The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

A Church Full of Underminers, and George Monbiot

Posted by keith on May 31st, 2010

At 10.28 on Saturday 28th May 2010, there were three people sitting on chairs in the small church of St John’s, Llangollen…I wasn’t too worried, as the Dark Mountain Journal was being launched in the large hall up the street, and was running over by about 10 minutes – maybe I would get the 20 or so people I had reckoned on. By 10.40, every chair was taken, and people were sitting on the floor: over 50 people had come along to hear a talk I was giving called “Breaking the Tools of Disconnection”, and I was delighted with the attendance.

After an hour ideas were flying around the room suggesting ways we could undermine the industrial machine – suggestions including the simple but brilliant idea of counselling people that they were actually good people, thus countering the negative “anchors” placed in every single corporate advertisement – and there was a genuine air of excitement that people were feeling individually empowered rather than stuck with the same, staid, bloated movements we have been led to believe will Save The Planet™. These are the very movements that George Monbiot believes are necessary to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the industrial world by at least 90% (this is Monbiot’s own figure from “Heat” which he has since said was a underestimate).

My focus was not on movements, although I did point out that they had all dismally failed to achieve anything tangible on a large scale; rather the need to recognise that the only way to cut greenhouse gases by the necessary levels and prevent the continuation of global ecocide is to remove industrial civilization. My argument is based on the following facts:

1) There is a lock-step relationship between global economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions which only loses it’s potency during major disruptions of the economic system.

2) There is a similar relationship between economic activity and other destructive activities such as deforestation, marine protein depletion, and water pollution, especially as an industrial system is adopted by new groups of people.

3) Therefore, in order to reduce greenhouse gases, and more direct forms of environmental destruction, by the sorts of levels mentioned above, economies must dramatically contract – in the case of greenhouse gases, by a commensurate amount.

4) Under the capitalist system, economies have to continue to grow by between 3% and 5% per annum in order to remain “stable”; even steady-state economies are extremely vulnerable under a system that requires profit and continual reinvestment, and economies with negative growth are bound to experience collapses.

5) It is impossible, under the market economy – the engine of Industrial Civilisation – for civilisation to exist if we are to maintain a global ecology that can sustain any significant amount of human life into the future.

A few of us went for a bit of lunch in Llangollen, and to talk over the workshop and Dark Mountain in general. It transpired that George Monbiot had been in my workshop, at the back of the room and because I was addressing the audience in general, and getting a good dialogue going, I had failed to notice him leave about ten minutes before the end. Apparently he’d been smiling to himself from time to time.

After a brilliant session of music by Jon Boden in the main venue, and three inspiring and fascinating expositions of the problems we face from Paul Kingsnorth, Lottie Child and Vinay Gupta, there followed a discussion between Dougald Hine and George Monbiot. George does not think much of Dark Mountain – in fact the disagreement over the “need” for civilisation has persisted for some time between Paul Kingsnorth and George Monbiot.

I was not impressed with the flaccid nature of the discussion, not so much because of the lack of incisive questions from Dougald (he had promised to step back a bit and open up the dialogue) but because George was avoiding addressing anything significant – like the relationship between climate change and civilisation – in favour of syntactical arguments over the nature of environmental movements and…in fact I struggled to remember anything about the discussion before I replayed the recording I made at the time.

Below is an edit of George’s statements, prior to the question and answer session; nothing has maliciously been taken out of context, but I have extracted what I think are a number of telling remarks that say a lot about George’s view of civilisation and whether it should continue. The last comment – an attempt to humorously pastiche Dark Mountain supporters – is particularly revealing:

Edit: George Monbiot at Uncivilisation 2010

As we exited the hall, I almost bumped into George, and as he turned around the following conversation occured:

Me: Hi George, you were in my workshop, weren’t you?

GM: Yes. [smiles uncomfortably]

Me: I think we need to have a nice civilised chat.

GM: [exiting rapidly] You’re going to sabotage me!

It occured to me later on that, somehow, I had scared the willies out of the eminent George Monbiot. I don’t quite know how: perhaps he had felt uncomfortable being mentioned in my workshop while he sat there, but I wasn’t rude in any way; perhaps he felt threatened at being asked for a chat by a smiling man with stubble, but there were lots of other people around and he is taller than me; perhaps he didn’t think he would get off as lightly as he did in the main hall, although I did just want a chat. Who knows?

But regardless of this, the most prominent British environmental writer of the last two decades really seems to have a problem facing up to the reality of Industrial Civilisation and the simple fact that you can’t leave the legacy of a survivable global ecology while you have a global industrial system. Maybe another fact stands in the way of such mental clarity: you can’t be a successful mainstream environmental writer if the people you depend upon for your wages are threatened by what you say.

And if you’re reading this, George, the offer of a chat is still on the table – I’ll even buy you a beer.

13 Responses to “A Church Full of Underminers, and George Monbiot”

  1. LS Says:

    Hi Keith, glad to hear that the session went well. As for Mr Monbiot, I don’t really know anything about him, but your comment:

    “you can’t be a successful mainstream environmental writer if the people you depend upon for your wages are threatened by what you say”

    … rings true for me. It is a Catch22 situation. If you want to reach the masses, then you need to be part of the system. If your part of the system, then you can’t rock the boat too much, or you will (in short order) be ejected from the system.

    Mr Monbiot is part of the system …

  2. Andy Wright Says:

    Keith,

    I was sat near to George. He actually missed the start of the workshop so didn’t hear the initial time you mentioned his name – just the second time. So he probably had no idea what you had been saying about him. He took all the printouts though so perhaps he will have some time to reflect on what you said.

    I’d also say you had more like 60 people in the room. It was an interested debate which I think was hijacked by a couple of the audience who didn’t quite give you a chance to explain all. Hopefully they will read your book which I recommend to everyone and has been a really eye-opener for me.

    The Hine/Monbiot debate was a bit pathetic really. Dougald looked a bit lost and Monbiot was undermining his own “respectability” by constantly going on about forcing people to live in Hexayurts.

    Andy

  3. keith Says:

    Thanks, Andy, really useful observations and heartwarming comments about my book. And thanks to constant reader, LS – always on the mark.

  4. Dick Says:

    Keith – is there any way you can post the recording of the whole of the Monbiot/Hine discussion?

  5. keith Says:

    Hi Dick

    It’s possible, although about 70MB, so not on this blog. If you have a place to host it then please let me know, otherwise I could put it on archive.org

    Keith

  6. Dick Says:

    Keith, putting it on archive would be great, if it’s possible. Thanks

  7. keith Says:

    Ok, uploaded to archive.org…

    http://www.archive.org/details/MonbiotHineUncivilisation2010

    You can decide for yourself how many questions are answered straight.

  8. Vinay Gupta Says:

    Splendid. Drop me a line, I can probably host bulk audio. hexayurt at gmail dot com.

  9. keith Says:

    Hi Vinay, thanks for the offer – archive.org is splendid, but not so controllable, so if I get anything a bit more ephemeral then I’ll let you know.

    Keith

  10. Uncivilization: base camp « Leaving Babylon Says:

    [...] June 12, 2010 Uncivilization: base camp Posted by leavergirl under civ, community, pattern language Leave a Comment  The Dark Mountain Project just convened their first festival in Wales. Dubbed as the base camp of the uncivilization expedition, it has had a mixed reception. A variety of feedback can be found, some of it at the Uncivilization Ning site, some of it at various blogs; see for example Dire Mountain, Imagining things differently, and A church full of underminers. [...]

  11. Tim H Says:

    Your argument seems to depend on the idea that the terms “growth”, “capitalism” and “civilisation” mean the same thing. Since in your recording Monbiot defends aspects of civilisation – health systems, education systems and so on – but also advocates a “steady-state”, no-growth economy, as proposed by people like Herman Daly and Tim Jackson, evidently he cannot hold this definition himself: it would be logically self-contradictory. This is the root of your disagreement, or at least your disagreement on this particular point. If by “civilisation” you do not mean anything other than “a growth-reliant economy”, then the difference is purely semantic. If you do, you will need to spell out what additional features it includes, and why these are inherently unsustainable/anti-environmental/harmful.

  12. keith Says:

    Hi Tim

    No, my argument doesn’t depend on terminology, it depends on real-world factors – especially the need for the present economic system to keep growing. When Monbiot alludes to a steady-state economy, he doesn’t recognise this need for growth and the outcomes should growth not occur – he failed to acknowledge this during his talk, and has not mentioned it in any of his articles.

    By civilization (or civilisation, if you prefer) I mean this: http://earth-blog.bravejournal.com/entry/27929. It is far more than just a growth economy, although that is something that the current version has come to rely on in order to maintain its size and hold over the global population.

    Thanks

    Keith

  13. John Irvine Says:

    G’Day Keith et al,

    This is my eleventh year of bashing my head against walls trying to inform the community that we are on the peak of the Dark Mountain and are about to descend its backslope. The image of surfing and skiing come to mind…

    The truth of the matter is thagt if you explained to the good and appreciative people in the audience that their lives would have to drastically and dramatically change where they must become robust and self reliant individuals that produce much of their own food and have a practical skill that can be traded for what you are unable to produce yourself. That they would be sleeping ten hours or so a night as their would be no electricity. Not withstanding the improvements in their mental health when we begin to have a fuller innder life and let go of the busy outer life our society sees as a norm, and where the state and corportate protostate must provide for every whim and comfort.
    The real reason for the wealth of monastries in the middle ages was that it afforded a civil lifestyle and the secure knowledge that the individual would be cared for in old age.

    Living a Non-Urban lifestyle – not being on the electricity and or water grids is seen as a hardship – although we consider this state of affairs to be fortunate, as to the peace it affords and the excellent taste of the fruit, vegetables and eggs we produce.

    This path is for the few and not the many, but it affords us the comfort of knowing when collapse comes we have an Ark for our children – look after you and yours is my plea. And if you decide to do so it will take most of your time and enegy, and you realize that your efforts to proselytize must be carefully chosen.

    Good luck in your journey

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