Not Just Peak Oil. Peak Everything.

Can the Megamchine stop? That was the question David Ehrenfeld put in a notable essay a few years ago in Tikkun Magazine entitled “The Coming Collapse of the Age of Technology“. I’ve referred to it a few times in The Chrysalis.

Writing in today’s Guardian, the paper’s economics editor Larry Elliott foresees a similar scenario unfolding — Peak Everything. And particularly peak anger.

Those of you who have studied Gebser, and know how he relates the issues anger,  Angst, and his “maelstrom of blind anxiety” to the meaning of angle, and its significance of “narrowing” and the seeming contraction of all horizons, (but which is also the nature of birthing), will probably recognise the significance in that. It was also related to that “Age of Diminishing Expectations” (at least, for most) that Christopher Lasch saw as problematic in the context of “the culture of narcissism“.

“Age of Diminishing Expectations” — in most cases,  deliberately legislated and enforced as “austerity” policy — is just another way of saying low to no growth. As Elliott points out, much of whatever economic growth that has occurred since the market meltdown of 2008 has been debt fueled. Serious debt.

“Peak anger” brings to the fore Gebser’s discussion in his Ever-Present Origin of the significance of “the wrath of Achilles”, a wrath that was irrational and berserk (most recently rendered again in the movie Troy). Although mad and destructive, in Gebser’s interpretation that wrath attended a significant restructuring of human consciousness.

I doubt that Mr. Elliott knows Gebser’s work, and so may not quake in his boots at the very thought of the unconstrained, transgressive, destructive, and murderous potency of “peak anger”.  If the “machine stops”, we might breath a sigh of relief. Others will not respond with relief but with rage and fury, like the demon serpent “Leviathan” that Blake encountered in one of his “memorable fancies” recorded in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Worth reading that “memorable fancy” in fact…. just to inoculate yourself against “peak anger”.


7 responses to “Not Just Peak Oil. Peak Everything.”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Sort of rushed this one. Full of typos I had to amend and half-formed thoughts.

  2. davidm58 says :

    Thanks, I feel vindicated. However, the author doesn’t attempt to get to the root cause of peak America, peak growth, peak globalization, and peak democracy.

    Ten years ago (July 2007), I wrote a blog post titled “Peak Everything” in which I also intuited the coming collapse of the age of technology, though I hadn’t read Ehrenfeld. Repasted below (I’ve updated the links). I wrote…

    “…It becomes a bit overwhelming to think about and comprehend all of these problems at once and together, but it is quite important to do so. As long as we keep thinking about the problems we’re seeing with the world’s “resources” as isolated problems to be dealt with individually, the more likely we are to turn to technological band-aid solutions. (Albert Bartlett: “We should remember the words of Eric Sevareid; he observed that “the chief source of problems is solutions.” This is what we encounter every day: solutions to problems just make the problems worse.”)

    All of these problems are connected to the fact that we’re living on a finite planet with finite resources at a time when the compounding effect of population growth is finally being felt and experienced. Meanwhile, we live in a culture who’s religion is what Erich Fromm called “the religion of industrialism and the cybernetic era” (To Have or To Be, 1976), which worships at the alter of hyper consumption and endless economic growth. So, we have peak oil, peak C02, and past peak on clean water, seafood, wood, resource minerals and metals, etc. etc. On a whim, I decided to Google ‘Peak Everything.’ What I found was a new book coming out soon by the leading peak oil educator Richard Heinberg, with that exact title: “Peak Everything.” I also found an article from New Scientist by David Cohen – Earth’s Natural Wealth: An Audit. A good article I recommend, although it falls short on the solutions. Info on Heinberg’s book below. Before that, however, I have to stop and highly recommend 2 other presentations. These presentations go deeper than technological band-aids.

    1) Albert Bartlett, on Arithmetic, Population, and Energy. This is the most downloaded recording from Global Public Media. It should be required listening for every activist, environmentalist, planner, politician, scientist, theologian, philosopher, and thinker. The retired Professor of Physics from the University of Colorado in Boulder examines the arithmetic of steady growth, continued over modest periods of time, in a finite environment. These concepts are applied to populations and to fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal.

    2) Pat Murphy on Plan C: Curtailment and Community. Massive change is in the offing and we are totally unprepared. We will discuss options for addressing these threats under the rubric of four ‘plans’ arbitrarily labeled A, B, C and D. The alternative we propose, Plan C, is to tackle the issues of food, housing and transportation, preparing for a world of greatly reduced fossil fuel consumption.

    Now, about Heinberg’s forthcoming book…

    Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines (Sept. 2007)

    By Richard Heinberg

    The 20th century saw unprecedented growth in population, energy consumption and food production. As the population shifted from rural to urban, the impact of humans on the environment increased dramatically. The 21st century ushered in an era of declines, in a number of crucial parameters: * Global oil, natural gas and coal extraction

    * Yearly grain harvests * Climate stability * Population * Economic growth * Fresh water * Minerals and ores, such as copper and platinum

    To adapt to this profoundly different world, we must begin now to make radical changes to our attitudes, behaviors and expectations. Peak Everything addresses many of the cultural, psychological and practical changes we will have to make as nature rapidly dictates our new limits. This latest book from Richard Heinberg, author of three of the most important books on Peak Oil, touches on the most important aspects of the human condition at this unique moment in time.

    A combination of wry commentary and sober forecasting on subjects as diverse as farming and industrial design, this book tells how we might make the transition from The Age of Excess to the Era of Modesty with grace and satisfaction, while preserving the best of our collective achievements. A must-read for individuals, business leaders and policy makers who are serious about effecting real change.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      Heinberg’s book was published in 2001. I’m surprised it’s taking me 16 years to hear about it. In any case, I’ve just ordered it. Abebooks has many used copies at a very inexpensive price.

      I’m concerned about the “rage” (peak anger) of course that attends the “diminishing expectations” that go along with peak everything. And, of course, the tech-revolution is promising the moon (something Algis Mikunas addressed in his critique of “technocratic shamanism”).

      That’s something I realise its not very well addressed in Streeck’s How Will Capitalism End? where he sees only the passive responses of “hoping, coping, doping, and shopping”. True, there’s a lot of that, too. But rage isn’t something he seems to address much if at all.

      Pankaj Mishra does, though. Elliott’s “peak rage” brought an earlier article by Mishra to mind,

      We’re certainly talking more than mild displeasure or simple irascibility, but more like rage — probably very blind, destructive rage; a lashing out in all directions.

      • davidm58 says :

        “Peak Everything” was actually published 10 years ago, in Sept. 2007. The page that says 2001 is someone’s typo.

        Somewhere Heinberg has said something to the effect that what we HAVEN’T yet reached is the peak of community, conviviality, cooperation, or leisure time. May it be so. The situation is what we collectively make of it. Thomas Homer Dixon writes about “The Upside of Down,” and Howard Odum, “A Prosperous Way Down,”

        This was Rob Hopkins’ vision in creating Transition Initiatives, displaying his “irrepressible optimism” :

        “Transition Initiatives are not the only response to peak oil and climate change; any coherent national response will also need government and business responses at all levels. However, unless we can create this sense of anticipation, elation and a collective call to adventure on a wider scale, any government responses will be doomed to failure, or will need to battle proactively against the will of the people. . . . Rebuilding local agriculture and food production, localizing energy production, rethinking healthcare, rediscovering local building materials in the context of zero energy building, rethinking how we manage waste, all build resilience and offer the potential of an extraordinary renaissance—economic, cultural and spiritual.”

  3. abdulmonem says :

    When the homo economicus becomes the dominant human type against the normal multifold human type, When money becomes the source of income on the expense of real work whose enshrinned goal is built on naked self-interest that has nothing to do with human cooperation or human compassion. One should not be surprised to see all these resentment ,hatred ,insurgences and commotion. The most destructive peak is the debt peak the product of making lending money is the respected source of income thus creating a parasite class that thrives on the real work of honest people, no wonder god has forbidden the usury. When the code of value is receded and replaced by the code of the homo economicus parasite, it would not be out of the normal, if we are going to face more of the above, and only god knows what more is coming next since there is no sign that points toward a real change in this chronic ill system.

  4. Charles says :

    There have been books for many years that have warned about the “limits to growth” and the insanity of using economic growth as the unifying principle of human purpose. I wrote a newsletter in the early eighties that wrote about these themes. I put together an annotated bibliography of many of the books. It is available. Here is a sampling.

    Envisioning A Sustainable Society Lester W. Milbrath (1989)
    A good synthesis on why our society is not sustainable and what can we learn to envision a sustainable society. There is much good thought in this book.
    “We can never live in peace, love, and justice in a clean and nourishing environment, we can never have high quality of life , as long as we retain our power-maximizing, competitive society. We cannot solve the problems of war and peace, or protect the environment, by developing more and better technology….the only choice that has any hope of saving our species and providing humans with a reasonable quality of life is to transform the dominator society-we must redesign the most fundamental relationships in our civilization.” P. 46

    The Rapids of Change: Leadership in a World of Discontinuities By Robert Theobald (1987)
    A very important book that wants to help people understand the changes that our planet is going through and gives ideas to work with the changes.
    “We live in the “rapids of change.” The white waters carry us quickly on; we cannot slow down the changes coming to our culture, our society, our families, ourselves. But we do have a choice; we can learn to enjoy turbulence rather than be overwhelmed by it.”

    An Incomplete Guide to the Future Willis Harman (1976)
    Talks about the four fundamental dilemmas of our existing industrial and scientific paradigm. The book ends with some “Strategies for a Viable Future.”
    “The phenomenon is well known in psychotherapy: The client will resist and avoid the very knowledge he most needs to resolve his problems. A similar situation exists for society as a whole. Both anthropology and history provide suggestive evidence that a society tends to hide knowledge from itself that is superficially threatening to the status quo, even though this knowledge may be in fact be badly needed to resolve its most fundamental problems.” P. 5

    The Seventh Year- Industrial Civilization in Transition W. Jackson Davis (1979)
    Anyone interested in our decreasing resource base, and the affect on our industrial civilization would enjoy this book. An ecological interpretation of what will happen in our collective future.
    “Ecology has revealed the intrinsic logic karma and the Golden Rule: what we do unto nature, we do unto ourselves as well. We are in a position to understand that we do not control nature: we are nature, and it is us…the experience of industrialism has prepared humanity for the possibility of a new and enlightened relationship with nature, based not on contempt, dominion, and separation, but rather on respect, reciprocation, and integration.” P. 281

    Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision Kirkpatrick Sale (1985)
    A call to be bioregionalists. Good explanations of ecology.
    “But to become dwellers in the land, to relearn the laws of Gaea, to come to know the earth fully and honestly, the crucial and perhaps only and all-encompassing task is to understand place, the immediate specific place where we live. The kinds of soils under our feet; the sources of water we drink; the meaning of the different kinds of winds; the common insects, birds, mammals, plants, and trees; the particular cycles of the seasons; the times to plant and harvest and forage-these are the things that are necessary to know. The limits of its resources; the carrying capacities of its lands and waters; the places where it must not be stressed; the places where its bounties can best be developed; the treasures it holds and the treasures it withholds-these are the things that must be understood. And the cultures of the people, populations native to the land and of those who have grown up with it, the human social and economic arrangements shaped by and adapted to the geomorphic ones, in both urban and rural settings- these are the things that must be appreciated. That, in essence, is bioregionalism.” P. 42

    Keep up the good work.

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