Greatest hits

Three years and 185 essays into the blogosphere, I’ve decided it’s time for a “greatest hits” essay. The best part, for you: It’s only a line or two per essay, and I’ve selected from only a dozen essays. The best part, for me: I get to pick ’em. They’re in chronological order.

Feel free to agree, disagree, or add you own to my list of best lines. What posts, and what lines, were influential for you? Which ones made you laugh out loud, cry in agony, or want to smack me up side the head? Don’t be shy; my skin is thick. Invite your friends, too. Any number can play.

Philosophy and Conservation Biology: Evolution drives us to breed, drives to procreate, and drives us to accumulate resources. Evolution always pushes us toward the brink, and culture piles on, hurling us into the abyss.

The end of civilization and the extinction of humanity: Cheap oil is fundamental to the 12,000-mile supply chain underlying the “warehouse on wheels” approach to the just-in-time delivery of cheap plastic crap.

Saving the world: a transcript for your review: We’re fish in a river, unaware that there’s an ocean, much less a landbase. If you intend to think your way out of this cultural mess, you’ll think of Nietzsche’s Overman. You’ll think of Orwell’s modest heroes. You’ll think of all the quirky, off-beat, out of touch, counter-culture contrarians you’ve ever met. You’ll think.

Whack! I’m Homo industrialis, after all. I care about me, here, now. Hell with tomorrow, and all the tomorrows to come.

Humanity at a crossroads: We’ve reached a crossroads unlike any other in human history. One path leads to despair for Homo industrialis. The other leads to extinction, for Homo sapiens and the millions of species we are taking with us into the abyss. I’ll take door number one.

Scale: Within the span of a couple generations, we abandoned a durable, finely textured, life-affirming set of living arrangements characterized by self-sufficient family farms intermixed with small towns that provided commerce, services, and culture. Worse yet, we traded that model for a coarse-scaled arrangement wholly dependent on ready access to cheap fossil fuels. Then we ratcheted up the madness to rely on businesses that use, almost exclusively, a warehouse-on-wheels approach to just-in-time delivery of unnecessary devices designed for rapid obsolescence and disposal.

Linking the past with the present: resources, land use, and the collapse of civilizations: We have ripped minerals from the Earth, often bringing down mountains in the process; we have harvested nearly all the old-growth timber on the continent, replacing thousand-year-old trees with neatly ordered plantations of small trees; we have hunted species to the point of extinction; we have driven livestock across every almost acre of the continent, baring hillsides and facilitating massive erosion; we have plowed large landscapes, transforming fertile soil into sterile, lifeless dirt; we have burned ecosystems and, perhaps more importantly, we have extinguished naturally occurring fires; we have paved thousands of acres to facilitate our movement and, in the process, have disrupted the movements of thousands of species; we have spewed pollution and dumped garbage, thereby dirtying our air, fouling our water, and contributing greatly to the warming of the planet. We have, to the maximum possible extent allowed by our intellect and never-ending desire, consumed the planet.

Apocalypse or extinction? Now I mourn because the solution is right in front of us, yet we run from it. We fail to recognize our salvation for what it is, believing it to be dystopia instead of utopia. Are we waiting for the last human on the planet to start the crusade?

Is terminating the industrial economy a moral act? We should be investing in our neighbors, as has always been true. And those neighbors aren’t just humans. They’re animals and plants, soil and water. We need to protect and honor them as we do our own children. We need to harbor them from the ravages of war, and also from an economy built on war. We need to live outside the industrial economy and within the real world of honest work, honest play, simple pleasures, and paying the consequences of our daily actions. We need to abandon a political system that takes without giving, long after it abandoned us. At the most fundamental level, we need to re-structure society so that children understand and value the origins of food, and life.

Surveying the field and charting a course: In short, civilization is only a few days removed from chaos or, if you’re an optimist like me, from anarchy. This has always been the case, for every failed civilization as well as the one left standing. With every passing day, we move further into ecological overshoot and also closer to the end of western civilization and its apex, the industrial economy. For most individual industrial humans, the end will not be welcome. But for the living planet on which we depend, and therefore our very species, the end of industry will bring a welcome relief from decades of oppression. It might even give us back our humanity while granting our species a few more decades of planetary existence.

Economic and ecological consequences of expensive oil: There is a better way. We know what it is. It’s time to give up our childish dreams and act like responsible adults. Is that too much to ask?

The risks of fiddling: Some people with whom I speak are so reluctant to give up their easy lives in the city they’ll bank on the ability of technology to bail us out of our dire economic mess. They fail to recognize that inexpensive oil is the Technomessiah. She died a few years ago, but she’s walking around, zombie-like, to save on funeral expenses. Burying a messiah isn’t cheap, you know.


I have several public appearances on my schedule for September. Keep track here, and let me know if you’ll be in the neighborhood so we can meet.

Comments 14

  • Go on! A little bit more and we’ll put all these articles together in a giant book called “History of the Doomsday”. We could also compile a smallest version called “Collapse for dummies”.

    In 20 centuries, I think that archaeologists will find this texts very interesting. If there are still archaeologists, of course…

  • Guy, your pithy nuggets reminded me of my mind-altering favorite from a college evolutionary biology class:

    “Human beings are DNA’s way of making more DNA”

    Good to see you’ll be speaking in Silver City next month. I’ll try to make it up there for the afternoon. And interesting to see you’re in cahoots with the Sky Island Alliance; board pres. Paul Hirt lives nearby when he’s not at ASU; do you ever visit him or Portal? If you do, let me know and I’ll try to set up a forum for our town, such as it is.

    Helen Snyder

  • “Is terminating the industrial economy a moral act?”

    That thread is one of my all-time favorites and is the kind of thinking that separates you and others (e.g. Dmitry Orlov) from the celebrity greens like Al Gore.

    That and the fact that you (and Dmitry) actually live what you preach. Unlike our “leaders” who talk austerity for the masses and continue to live like royalty themselves.

  • Navid:

    Well, terminating industrial economy is perhaps a moral act, but the point is that industrial economy is commiting suicide…

  • Many great lines to choose from but for me this is highly significant:
    ‘But for the living planet on which we depend, and therefore our very species, the end of industry will bring a welcome relief from decades of oppression. It might even give us back our humanity while granting our species a few more decades of planetary existence.’

    If it’s of any comfort to you Guy, last year a local group of activists presented me with a ‘Brick Wall Award’ for writing Ten Things Everyone Ought To Know. Part of it reads: ‘It is better to bang your head against a brick wall than not bang your head against a brisck wall.’

    I’m not that is true, but some of us are incapable of sitting back and doing nothing as humanity destroys its own future in an orgy consumption driven by stupidity and greed.

    Perhaps we think too much. Perhaps we have to accept that we are evolutionary experiment that has the seeds of its own destruction embedded in its genetic make up. Nevertheless, those ‘selfish genes’ still want to survive.

  • I was just passing through a few weeks ago, and thought I’d stop and take a look. Wow! I’ve only read, and reread, a couple dozen of the essays on your site but these gems stick out to me. I’m sure I’ll be finding more. I especially like the bits of humor that you weave into some of the most biting, somber, and thoughful essays I have ever read. John Rember is a worthy inclusion, and most of the folks who regularly comment deserve to be considered for inclusion in your site’s greatest hits.

    From: “The end of civilization and the extinction of humanity”
    Speaking of scum rising to the top, my dean keeps asking me to quit stirring the pot.

    From John Rember’s: “A Few Rocks from the Box: A Meditation
    There’s a thought experiment that suggests things could be a good deal worse. If safe and easy-to-construct fusion plants could be built in every community, and if a quickly-rechargeable battery the size and shape of an automobile gas tank could be made to power a car for four hundred miles between charges, we could have the 20th Century, with its limitless technological horizons and murderous social arrangements, all over again.

    Eureka! I finally understand! Thank you all!

  • Hi Jean,

    “Well, terminating industrial economy is perhaps a moral act, but the point is that industrial economy is commiting suicide…”

    But is it commiting suicide fast enough for the rest of the planet’s inhabitants (including future human inhabitants)?

    I think that is covered in the blog referenced in Guy’s list above :“Is terminating the industrial economy a moral act?”

  • “But is it commiting suicide fast enough for the rest of the planet’s inhabitants (including future human inhabitants)?”

    We’ll find out soon.

  • Jojojo… I think I needed a good laugh: ladies and gentlemen, take a look at this small videogame: if this fails to educate people, then there’s nothing to do!:

  • Matt,


    “…So will it just be the two of us chopping wood and raising kids………Ur, goats! I absolutely love baby goats.”

    Who would have thought that something so deadly serious could be so funny?
    And what’s the deal with a video from “down under” using the US founding documents to discuss TEOTWAWKI?

    “I can see you’ve been reading the Bill of Rights and the Constitution…as long as I have keen blood pumping through my veins the spot where I stand is a free country. Let’s not waste any time.”

    Thanks for sharing that and I hope some others will check it out.

    Michael Irving

  • matt,

    I just discovered that Microsoft Word actually capitalized “matt” in my previous post. It seems it does that automatically and I did not even notice. Sorry about that.

    I was thinking about the video again and I am still unsure if it was made as a slap at anyone who thinks about preparing for an uncertain future, or if it’s just making fun of American survivalists, or if it’s a serious comment about the US empire and it’s willingness to do anything (!) to further the agenda of the oligarchs. Maybe it’s all three or maybe something else. In any case, I enjoyed watching it. My wife, on the other hand, likened the music to fingernails on a chalkboard so I guess “your mileage may vary” applies.

    Michael Irving

  • Michael, I am glad you enjoyed it,
    its ‘taking the piss’ of course!
    here is another one just for you

    you got me side tracked –

    Your empire and tax dollars,

    how can anyone drive a car with a clear conscience,

    ‘blowback’ awaits…

  • matt,

    I’ve tried this six ways, ranging from

    “Geez, the nearest WalMart is 40 miles away. How am I going to shop?”


    “I’m no Gandhi sitting on my porch in a loincloth spinning cotton in the face of all Britain’s industrial might. I’m no Thoreau tending his bean field. Do you want me to become another Mother Teresa?”

    and in the end you are right

    “… how can anyone drive a car with a clear conscience…”

    It makes me want to weep.

    And yes, blowback awaits.

    Michael Irving