Richard Heinberg. Power Down: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World. Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2004. Paperback, 208 pages.
I have known Richard Heinberg since the publication of his highly readable Memories and Visions of Paradise back in 1989, which in light of his more recent work seems like the work of a previous incarnation. His monthly newsletter MuseLetter, for which I took out a lifetime subscription when it first appeared in the early 1990s, certainly has taken him along an exciting and rewarding route as an independent educator and writer. Today he is one of the most hard-hitting critics of our consumerist industrial society, and among his significant publications on social issues are A New Covenant with Nature: Notes on the End of Civilization and the Renewal of Culture (1996),Cloning the Buddha: A Spiritual and Moral Impact of Biotechnology (1999),andThe Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (2003).
In Power Down we now have another powerful statement from the versatile pen of this interdisciplinary thinker. In this new work, Heinberg, who is an intrepid spokesman for a saner society, continues the disturbing but to-the-point ruminations about the present-day global crisis which he so vigorously pursued in his earlier books. Only true troglodytes (who include most politicians) would deny that we are living at a most decisive moment in human history, which calls for a global volte-face. While the causes of our present-day malaise are manifold, they include as a major factor the depletion of readily available fossil fuel, which is the lifeblood of modern economy. The economic and political repercussions of the imminent exhaustion of oil are far-reaching and scary, and have been spelled out by many experts and writers over the last several decades.
But Heinberg does more than recite the usual litany of our civilizational “sins.” Looking ahead at what promises to be a very difficult future, he delineates the four options available to us:
1. “Last One Standing,” which is the self-serving orientation of competing for the remaining resources, if need be with the necessary military force (a daunting but likely prospect; witness America’s long history of intervention in the oil-rich Middle East).
2. “Waiting for a Magic Elixir,” which is the ostrich approach of sticking our head in the sand either by denying the crisis altogether or by hoping for something or someone to mysteriously appear to solve our problems.
(3) “Building Lifeboats,” which comes in two forms—(a) small survivalist communities that prepare for the doom ahead and protect the interest of their members (another version of self-centeredness) and (b) what Heinberg calls preservationist communities that, in light of the dismal future, in addition to preserving their members also seek to preserve humanity’s cultural heritage.
(4) “Power Down,” which Heinberg describes as “the path of self-limitation, cooperation, and sharing”—a sensible, humane, and absolutely essential approach.
I agree with Heinberg and others that the collapse of our industrial civilization is at this point inevitable. Our political leaders have been unwilling to take the necessary Dragonian measures to prevent the worst from happening. I also agree with Heinberg that every effort must be made to preserve the best knowledge and skills acquired by the human race in its long evolutionary ascent. I am, however, not very hopeful that this is possible to any significant degree and with a predictable outcome (since we do not even know how the eventual collapse will manifest itself). Of course, I believe that every effort must be made to preserve humanity’s collective knowledge and wisdom, which includes especially its sophisticated contemplative traditions.
If the abysmal failure of past prophets is anything to go by, Heinberg’s and other similar voices in the wilderness from around the world will not be heeded. When I contemplate the suffering that my post-war generation and certainly all of today’s children will undoubtedly have to face, my heart fills with deep sorrow. Books like Heinberg’s are a belated alarm bell whose knell can be expected to fall on billions of deaf ears. Those who can still hear, however, will find in Power Down both confirmation of their own worst suspicions and also a clear articulation of the few sensible options left to us.
In case you were wondering, Power Down is printed on fully recycled paper, as are all the publications released by New Society Publishers.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.