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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The long view, 9 April 2010
By 
Anne Patterson (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (Paperback)
John Michael Greer's the Long Descent is a very valuable addition to the Peak Oil literature. He brings a unique deep historical perspective, combined with an ecological perspective on human societies. He really does present the long view, thinking ahead not just decades but centuries into the future. He analyses the role two powerful narratives have on our view of what is facing us - the myth of progress and the myth of the acopalyse - and makes it clear how both of these are blocking us as individuals and as a society from facing up to the likely future of gradual decline into a post fossil fuel society. The book was published in 2008, before oil hit $147 a barrel and before the financial crash, but is remarkably prescient in predicting both of these as likely occurences. He paints a broad canvas but also gives some useful ideas on how we as individuals can adapt to a post-peak world, including rethinking our current work and if it will be viable in the coming years.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Catabolic collapse, 22 Dec 2012
This review is from: Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (Paperback)
As a recovering cornucopian, I consider "The Long Descent" to be one of the best books I've ever read. The author, John Michael Greer, is quite a character and has also penned books on ritual magic, UFOs and monsters. He is currently heading a Neo-Druid group and apparently lives in the Appalachians.

"The Long Descent" is a book about our present ecological crisis. It's one of those rare books that really speak for themselves. It includes chapters on our present predicament, the future decline and fall of modern civilization, what we can do to adapt, and various philosophical issues.

[PEAK OIL]

Greer says surprisingly little about climate change, perhaps because he believes that our situation is dire enough even if we assume that climate change is less dramatic than most scientists predict. The main problem is that modern civilization is unsustainable, being almost entirely dependent on cheap oil, gas, coal and uranium. These non-renewable resources are running out, oil in particular. Greer believes that "peak oil" was reached already around 2005.

During the 1970's, Western civilization did take important steps towards sustainability. These gains were eradicated almost overnight when new oil fields were discovered in Alaska and the North Sea around 1980. By deliberately flooding the markets with new oil, British and American interests made the oil prices crash, effectively forcing all "Green" initiatives into bankruptcy (ironically, nuclear energy was also badly hit by the oil bonanza). After 30 lost years of uncontrolled oil-dependency, peak oil has finally arrived, finding our society more or less unprepared for the consequences.

Greer doesn't believe that oil can be replaced. Coal, gas and uranium are being exploited at a breakneck speed. Renewable energy sources can't make up for the future losses of energy when oil becomes scarcer. Indeed, many renewables are dependent on the oil economy: crops destined to become biofuel need pesticides made of oil, solar cells are manufactured in industrial plants out of material transported from mines - all of which takes oil to function, and so on. (Of course, nuclear power plants are also dependent on oil, since they can't be built outside an oil-powered economy. Same thing with geo-engineering, for those who believe that can save us from climate change.) Greer's point is that once oil is gone, a large part of the energy propping up our way of life will be gone, too - forever. The idea that we can save our high standard of living by some alternative energy is a mirage.

[GRADUAL DECLINE, PROGRESS OR APOCALYPSE]

Despite the above, Greer doesn't believe in a grand, apocalyptic collapse of Civilization. Rather, his perspective is one of "catabolic collapse", a gradual decline that may take several centuries. The decline will be chaotic, violent and tragic, but it will not be "the end of the world" in any doomsday sense. Indeed, the long descent might even be interspersed with periods of relative stability (although at a lower level than before the crisis). Ironically, the prices of the remaining oil will fluctuate as before, with oil sometimes becoming *cheaper* due to the inability of customers to pay higher prices. The periods of relatively cheap oil will be misinterpreted by many people that the crisis is over, but the descent is impossible to stop. Greer predicts that our civilization will be gone by 2200.

Of course, "descent" is a relative terms, and so is "collapse". Greer uses post-Communist Russia as an example of what could happen in the rest of the world. Most people, certainly most Russians, would see the sad spectacle under Yeltsin as a major collapse! Greer's point, however, is that Russia as a nation-state survived the collapse and later managed to stabilize itself under Putin. However, the long term trend is still negative, such as the country's declining population.

Greer wages a kind of two-front war in his book, against both the typical Western idea of unlimited, eternal Progress and the myth of apocalypse. He points out that both these notions are deeply rooted in the Western psyche. The myth of apocalypse comes from Christianity, more specifically premillennialist Christianity. In the modern world, it's often secularized. The myth of progress arguably also comes from Christianity, perhaps via postmillennialism, and has also been secularized by the moderns. The two myths can even be combined, as they have been in Marxism, where a progressive evolution of society culminates in a violent, revolutionary "apocalypse" and ends with a communist "millennium". (The similarities between Communism and religion are striking, and often border on parody - I mean, Lenin's mausoleum?)

To Greer, there is no "progress" in human history before the discovery that oil can be used to power machines. Only fossil fuel energy made it possible to construct the industrial world, not "progress" or "ingenuity" per se. The steam engine and other machines were invented already during antiquity. Humans have always been inquisitive, ingenuous creatures but on a planet with no oil, we wouldn't get pass an 18th century situation. Some limits really are absolute. However, the believers in a swift apocalypse are also in for a good whipping. So far, all apocalyptic prophecies have been proven wrong. World history has its ups and downs, obviously, but nothing similar to an "apocalypse". This is a criticism of both traditional Christianity and of various secular or New Age-related doomsday scenarios: survivalism, Y2K and (I suppose) 2012. Since Greer lives in the mountains and believes our civilization will inevitably end, it's quite interesting that he so sharply criticize survivalism, lifeboat communities, and similar notions. (I admit that my doomer side thinks he may be too optimistic!)

Greer's attack on conspiracy theory is also worth a few comments. He regards conspiracy thinking as another way of remaining in denial concerning our present predicament. In a paradoxical way, conspiracy theories are both arguments for utter passivity, and at the same time arguments for potential unlimited power. Since the conspirators (Illuminati, alien lizards or whatever) are so strong, there is nothing I can do, I don't have to change, and the most important thing is simply to expose the conspiracy (perhaps on the web). On the other hand, since the conspirators are all-powerful, that means the world can be controlled - if we get rid of them, *we* can be in complete control. Greer mentions that David Icke's followers regard the material world with all its annoying limits as an illusion created by the conspirators. An even better example would be Steven Greer (no relation to the author), who claims that benign aliens will soon land and give us all the free energy we need, if we can only bypass the conspirators... In this form, conspiracy theory is a warped form of cornucopianism.

[RESILIENT COMMUNITIES, REALPOLITIK AND RELIGION]

What are John Michael Greer's solutions to our present predicament? On one level, he doesn't offer any - a predicament, by his definition, *can't* be solved. It can only be endured. On another level, I suppose Greer's proposals could be seen as "solutions". It all depends on what you expect from a solution! Greer's bottom line is to build resilient, local, decentralized communities with their own businesses, employment opportunities, perhaps even money. Centralized insurance agencies will be replaced by something similar to old-time Freemasons or Odd Fellows, whose members took care of each other in times of need. Says the author: "A community needs local organization. A community needs a core of people who know how to do without fossil fuel inputs. A community needs to be able to meet basic human requirements". The ideal size of such a community seems to be a medium-sized town surrounded by farmland. Large cities will gradually become unsustainable in the post-peak future, while small survivalist enclaves are too tempting targets for roaming bandits. While this sounds like a livable "utopia", Greer is coldly realistic on many other points: poverty, blackouts, epidemics and social instability will increase. In the countryside, so will brigandage. Many of the present nation-states will eventually disappear. While the author prefers U.S.-style democracy (the kind in the constitution), he believes that authoritarian regimes will become more common in the future, since no wing of the establishment will be able to provide "pork" for the electorate. (Greer regards liberal democracy as a compromise between different special interest groups, a compromise made possible only by abundant resources.)

Since the author is a Neo-Druid, he devotes an entire chapter of "The Long Descent" to spirituality. Greer suspects that both wings of Protestantism will disappear during the crises ahead, since both liberals and conservatives/fundamentalists have tied themselves too hard to "the world of history and political affairs" (i.e. the present state of affairs). Catholicism will also be in for a rough ride, since its superstructure needs abundant resources to thrive. However, a more frugal and monastic form of Catholicism might even become the dominant religion of the future. Buddhism is worth watching as well, and there might also be some wild cards. Humbly, the author doesn't believe that his own Neo-Druid tradition will become a major player in the future!

[FINAL WORDS]

I can't say I *liked* what I read in "The Long Descent". I feel quite comfortable wrapped inside the Swedish welfare state, thank you. At the same time, it's difficult to argue against its conclusions (I tried for a couple of years, believe me). If anything, JMG might be a bit too optimistic. In his scenario, there might still be a fortified, communitarian town with an enlightened Buddhist leadership and functioning sewage system somewhere where we could take shelter from the Huns. In Maryland, perhaps? But what would *really* happen if the Western world (and the Chinese middle classes) would suddenly fall down to 1991 Russian levels, with the rest of the world becoming something akin to Dante's Inferno?

Who knows.

Still, "The Long Descent" deserves all its five stars. And yes, in a sense, this book really did save my mind from catabolic collapse. But that, dear friends, is another story entirely... ;-)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars long decent:a user's guide to the end of the industrial age, 10 Jun 2010
By 
J. Madsen (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (Paperback)
A real eye opener that gives the reader a completly new perspective about the future of our civilization. If you think that things can only get better this book is a real wake-up call. A must read for anyone interested in the factors that contribute to the rise and fall of Empires especially the one we are currently living in.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it!, 2 Sep 2010
By 
Alan Clarke (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (Paperback)
Brilliant - a very well written description of just how unsustainable our society is, and what we can expect to happen to it. But it isn't all doom and gloom, so despite drawing on the same evidence as other studies of our planet's ecological limits, the conclusion is positive. I found I raced through this book eagerly, and now want to re-read it but need to prise it away form other family members first.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More balanced than most, 2 July 2011
By 
Mr. Mark Hanson "Mark" (Hitchin UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (Paperback)
Having read several books on both peak oil and global warming I bought this on Amazon UK An was somewhat surprised when the author announced early in the book that he is a Druid. However, that is about the only mention Druidism gets, The book is a very good tour round the need to start preparations for a world less like the past 50 years and more like the past 500. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who thinks western "civilization" will continue and growth is the answer to all our ills. Sadly I do not really expect any politicians to take a blind bit of notice, but readers with children may want to think about the skills and education they pass on to them.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 'peak' into the future, 26 Dec 2009
By 
Mr. Jonathon M. Stenner (Halstead, Essex) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (Paperback)
I was wary of Greer because of his connection with Druidry - memories of The Wicker Man don't recommend paganism of any hue, however 'enlightened'! Putting aside my reservations, I ploughed in and found page after page which needed to be annotated and stored for later pondering and discussion. His delineation between predicaments and problems was outstanding, prompting me to devise a post peak Jane Austen novel in reverse called Problems and Predicaments where a wealthy British woman has to sell all her goods in order to join a commune of permaculture farmers... The book looks at the spiritual problems of trying to wake people up to the coming decline, namely their thraldom to the myths of progress and science. I have tried to wake up my high school students to peak oil, but all they wanted to do was watch Matilda instead! Greer outlines a very different future to the technological one I grew up with in the early 60s - moon bases, space holidays, underwater cities. Where Greer differs from my own favourite curmudgeon, Jim Kunstler, is his explanation that societies take 250 years to decline and collapse, rather than the 'Road Warrior' vision where the oil runs out and the world turns into a nightmare of looting and Darwinistic struggles for survival. Greer uses the phrase 'catabolic' to describe where we are going - a study of how a society slowly eats itself up in the same way that a long distance runner will actually start to consume his own muscles without replacement nutrients. This catabolic process will be speeded up as we go past the peak of oil production - this may have already happened. What we face is a process of drawn out contraction and decline, where the chronically sick, the elderly, those with special needs, the lazy, the incompetent will be gradually weeded out from the gene pool. Our great grandchildren will live in weed covered ruins of motorways and cities, experiencing hunger, infant mortality levels akin to sub - Saharan Africa - BUT, they will be spiritual giants in comparison with the obese, lazy and moronic 'sheeple' that populate our world. I love the comparison with Frank herbert's Dune - a future that appears archaic, but with elements of sophisticated technology remaining. This book is very profound and deep, and it has personally helped me over the paralysing sense of despair that creeps up when trying to explain peak oil to people I meet - until the deep in-dwelling myths of progress are shattered, there really is no point! I work on my allotment, teaching myself gardening and leave the whole process of catabolic decay in Higher Hands, knowing that we are just going through what every other civilisation has been through before. Thanks Mr. Greer, you have given me a sense of peace this Christmas!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy read, interesting ideas., 27 Mar 2012
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This review is from: Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (Paperback)
A very refreshing middle ground between the apocalyptical "Preppers" and the head-in-the-sand ostriches. For a book that is essentially a hybrid history/economics text book it was a remarkably easy read, and i found myself frequently reading out passages to my husband. If you feel you should be doing something to prepare for the changes in the coming decades, but you have no intention of giving up the easy oil-fuelled life you have right now until you absolutely have to, this book is the one for you.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem, 12 Jun 2010
By 
B. Gilligan (Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (Paperback)
This book presented thoughtful, alternative, well-reasoned and provocative agruments around 'peak oil' and its consequences. My own thought patterns, fears and confusions were rationalised within its pages and have helped me in understanding the reactions I have had and see in others around me to the accurately described 'predicament' we find ourselves in. I came to read it after many others and for me it easily sits in the top three books I would recommend on the subject. My thanks to you Mr Greer.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eyopening, if a little academic, 18 Oct 2010
By 
C. McAlister (Spain/UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (Paperback)
An eye opening book, and a pleasant change to all the apocalyptic survivalist stuff out there addressing peak oil. It's a real eyeopener, but could have done with a more ruthless edit! Chapter 2 and the final chapter were just too academic and flowery for me (on myths and spirituality - I recommend just skimming, or even skipping altogether).

The rest, whilst a little repetitive in places, was a real revelation for me. There seems to be a growing force building behind the idea that we can emerge from peak oil in a positive way through living on a smaller, community scale - getting more out of life at the same time (see "The Moneyless Man" for inspiration too - a brilliant read!). If you are concerned about the way things are going and looking for hope about the future, looking for some meaning in this consumerist world in which we live, this book is really worth a read. An education.
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5.0 out of 5 stars best commentator i know on where things are going, 2 Mar 2013
This review is from: Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (Paperback)
I don't review often, perhaps less than would be fair, but i will with this as i think Greer's message if more widely heard might, just might, help us all deal with what's coming. I'd also point out that unlike some other appreciative reviewers who seem to 'forgive' Greer for being a druid his writings have made me want to become one myself. Get a copy, read it and then lend it around.
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Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age
Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age by John Michael Greer (Paperback - 9 Jan 2008)
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