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A Magazine for Sheffield

PAUL KINGSNORTH : The story of uncivilisation

Paul Kingsnorth is a modern man of action and it is a pleasure to have the chance to interview him once more in this month's environmentally focused issue of Now Then. To pick but a few brief highlights, Paul is the author of two seminal non-fiction books One No Many Yeses: A Journey to Heart of the Global Resistance Movement and Real England, as well as a collection of poetry entitled Kidland. He is a passionate advocate of independent trade in England and around the world and has worked as a peace observer in the rebel Zapatista villages of Mexico, as well as for environmental campaign groups like EarthAction and Greenpeace. In the last few years he has been establishing an arts and environmental movement called Dark Mountain. We urge you to read on and find out a bit more about this wonderful mind and his plans for the future. Our last interview with you (Now Then #17, August 2009) ended with a description of your new project Dark Mountain. For the benefit of readers who missed this, can you explain a little bit more about the project? The Dark Mountain project began life with a manifesto in 2009, which called for realism in the face of an age of ecological and social collapse, and sought to bring together writers who wanted to tackle it honestly and openly. We were looking to create a writers' movement to fuse a new kind of 'uncivilised' writing that engaged with this civilisation as it is. The manifesto really took off, and very soon a lot of people who were not writers wanted to be involved - artists, craftspeople, scientists and many others. Two years on, Dark Mountain has become a global network of creative people engaging with the ongoing collapse of consumer industrialism through their art. What are you hoping to achieve artistically and practically with the Dark Mountain project and Uncivilisation Festival? The aim of the project is to create new stories to replace those that are failing us. We're not a political campaign, so we don't aim to fix things or provide some kind of agenda for change. We aim to create a space where people can come to engage with reality. We are trying to curate a cultural movement which will create new narratives. We don't think that the cultural mainstream has anything to say about the state of the world today beyond false hope and denial. Which piece of Dark Mountain artwork do you think best encapsulates the manifesto? A lot has happened. We have produced two hardback anthologies of uncivilised writing and held two festivals, and others have taken up the baton too. The Australian band The General Assembly has released an EP entitled Dark Mountain Music, the British songwriter Marmaduke Dando has released a number of 'uncivilised' songs, and writers from Jay Griffiths to Naomi Klein to Mario Petrucci to Heathcote Williams have engaged with the project. But I think our biggest success so far was the 2011 Dark Mountain Festival, which took place in Hampshire last month. I've not come across 300 such interesting, experienced, original and engaged people in one place before. It was like a rolling, two-day conversation. We had talks, readings, theatrical events, discussions, music, poetry, practical demonstrations of real skills. I met some wonderful people and we are really taking the movement forward as a result. There's a real hunger for honesty and engagement with the true state of the world that is now coming out everywhere. Dark Mountain is described as an artistic process designed to deal with an inevitable collapse. Do you see this perspective as devoid of hope? Hope for what? Unless we're specific it's a meaningless question. People often cling to this thing called hope, and what they really mean is that they have no control over what is happening in the world and they are reduced to hoping in some unspecified way that everything gets better. I have no hope that industrialism will save itself, that 'sustainability' will prevent the destruction of nature or that humans are capable of stopping climate change. But I do believe it is possible to live intelligently through the unfolding breakdown and to engage with the reasons for it. Hope won't get us very far, but honesty might. How do you envisage this collapse? It looks to me as if things are already collapsing. When Dark Mountain started, some people scoffed when we talked about collapsing societies and the instability of the global economy. They've gone a bit quiet now. Add together this economic instability, climate change, overpopulation, mass extinction, peak oil and various resource crunches and you get a situation in which 'progress' (as we were taught to believe in) is falling apart. Quite what path it takes we can't know, but the future we get is not going to be the one we were promised at school. In 2009 we asked for your top 5 tips for self-empowerment. For this month's environmental issue we ask for your top 3 green tips. Tip one: stop trying to save the world. You can't, and it doesn't matter. Tip two: learn some real, practical, human-scale skills - growing food, carpentry, green woodworking, cooking, sewing, fixing things...stuff that will be useful as the big systems start to go down, and which will re-root you in human-scale reality. Tip three: stop talking about carbon. The green movement has been neutered by its obsession with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and has been sidetracked into shilling for big energy companies rather than talking about the fundamentals of need, greed and our relationship with nature. Stop banging on about windfarms and go and learn what grows in your local wood. Re-engage with nature in your own life. Do you think there is a genuine will to fight climate change within large multinationals and political elites? I think they would like to stop it happening if they could do so in ways which did not affect their business practices and did not threaten their stories about the way the world is. But they - we - won't stop it because climate change is a function of how we live. We all cause it, everyday, by living in this civilisation, and we don't want to lose our luxuries. So we will flounder about covering the mountains with turbines and damming the rivers in the name of 'sustainability', but we won't stop the destruction because we are not prepared to give anything up. What was your opinion of the recently televised parliamentary hearings with Rupert Murdoch and News of the World? It looked like a sideshow. I'll be pleasantly surprised if our media structures are radically reformed as a result but I'm not holding my breath. The easiest way to deal with media barons from an individual perspective is not to read or watch what they produce. If you do, you only have yourself to blame. Do you think public opinion might finally be beginning to turn against corporate news sources? I doubt it. Where else would they go for news and entertainment? 'Public opinion' is extremely fickle. I remember when Princess Diana died. There was huge outrage against the media, and lots of huffing and puffing about the evil paparazzi. A week later everyone was buying the papers for pictures of the funeral. In your opinion what has been the most important overlooked news story so far in 2011? For years I've been following the new of the ongoing genocide in West Papua, where tribal people are being violently oppressed by the Indonesian army. It hardly ever gets into the news over here. People can find out more about it by visiting In the wake of the TUC protests, do you think protest as a tool for resistance is still effective? Protest is never effective on its own. It has to be tied to a wider social movement, and have some pretty clear aims. It needs strategy and tactics and an agenda, otherwise it's just venting. I don't see any of the street protests in the UK as being very meaningful in the long term, though some of what the students are doing could evolve into something interesting. But unions always want to protect their perks, and I don't see the wider left in Britain being realistically engaged yet with just how much everything is changing. The age of welfare is over, and something very new is being born. This may yet lead to real, mass protests, but at the moment it has mostly been the usual suspects. When the Daily Mail readers take to the streets, then you know something is happening! We are over a year into David Cameron's Big Society policy. What are your observations? It could have been something quite meaningful, but it has turned into yet another way for a business-focused government to hand over everything in the country to private interests. It's depressing, actually. For a moment I thought this government actually believed in localisation. What they seem to believe in is flogging off local services. It's not quite Thatcherism, but it's a variant of it. Can you see a historical precedent in any of the current environmental and economic crises we face today? There have always been economic and environmental crises, and sometimes they have brought down civilisations. Humans regularly stretch themselves beyond their means and capabilities and then fall apart. We're not nearly as clever as we think we are. What's different this time is that the crisis is global, and the collapse is going to be global too. In your book Real England you talk about community business structures, particularly in reference to real ale houses. This is something we see a lot of in Sheffield. Are you aware of any other industries in which this model is beginning to show promise? In my travels around the country I've seen community pubs, community breweries, community shops, community cafes, community arts centres. As the money runs out and the state retreats, we're going to see more and more of this. It's how everything was done before the modern era. If we want it, we have to make it happen. Do you have a favourite real ale at the moment? Sometimes all this talk of collapse means that you need a drink. I live in Ulverston in Cumbria, and there are some great beers brewed here by a new micro-brewery called the Ulverston Brewing Company. Stan Laurel was born here, and all their beers are named after Laurel and Hardy films. Laughing Gravy is a better drink than it sounds! Read a review of Uncivilisation Festival 2011 on page 52. Read Life on the Planets, a short prose piece by Dark Mountain Project writer Nick Hunt, in the Wordlife section on page 28-29. )

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