There is something amazing about books. Seemingly alone, you can conjure up the dead and indulge in the adventures of beings from the other side of the universe. You can transcend the daily grind of life, immersed in the battle to survive the orcish onslaught, or captured by beautiful, gripping, dystopian visions. Books have inspired me in ways that Twitter messages, smartphones or Newsnight never could. That’s why this article begins with a book review.

The Ecotechnic Future is the follow up of John Michael Greer’s book on the gradual collapse of industrial civilisation, The Long Descent. I raved about the excellence of The Long Descent, lending it to mates, making the library get a copy and trying to act on its advocacy of appropriate technology. However, one phrase repeating in my head cut my book-raving activities short; “Basically, it says we’re all fucked”.

This statement was made by a friend who borrowed it but found it too grim to finish. My interpretation of The Long Descent was less apocalyptic. I found hope in its compromise between the story of technological utopia and that of apocalypse. For me, The Long Descent melds the technoutopian story pedalled daily by the mass media – you know, the one that ends when everyone is able to buy their happiness – with an apocalyptic counter-current preached by more sober types, who frown daily over the latest dark news story or resource depletion statistic before pronouncing us doomed. Merging these two worlds is undoubtedly an amazing feat, but I was alarmed by my friend’s reaction to the book and thought twice about promoting it further in case it had such a negative effect on others.

Finally with the release of The Ecotechnic Future, you can’t go wrong. Greer has produced a masterpiece that will blow your mind. It creates a realistic and exciting vision that is, unlike many other stories about the future, compatible with the physical realities of overpopulation, climate change and resource depletion. More captivating than any sci-fi book I’ve ever read, it allows you to simultaneously escape from (via stunning ecological abstractions) and face up to (via sensible advice) the stark reality of fossilfooled
civilisation’s inevitable demise. This one is different from the books that just give you the nitty gritty of the mess we’re in, because it gives a glimpse of the myriad social forms that may replace industrial capitalism. These are brilliantly mingled with concrete steps that you can take to encourage the kind of future you want. This book could change your life.

Greer doesn’t talk to you as an atomised individual, living in a nice democratic system where your participation or consumer choices can actually alter things. That world-view is pushed by corporate media that tell you to ‘KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON’. Instead, you are placed in a wider global predicament in which you have limited capacity to alter history’s arrow. As a disappointed Climate Camp protester I’m tempted to agree, but I do see danger in Greer’s laid-back attitude because in the wrong hands it could lead to political despondency. As George Monbiot said in issue 35 of Now Then, disaster capitalists want you so punchdrunk that you cannot respond in time. Fatalism prevents action. [1] On the other hand, placing your own life in the grand scheme of things can be hugely inspiring. You are, according to Greer, part of a larger ‘human ecology’ that is undergoing a process of ecological succession; the short-lived fossil-fooled age moves to ‘Scarcity Industrialism’, to the ‘Age of Salvage’ and finally to some kind of ‘Ecotechnic Age’. For me, this ecosystems analogy rings true and encourages the exciting idea that your actions now could influence people for decades to come.

Okay, back to the here and now. How exactly can a single book change the lives of the thousands who sit in chilly houses after energy companies increased the price of electricity by around 9%? [2] How can mere words change the lives of the thousands made unemployed in Sheffield alone since 2008 [3], or those suffering the consequences of a government dead-set on cutting public services while encouraging corporate greed? How will it change the lives of those struggling to provide a decent standard of living for their loved ones after the recent rises in the price of food? And more to the point, how could it change your life?

“Just try it and see” is the answer that comes to mind, but if you need a better reason to spend three pints’ worth of hard-earned cash on paper, here’s why. Books won’t directly pay your bills, but they can provide hope and ideas, vital ingredients to overcome hardship in any age. The practical advice and optimistic outlook of Greer and other great writers can be spread beyond the lone reader, perhaps over pints, so the influence goes beyond you. For this reason I reckon Now Then is the ideal place to bring these ideas to light. Knowledge, unlike other goods, is practically free to transfer, can be infinitely replicated (the ultimate renewable resource!) and with Open Source software and the internet, is more accessible than ever [3]. No one knows what an Ecotechnic future would look like, or if it is even possible. Regardless, Greer’s vision is an exciting and enjoyable work of art that I’d urge you to track down.

But that’s enough book-raving for one session. Here’s a taster of what Greer actually has to say:

From Chapter 1 – Beyond the Limits: “In today’s economic world, money is so close to a mass hallucination that it’s not surprising to see it wished into being so casually.” (p.10)

“Behind the bizarre spectacle of a civilisation sleepwalking toward the abyss lies the failure of nearly all sides in today’s debates to grasp the most basic elements of ecological reality.” (p. 15)

From Chapter 5 – Preparations: “The most creative periods in the arts are generally times of dissensus; it is precisely when innovative minds reject the consensus or the majority opinion of their time and strike out…that the most innovative cultural creations come into being. Nearly all great artists are masters of dissensus, and so is the greatest artist of all, Nature.” (p. 96).

From Chapter 6 – Food: “One of the great gifts of crisis is that it points out what is essential and what is not.” (p. 101).

[After a lengthy treatment of composting techniques] “Thus composting is not an effective way to maintain business as usual, but rather a bridge beyond the industrial age to the ecotechnic future. It has the four characteristics of an adaptive response discussed in Chapter 4: it is scalable… resilient… modular…and open” (p.109).

“Open-source software therefore deserves a place in an ecotechnic future. You can ditch expensive, crash-ridden Microsoft for faster, stable alternatives like Ubuntu, that this article was written on, for free!”

From Chapter 9 – Energy: “Coming up with new sources of energy, in other words, is far less important than learning to use the energy we already have in a more efficient way” (p.159)

[1] http://www.monbiot.com/2010/05/10/moneys-hunger/

[2] Sheffield Star – “What do you think of the state of Sheffield?”, January 17th, 2011.

[3] Project Gutenburg, for example, has over 33,000 books that are completely free to download in any format. It also avoids much of the modern crap that has emerged from the 21st century’s nutty celebrity culture. All John Ruskin’s works, for example, are there to download free of charge.

Robin Lovelace.