The Long Descent: Book Review
October 14, 2010
We’re going down, baby. We’re going down. I knew it, but I couldn’t really face it until I read The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age. Author John Michael Greer, a certified Master Conserver and Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, helped me see the truth by explaining that coming to the end of oil won’t feel like an apocalypse, but rather more like a slow-motion fall.
Mr. Greer, who writes at The Archdruid Report is extremely knowledgeable and sensible. He explains that the time of peak oil is past, and that a post-peak world will come into being, whether we are prepared for it or not. He suggests that we do prepare. He also notes that our government did not prepare.
During the 1970s, Greer states, was the time to respond to indications that the Age of Petroleum was not eternal. But America fell under the spell of the “myth of progress,” which dictates that human civilization never goes backward. It’s called a myth because it is a myth. And backward we will go.
The Long Descent does a fine job of explaining that any post-oil energy production systems we create will not be able to generate the same amount of energy that oil did. Think of it as being fifty years old and trying to perform as you did when you were twenty years old; it’s not going to work.
But Americans won’t accept that, because, as Greer writes, “the predicaments that define what used to be called ‘the human condition’ have been reframed as a set of problems to be solved.” We cannot solve the fact that other forms of energy are not as efficient as oil, or the fact that oil will continue to be more scarce, or the fact that someday in the far future oil will be gone. But we can work at ways to live within this predicament.
Greer calls for frugality; an increase in individual physical labor; and the use of durable, independent, replicable, and transparent low-tech tools instead of disposable, interconnected, unique, and difficult-to-repair tools. In other words, use less nonrenewable energy, get up off the couch and use your body to do work instead of using a machine to do it, and learn or relearn to use tools you can depend on without electricity or a means of mass production.
Greer presents these ideas without sounding gloomy. He confidently declares that we do have a future, that we will survive:
. . . the chance to turn aside from the Long Descent lies back among the missed opportunities of past decades. Much can still be done, though, to cushion the way down, to preserve cultural and natural resources for the future, and to hand on to the builders of future societies the ideas and tools they will need to help build a more humane and sustainable world.
We’re going down, baby, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world—just the end of the world as we know it, which could be a good thing in the long run.