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Archive for May 21st, 2019

Book Review: Civilization Critical by Darrin Qualman

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This book was not sent to me by a publisher, nor promoted by a PR firm. It was given to me, by a friend, who in turn had bought it – and three copies more – from his friend, the author, who used to be director of research for Canada’s National Farmer’s Union. Actually that in itself makes for a Good Story, but not one that I am going to get into now.

The book sets out in very readable form exactly how humanity has gotten itself into its current pickle. He is also pretty good at describing the sort of changes we are going to need to make, if we are to avoid imminent disaster – though this section is much shorter than the earlier history. So he is very good indeed on why we need to change, and probably says enough about what needs to be done. Sadly there is not much about exactly how we ought to do that. On present trends, we appear to be doomed by a combination of utter idiocy and selfishness on the part of most of the elite and a sense of helplessness for the rest of us.

You can read more about the book on the publisher’s web page but I will just use a short quote here

In this sweeping work, Qualman reinterprets and re-explains the problems we face today, and charts a clear, hopeful path into the future.

By page count, he uses 250 pages on stating the problem and around 10 on what to do. From the book:

We must make different choices [from business as usual].

We must transform our civilization and its systems of production and consumption.

It is not that I disagree with him. I think he is right. What I find frustrating is his assertion “Solutions surround us.” That may also be true but I do think that they need a bit more elaboration.

I do have to say this book is very well written. When I started reading it I found it necessary to share excerpts with my long suffering partner. A bit like how I cannot enjoy a visit to an art gallery without someone to nudge at the good bits. He has a very good turn of phrase. Whatever else I want you to take from this review is that reading this book was a pleasure, not a chore. I am glad I read it and learned a lot from it. What it did not give me, and maybe this is being unreasonable, is what am I supposed to do about it.

In an earlier article on this blog I made a similar response to Greta Thunberg, who suggests that we need to start building the cathedral even if we don’t know what it is going to look like, but actually we do know. We have known for at least twenty years – which is when this issue first came across my desk – and actually the fossil fuel industries knew that at least twenty years earlier, but decided to obfuscate just as the tobacco industry had done for so long.

In terms of my professional practice, the easiest solutions to identify are what did we do before the cars created all these problems. We seemed to be doing pretty well with electric trains and trams – supplemented by bicycles. Living in compact, complete communities. With an overwhelming need to access better technology for things like eliminating drafts, improving home comfort and cutting down on physical exertion to achieve anything at all. Compare, for instance, the physical labour of plastering a lath wall with installing drywall.

In the US the Green New Deal seems best bet for now. In Canada …

For us, here and now, we have some difficult choices. It may well be that we will indeed see a Green Wave in the upcoming federal election. It seems clear that Scheer is determined to keep on going as we are. He will definitely not be one of the people to read this book. What is critical is that the other parties – who like to see themselves as “progressive” but tend to fall back on “campaign from the left, govern on the right” (both Liberals and NDP are doing this now) – need to embrace change not as “nice to have” but essential to the continued existence of life on earth beyond the 21st century. The Green Party’s effort is pretty good – but perhaps Not Good Enough.

The sad truth – much more than inconvenient –  is that the greenhouse gas that has already been emitted way beyond anything seen when there has been life on earth is going to be around for a while. The tipping points are already whizzing past us just like deadlines. Even if we could stop dead and leave it in the ground from tomorrow that will not be nearly enough, and carbon capture and storage will always be promising. It has not delivered anything significant yet – nor will it, in time. And the current occupiers of the decision making seats are happy to announce yet further depletion of forests (boreal and old growth coastal rainforest) on which our future depends.

When the people we choose at the ballot boxes are so ready to abandon their undertakings in the name of “we are better than the alternative” I do not know how to advise you. Reading this book will only help convince you that we need to act more boldly and sooner. I am not sure how we are going to do that but it does not seem to me to really be advanced much by chucking milkshakes at them.    However much they deserve it.

Civilization Critical
Energy, Food, Nature, and the Future
By Darrin Qualman

Published by Fernwood Publishing 2019

ISBN: 9781773630861

April 2019

360 Pages

For sale worldwide


ISBN: 9781773630878

May 2019

For sale worldwide


ISBN: 9781773630885

May 2019

For sale worldwide

Written by Stephen Rees

May 21, 2019 at 7:49 pm