Admitting We Are In For Rough Times Ahead and Still Having Hope

  • Posted on: 9 September 2019
  • By: David Trammel

("Shawshank Redemption" © Castle Rock Entertainment 1994)

In one of the most poniente scenes in the amazing movie "Shawshank Redemption" Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) tells his fellow inmate Ellis Boyd 'Red' Redding (Morgan Freedman that "I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying."

Red (and many people watching the movie at that moment) believe that Andy has decided to commit suicide. We all know now that instead, Andy was just about to break out of the Hell he had been living in for over 19 years, and not only get his freedom but his revenge.

I've always thought that people tend to put themselves into their own private prisons, walled by expectations from those around them and by society into accept the shackles and bars imposed on them. I think its time we all took a cue from Andy.

I know which choice I will choose.


For ten years or more, I've been following John Michael Greer, reading his words first on the Archdruid Report and now Ecosophia. I've read his books and watched his video interviews. I've progressed from occasional forum poster here at the start of the Green Wizard site to now its webmaster and chief advocate of Greer's idea that we need to learn the skills to live in the coming Collapse of our current civilization and the Long Descent into a much lower tech level of sustainable living.

In that time I've gone from being a pessimist who knew without a doubt that Mankind was doomed to an optimist, but one who still believes the Future is going to be terribly rough and we as a collective society will end up doing almost nothing to stop that outcome. Yet I am an optimist because I believe that that same bleak Future has a glimmer of Hope.

I've begun to see a particular type of article appear in the Mainstream Media this year. Its one of a similar outlook, that is is time to admit to ourselves that we are just not going to solve the problems facing us. Here is a good example, recently published:

What If We Stopped Pretending? - The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it.

Its a sobering article that Jonathan Franzen writes and yet anyone who has read Greer for a while can see the same conclusions played out in his writing as well. That we don't have the political will or bravery among out elected leaders to enact the changes we need. That too many business people view fighting climate change as just another way to make a lot of money. That as little political will our leaders have, the population (aka the rest of Us) has even less. His conclusion is:

"Finally, overwhelming numbers of human beings, including millions of government-hating Americans, need to accept high taxes and severe curtailment of their familiar life styles without revolting. They must accept the reality of climate change and have faith in the extreme measures taken to combat it. They can’t dismiss news they dislike as fake. They have to set aside nationalism and class and racial resentments. They have to make sacrifices for distant threatened nations and distant future generations. They have to be permanently terrified by hotter summers and more frequent natural disasters, rather than just getting used to them. Every day, instead of thinking about breakfast, they have to think about death. Call me a pessimist or call me a humanist, but I don’t see human nature fundamentally changing anytime soon. I can run ten thousand scenarios through my model, and in not one of them do I see the two-degree target being met."

"A World Made Harsh" is now baked into our Future and that still gives me Hope.

Some will argue that we can have our "New Green Deal" and our current electrified economy too. That if we just spend the money and get gasoline powered cars off the road and everyone into electric vehicles we can make a dent in the climate change that is heading towards us. That if we just let those heady Silicon Valley entrepreneurs loose they will come up with a solution.

The problem there is we can't prevent the disruptions by looking to the very forces who got us into this, to get us out.

Technology won't save us from climate change - It's not hard to save the planet. But not if we insist on enriching entrepreneurs on the way

It was the race for riches which started the Industrial Revolution and lead to us adopting fossil fuels as the means to get us to that bright and shiny future. It was also that race for riches which learned to dump the costs of making those riches onto the Commons, while keeping the profit for the people running the show. That division has lead to some of the highest levels of income inequality in centuries.

Do we think asking business to fix the problems their race has caused will solve anything?

"Recently, the consumer-facing tech industry has transformed to a rentier model. In this model, you don’t necessarily ever own gadgets, software or media; you merely rent them from a corporation forever. Businesses prefer this model, as rather than buying something once, you pay to rent it forever — and that means far more money for them in the long run.

I have no doubt that if we let techno-capitalists tackle climate change, we will end up with a similar situation: world governments will contract out carbon capture to a group of tech behemoths whom we will pay forever to rent their equipment and keep things in a stable state. If they fix the problem and remove all the excess carbon from the atmosphere, their services will become useless — and their shareholders and investors certainly wouldn’t like that. Better to keep the problem intact as long as possible to wring dry the public sector for all eternity — ironically, fixing the problems that technology, largely, created. It's the perfect grift.

It is the "Grift of the Long Con" too. Find a Gullible Mark, promise to give them what they need and walk away with their money.

And its not just the Techno Snake Oil Sellers who are going to use our desperation to stop Climate Change to enrich themselves. It will the suppliers of the materials for those snake oil potions they sell. The companies who take over once we shut down the fossil fuel industry who mine the lithium we need for the dreamed of fleet of electric vehicles. All the other strip mines of rare earth minerals we will need for the so called renewable technology.

Lithium mining for "green" electric cars is leaving a stain on the planet - Fetid pools of chemicals, water and air pollution — all the aftermath of a "green" movement

One of the side effects of lithium mining is water pollution: the process of mining can affect local water supplies, potentially poisoning communities. Yet chemical leakage is also a major concern when it comes to lithium mining. The lithium carbonate extraction process harms the soil, and can cause air pollution. There are also concerns around how to recycle it. Eco-nonprofit Friends of the Earth notes that lithium recycling is fraught, as the metal is “toxic, highly reactive and flammable.”

“It tends to be incinerated or ends up in landfill due to very low collection rates and flawed waste legislation,” Friends of the Earth states in their lithium fact sheet. “Low collection rates, the low and volatile market price of lithium, and the high cost of recycling relative to primary production have contributed to the absence of lithium recycling.”

I'm reminded that there are thousands of abandoned oil wells sitting in desolate fields of stunted grass across our country, slowly polluting the ground water whose clean up was supposed to done by the companies that drill them. Instead those companies used their money to reap a profit and when the well ran dry, declared bankruptcy and dumped the cost of clean up onto the Public. Think the new Lords of Renewable Tech will do it differently?

Future generations will be left starring at toxic sites just as abandoned without the money to clean the damage our generation has cause the environment. All to keep our extravagant energy orgy going for a few years more.

The thing is, all this damage to our environment and the legacy of pollution we leave our Children might, just might be worth it if it actually could be done.

But its not going to get done.

That's the dirt secret of this whole "we can save the Future if we just replace all our tech with Green Tech©. Like current supplies of fossil fuels, there is just not enough of the special minerals we need to Green Revolution our World left in the ground that can be extracted, to bring up the current billions of Third World people into a First World middle class life style. We do have enough so those of us at the top of the food chain can enjoy our destructive and extravagant energy rich lifestyles for a few years more though. We just have to do it by deluding ourselves it for them.

The "New Energy Economy": An Exercise in Magical Thinking

To completely replace hydrocarbons over the next 20 years, global renewable energy production would have to increase by at least 90-fold. For context: it took a half-century for global oil and gas production to expand by 10-fold. It is a fantasy to think, costs aside, that any new form of energy infrastructure could now expand nine times more than that in under half the time.

If the initial goal were more modest—say, to replace hydrocarbons only in the U.S. and only those used in electricity generation—the project would require an industrial effort greater than a World War II–level of mobilization. A transition to 100% non-hydrocarbon electricity by 2050 would require a U.S. grid construction program 14-fold bigger than the grid build-out rate that has taken place over the past half-century. Then, to finish the transformation, this Promethean effort would need to be more than doubled to tackle nonelectric sectors, where 70% of U.S. hydrocarbons are consumed. And all that would affect a mere 16% of world energy use, America’s share."

Pretty bleak news, isn't it? Just how much effort and money it is honestly going to take to convert our current economy to renewables. And just to kick you when you are down.

There just isn't enough raw materials in the World to do it.

"Radically increasing battery production will dramatically affect mining, as well as the energy used to access, process, and move minerals and the energy needed for the battery fabrication process itself. About 60 pounds of batteries are needed to store the energy equivalent to that in one pound of hydrocarbons. Meanwhile, 50–100 pounds of various materials are mined, moved, and processed for one pound of battery produced. Such underlying realities translate into enormous quantities of minerals—such as lithium, copper, nickel, graphite, rare earths, and cobalt—that would need to be extracted from the earth to fabricate batteries for grids and cars.[55] A battery-centric future means a world mining gigatons more materials. And this says nothing about the gigatons of materials needed to fabricate wind turbines and solar arrays, too.

Even without a new energy economy, the mining required to make batteries will soon dominate the production of many minerals. Lithium battery production today already accounts for about 40% and 25%, respectively, of all lithium and cobalt mining. In an all-battery future, global mining would have to expand by more than 200% for copper, by at least 500% for minerals like lithium, graphite, and rare earths, and far more than that for cobalt.

Then there are the hydrocarbons and electricity needed to undertake all the mining activities and to fabricate the batteries themselves. In rough terms, it requires the energy equivalent of about 100 barrels of oil to fabricate a quantity of batteries that can store a single barrel of oil-equivalent energy.

You can read an even better analysis of the huge increase we must have in mining and processing the raw materials that would go into creating the infrastructure a Green Revolution would require and the pollution that is going to come from it here:

The Limits of Clean Energy - If the world isn’t careful, renewable energy could become as destructive as fossil fuels.

And yet I still have Hope.

Andy Dufresne would have been a Green Wizard.

I think Jonathan Franzen (and others who hold his beliefs) are right. Its time we accepted that there is no magic bullet out there for some wiz kid to find. No magic technology some Silicon Valley start-up will invent. No government program which will mandate our way out of this crisis. It isn't going to be large efforts which save some potion of the human population as climate change and resource depletion remake our World into something much harsher and inhospitable to us.

It is going to be the simple things You and I do in our Lives from now on to prepare us.

Consider how much large scale government funded program of just upgrading the insulation and weatherizing American homes would lower our electricity needs. How it would put money directly into the wallets of the Poor and less fortunate, who struggle every hot Summer and cold Winter to pay their bills. Every watt of electrical energy not used is one less pound of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Consider passive solar water heating. A good portion of American homes are shined on by the Sun for enough hours a day that a passive hot water tank added to their homes would lower the energy use. It makes no sense to have a fifty gallon tank in your basement, always heated to 120 degrees on the off chance you might suddenly want a hot shower. Just rethinking your habits and deciding to shower the same time every day, in the evening after the Sun has preheated the water to a reasonable temperature (and if needed a little bit of extra heat) would go a long way to lowering our National energy bill.

There are other ways to cut back on your energy useage, Greer calls them "Appropriate Technologies" and they came about when the first Oil Crisis in the 1980's hit us, which are proven and robust, and usually very cheap to install.

But we have to get over our fear of being in the least was "uncomfortable". Its more than just the germiphobia that Greer has written about. Almost everyday I read articles about people just flipping out when the least little thing doesn't go their expected way. Life is chaotic people, learn to live with it! They throw a temper tantrum worthy of a three year old when the World doesn't give them the exact condition they want.

You know what, I've lived without a air conditioner in my home now for three years. It first broke down but was fixed, then I found I could live with a home a bit hot. I learned to go sleep in the basement when it was very hot, and when it was just hot, to keep a small electric fan running on my sleeping form. I also learned that waking up wet with sweat wasn't the End of the World. I learned to change out my bed sheets on a bit more often schedule and learned to get up, slip into the bathroom for a cool shower before returning to sleep sometimes. I learned to close up my doors and windows in the morning as it got hot, and learned to open them back up in the evening as temperatures fell, putting electric fans in the window to pull in cool air and force out hot air.

I learned more importantly how to live with the Cycles of Life as they are now, instead of insisting that Nature bends to my will.

We need to relearn that lesson and learn how to apply those Appropriate Technologies soon.

I have hope we will do that.

I have hope that beyond the current fad of mega projects and celebrity poster children who preach conservation while sailing megamillionire carbon composite boats across the Ocean, people are going to begin to relearn the "Old Ways" of living within the environment's limits.

I have Hope because I can look to the most inhospitable places on the Planet, the deep deserts of the Middle East, the frozen tundra of the Arctic, and there I'll find humans living a joyful life. They love their partner, they love their children. They sit around a fire at night and tell stories. They weep at the death of a friend, and smile at the birth of new life. Its a harsh life and one with rules you ignore at your peril.

Just as our Children's World will be.

What we all can do now, is give up our dreams of techno magic will save us and begin learning the skills to survive in a World Made Harsh and make it good. Then pass on those skills to our children and teach them the old ways of earth and stone, of water and fire.

But more importantly, teach them Hope.

That's why we work so hard here on Green Wizards, to give you the tools to make your children and grand children's World a place they can Live. And help you too if you are young. If you are not a member (or don't post), please reconsider. Join us here and help us write the stories of those who come after us, will tell around the fire.

Have Hope too.


Justin Patrick Moore's picture

I like you how you ended this article. We can still have hope. And even in a world made harsh we can still have some fun along the way. The fun will be different from the mass entertainment industry currently foisted on us. But I think it will be a more intimate, less disconnected, kind of fun.

Hell, kids may even play kick the (oil) can again.

Great piece. Thank you.

David Trammel's picture

When anyone mentions soccer and kids kicking things around, my dark self images those makeshift soccer balls are the heads of CEOs and politicians.

That's a wonderful idea for a Cli-Fi story though, what would people do in a World Made Harsh to have fun?

Have you ever seen the Rutger Howard movie "The Blood of Heroes"?


Its an amazing movie for simplicity and minimalism of background. They played a type of extremely rough soccer that involved putting dog skulls on stakes to score points, lol. You don't know much about the post Collapse world they journey in but what you do know makes sense. Its a story of Times that are Harsh.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

That looks like my kind of movie. I'll have to check it out if I can find it somewhere.

& Yes, a short story, or scene in a longer work where kids are playing some new kind of game (or adults too for that matter) would be good to help show the culture of a world made harsh.

BTW, is anyone calling Franzen an Eco-fascist yet?

Alacrates's picture

I did a quick search, and don't many equations between Franzen and eco-fascism yet, except for a few tweets that have made that accusation.

I have noticed that Naomi Klein has been a critic of Franzen's piece this week, in various places, doing press for her newest book, On Fire, making the case for a Green New Deal.

I don't know what to make of Klein's work. I know that JMG was not a fan of her book "This Changes Everything", and I also saw that another of my favorite writers on ecological issues, Albert Bates, was also very critical of that book. (Interestingly JMG was really put off with Bates' previous book on biochar and isn't interested into looking into his publications anymore, so I'm left with divided loyalties!)

Klein seems very well intentioned, but I do think she may be emblematic of the professional, salaried class, who would like to see the green revolution undertaken without cutting into the benefits experienced by that class, derived from the way that the economy is set up, financially and so on... It's easy to want to see the extremely wealthy 1% brought down low, but does the professional class want to see itself brought down to the equal the status of the wage-earning class? I have a feeling they see themselves remaining one level above, managing the working class in this transition, not working as equals...

One thing that bothers me in listening to these interviews, Klein sites as the root cause of our problems that we view the natural world as a set of resources that we can draw from and exploit... while at the same time maintaining a residence in Toronto, talking about a vacation house in British Columbia, and teaching at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and then again speaking of her travels through the U.K., South America, and Europe... obviously the fuel for these travels, along with the steels, plastics, rubber, etc. were all drawn as resources drawn from the natural world...

I personally don't think we should require a person be perfect for them to express their opinions on the economy & environment, we are all more or less implicated in the status quo to some extent... but I find it hard to take to hear someone set others up as the enemy when they are engaged in the exact same behavior...

Anyways, I apologize for the rant, just some thoughts that have been spinning in my head recently, leading up to this international climate strike on Sept. 27th...

David Trammel's picture

Ran across this article today.

Hello From the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything Is Different

I found it optimistic and a bit glossy over the hardships we will face, still I'd like to look back 30 years from now in my final days of this Life, and see myself as having been too pessimistic. Maybe we will get our shit together.

Blueberry's picture

IMHO the year 2025 will be total S*!T after that go local.

Alacrates's picture

Great post! I wonder if that quote from the Shawshank Redemption derives from Bob Dylan's: "he not busy being born is busy dying..."

I recently watched the new Scorsese documentary on Dylan's mid-70s Rolling Thunder Revue tour, it had a clip of Jimmy Carter including that line from Dylan in a presidential address...

I have a feeling you are right in your concerns about a techno-capitalist, solar panel & electric vehicle green revolution that some people are envisioning... I can't help but feel that a lot of the people who I've met who really buy into this vision are fairly conscientious and well educated people, who are also kind of comfortable in the current arrangement of things and are hoping maybe we can just unplug from fossil fuels and then plug into renewable electricity, and things will be about the same, with some social justice measures accomplished in the transition as well...

I have to educate myself in matters related to energy transition, but I have to think that there are major problems with this vision, first among many, it has to be a massive energy outlay to build all this new infrastructure and retrofit every house in the land? Not to mention the massive demand for materials like lithium, copper, steel, concrete, and I'm sure many others...

I know that JMG has argued (a few years ago, so possibly things have changed since then) that solar panels are better seen as an energy storage device than a source of energy, since they require so much fossil fuel energy in their manufacture, which they slowly give back over the years as they convert sunlight into electricity....

Dmitri Orlov made a convincing argument that it would be better to just keep old vehicles on the road rather than trying to switch our entire stock of vehicles to electric, positing that the energy outlay in producing a new vehicle outweighs the emissions from repairing old vehicles + the emissions from the fuel they use... he also had an interesting post that claimed that if we do not as a society buy gasoline, a lot of other petroleum products, from jet fuel, diesel, and asphalt (and maybe plastics too?) become un-economic? In particular diesel is problematic, as it fuels our transport in a way that is difficult to replace...

All that to say, I find any plan that doesn't find some way for us to organize ourselves economically in some way that uses far less energy, materials and resources is probably going to be a boondoggle that makes a select few wealthier, and in the end leaves society worse off & demoralized. If I heard of some plan that had, say, more independent farms going up around a city, with people settling into lifestyles that were requiring less goods to be manufactured & transported, all the while somehow keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table, I'd be all for it, but everything I hear of requires more consumption and more financial scheming to accomplish...

I agree with your point that hope is, nevertheless, a good place to settle on, even after contemplating all these difficulties... First off, whether I like it or not, I'm going to be living through all these changes (though I'm also sure it will be a long descent, and the changes will be pressing long after I'm gone!)... I might as well try my best to respond to them as intelligently as I can.

I also have a faith that people are going to inhabit the area I live in long after I'm gone, which means any preparations I can make & maybe inspire in others, and pass onto future generations, it could have some long lasting benefits. There's a passage in one of JMG's books where he says that we are now in a scenario like something out of a science fiction story, living in the time of a dying empire, with a chance to bring something an ancient tradition forward into the new world, what could be more inspiring?