Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012

I went to Ypsilanti last night to hear Guy McPherson speak. He predicts an imminent and sudden crisis for the industrial economy worldwide, and says he will be happy to see it collapse. As he understands it, if the industrial economy continues much longer, turning fossil fuels and other resources into waste, it will ensure the extinction of mankind.

He believes the population of earth is now at least two times larger than the carrying capacity of the planet, and maybe more. He does not give any particular estimate, but presents several lines of reasoning that indicate the capacity to be somewhere between half a billion to three or four billion people. As he puts it, the answer to any question involving the ecology is, “It depends.” In this case, I gathered, it depends on how much the envronment is degraded and how many species are driven to extinction before sustainable local societies emerge.

How might we respond to this imminent catastrophe? He advocates “re-wilding.” That’s his term, taken directly from his blog, “Nature Bats Last,” found at Re-wilding amounts to acquiring the tools and learning the skills to operate a well-insulated off-the-grid household which grows most of its own food and will be part of a very local community of similar households.

If he’s right, then most of us, especially the ones who live in cities, are doomed. He’s not talking about centuries from now or decades from now, but a little later this year. If he’s right, it is far too late for us to do a lot about it. If he – along with those who base a similar conclusion on their interpretation of the Mayan calendar – is right, then we will find out a lot sooner than we want. If we survive the year, then he’s at least partly wrong.

Yes, it is an extreme view. He does not present this view with the raging fanaticism one might expect from John Brown (leader of the insurrection that famously preceded the Civil War) or from a preacher scaring us with visions of the coming apocalypse. His presentation is calm, rational, mild-mannered and even occasionally humorous. Some in the audience on this night were clearly inclined to disagree, but direct opposition was smothered with pillows of politeness and good manners.

The other speakers at this event were a group of younger people seeking to organize an intensive permaculture course in Detroit this summer. It’s clear they don’t entirely agree with Guy. If they did, they would be fleeing the cities, not heading toward one already further along the road od de-industrialization than most. [As the plans for this course become more definite, I’ll post the details here and on the calendar.]

Most of us, I suspect, are inclined to find Guy’s vision too apocalyptic. I certainly hope it is. At the same time, we have to recognize there are plenty of crises ahead for business-as-usual. Without making any predictions about severity or timing of those crises, we can still understand the need to develop the tools, skills and community for low-energy localized communities. That’s what the transition movement is trying to do.

Art Myatt