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by Richard Heinberg

Richard Heinberg’s new book Peak Everything is now available from New Society publishers, and it’s a must-read for everyone interested in facilitating the transition from what eco-philosopher Joanna Macy calls “industrial growth society” into “life sustaining civilization” in the next few decades. 

What’s great about Heinberg is his calm reasonable and low-key presentation of a truly stunning situation.  We all know bits and pieces of it — climate change, the end of cheap fossil fuels, overpopulation, habitat destruction, etc. — but he brings it all together in its up-to-the-minute form so we can view the entire challenge and its current direction. 

“It is hard to escape the conclusion that while the 20th century saw the greatest and most rapid expansion of the scale, scope and complexity of human societies in history, the 21st will see contraction and simplification.  The only real question is whether societies will contract and simplify intelligently or in an uncontrolled, chaotic fashion.”

“None of this is easy to contemplate,” he admits. “Nor can this information easily be discussed in polite company: the suggestion that we are at or near the peak of population and consumption levels” is especially taboo.  “The result: a general, societal pattern of denial.”

In an especially powerful chapter entitled “The Psychology of Peak Oil and Climate Change” Heinberg looks at the role of psychology in the coming decades. He asks “Could the scientific understanding of human psychology help change our collective thinking proactively so as to minimize the chaos and suffering and maximize positive adaptive behavior?”

“Those with psychological training may play as important a role in our collective adaptation to Peak Oil and Climate Change as energy experts and permaculturists.  The former should perhaps be gearing up to treat not only individuals but whole communities.”  As a therapist, I can only say “Amen!”

He also addresses other subjects I’m very interested in: the psychological stages of waking up to our present situation; Joanna Macy’s despair-to-empowerment work; going beyond the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages of grief into action; collective PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder); using the addiction/dependency model to understand “addiction to oil;” and social marketing.

Heinberg doesn’t shy away from the psychological difficulty of absorbing the deeply threatening facts of our situation. He admits “Even those of us who have been thinking about resource depletion for many years are still just beginning to awaken to its full implications” and “I still find myself experiencing denial, anger, bargaining, and depression after years of studying the problem of oil depletion.”

Heinberg tells us that Awakening “entails an emotional, cultural, and political catharsis.  The biblical metaphor of scales falling from one’s eyes is as apt as the pop culture meme of taking the red pill and seeing the world beyond the Matrix: in either case, waking up implies realizing that the very fabric of modern life is woven from illusion…” 

“Holding that fabric together is one master illusion, the notion that somehow what we see around us today is normal.”  “The awakening I am describing is an ongoing visceral as well as intellectual reassessment of every facet of life — food, work, entertaining, travel, politics, economics, and more.  The experience is so all-encompassing that it defies linear description.”

But I don’t want to give the impression that Heinberg limits his discussion to psychological issues.  He covers a wide range of topics: farming, permaculture, aesthetics, technology, the definition of sustainability, bridging peak oil and climate change activism, the boomer generation’s “last chance,” and much more.

Whatever aspect of our current situation interests you, I highly recommend that you get hold of Heinberg’s book.  He’s a wise guide to the real New Age.

Linda Buzzell-Saltzman can be reached at [email protected]