanitarian approach. Expectedly, that is, because she’s a shrink. She exhibits considerable kindness to those who comment on her blog, even the idiots who fail to understand we’re already committed to economic contraction and global warming (stunningly, people fail to see these phenomena even though they’ve already occurred, and continue to increase in magnitude). McMahon certainly understands the connections between the three E’s and also between cheap energy and global climate change. She’s convinced we have quite a bit of time before the industrial economy completes its crash, which suggests she is unaware that the industrial age nearly came to a close at least five times within the last fifteen months. In addition, I’ve seen no evidence McMahon understands what a slow decline in the industrial world’s standard of living means for habitat on Earth, for our species and many others. Thus, she’s a 7-point doomer. Because of her anthropocentric approach, I think she’s a 7-point gloomer as well. I suspect she doesn’t edit comments, and she responds to nearly all of them, so she scores a 1 on controlling the message.
Tim and Sally take perhaps the most comprehensive and hopeful approach in the blogosphere, as they did with their excellent documentary film, What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire. They’re both a lot funnier than you’d expect, given the direness of the subject matter. They completely grasp the three E’s and the fossil-fuel coin, as well as just about every other aspect of the straits we’re in. They don’t attempt to control comments (1), they’re consummate doomers (10), and they’re less gloomy than almost anybody else I know. In fact, they think human beings will come together, take a big dose of Fukitol, and hit the reset button, perhaps in time to save a few remaining remnants of the living planet. Along the way, we just might even save ourselves. As calamitous as that seems, I think it’s worth a shot.
Care to differ? What did I miss about each of these bloggers? And who did I miss?