• After Industrialism

    The heat can hold a promise of a kind, load the dice or lift us up so that for at least the summer's span we like to think that anything is possible, that dreams are there, infront of us, and all we have to do is dream ourselves. Storms can hammer home this sense and at other times serve as reminders: dream but don’t take time or opportunities for granted. Perhaps that stands for everything we face.

    It’s as good a time as any now, if undoubtedly tedious for some, to state again the very obvious, the consequence of centuries dominated by the rise in of fossil fuels. This far down the line, we are so locked into their use that nothing short of a total paradigm shift in how we procure our needs is required. It goes deeper than simply how we get our energy. Our whole way of being is locked into an industrial system so seemingly servile that the huge infrastructural inefficiencies in how we travel, heat our homes and feed ourselves are often barely visible or normalised to the point we barely notice.

    We cannot simply hope that renewables are our sole solution, that an overhaul of energy supply will save us all with just a small adjustment to our lives. The transition to their use is of course crucial and their take up and implementation should be done with all the alacrity we can muster. But it’s not the full picture. We are currently wedded to a system so centralised that nearly everything we consume is produced or transported with the use of cheap energy we barely ever see let alone think about. Our industrial ship that has carried so many of us so well for so long is increasingly revealing itself to be something of a leviathan. We still need to make real steps to move beyond it. And that means using a lot less energy per se, however we get it.

    That’s the whole point of movements like Transition Towns – not a well-meaning talking shop but a practical initiative to bolster our communities in preparation for ideally heading off ecological and infrastructural energy limits. That’s the whole point of rising against a car culture where huge amounts of energy – accounting for a quarter of our country’s carbon emissions – are expended to push 31 million metal boxes along ever-expanding networks of tarmac. Or protesting the use of shale gas and tar sands that compromise the very bedrock of our ecological integrity, locked in as we appear to be to what should be considered obsolete options. And these are only some of the more manifest symptoms of a malaise created by generations of habit and habit-forming commerce built on the crux of cheap energy. In many ways, conditioned as we are, we barely register the signs as we drive full pelt towards a future of unnegotiable realities.

    The cure is first and foremost psychological. We are so surrounded by distractions it often seems easier to ignore the whole thing. There’s the TV news, Spotify, smartphones, near-infinities of information. But the older, wider world is out there all the time, calling us back to our senses, reminding us of what it can mean to belong to the land. As time goes on that realm is seemingly all the more challenged as our anthropomorphic empire rumbles on. But it’s built into our evolution to find a better way of relating to it. And where we have choices, or willingness given a chance, we can all of us pick our priorities.

    Today, where the climate and extreme energy is concerned, we face environmental malaise in a general and also very specific sense. This can only make our choices and priorities all the more stark. We need to aspire to an ascetic that looks beyond our industrial years, that takes on the great gifts of the last two centuries but which is still inspired and informed by that which came before it. We have to all of us want to live as lightly as we can upon the earth and no longer ignore hidden, systematic costs.

    Finding our way beyond it may not be easy and there’s no escaping the gravity of that which we face. But perhaps it comes down to the wish to live with grace, to do as little harm as possible, to leave the lightest footprint that we can. And where we all need huge and rapid cultural transformation, our difficulties can still be seen as opportunities and catalysts for change.

    The danger of course is to slumber along, to forget our new or renewed priorities, the value of the things we should hold dear. But the looming threat of fracking is surely a clarion call to wake up. We know that imperilling our water supplies is tantamount to suicide and this can only add to the sense of futility (at best) in an admittedly extreme manifestation of business as usual. Equally, as last winter’s weather shows (where the ‘Beast from the East’ was at least partly related to the displacement caused by record temperatures in the artic) the state of our climate ought be cause for alarm for us all. Our culture’s instinctive suspicion of alarm is not without place but that perhaps is half the problem. We have to shake ourselves out of our complacency with the sense that the move to change can still be worth it.

    We need to imagine a better future, instil a greater code of honour in how we live our lives, in how we treat both one another and the planet itself, where the wider world does not come second to the glamour of consumer-led society. We need to rediscover and cherish our localities, the gifts at the end of the lane. We need a greater culture of respect. None of this is helped by market forces that – to give just one example - hollowed out the domestic economy in the 20’s and 30’s which had done so much to keep us self-sufficient and free from the shackles of dependence on factory goods.

    Human nature can still win out over influences that would hold the world in chains. But it barely needs stating that none of this is a given or necessarily easy. If it seems hard sometimes to see the way ahead we should remember that we can be co-operative souls, capable of great endurance and overcoming all odds. Perhaps one day we’ll be able to look back on this time as a true turning point, the beginning of the end of our industrial dystopia. The imperative can only give us wings.

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branchlines

The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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