The Approaching Great Transformation
Toward a Livable Post Carbon Economy
by Joel Magnuson
Here's a palliative for the crushing existential gloom you've felt since reading Kunstler's Long Emergency and Too Much Magic, grim visions of the near future when cheap fossil fuels and neverending economic growth have gone the way of the dinosaur.
I say "palliative" because Magnuson's provocative book is no feel-good cure for the post-carbon blues, though his vision is vastly more upbeat than Kunstler's. The "great transformation" of the title is the inevitable resetting of industrial societies and economies worldwide as fossil fuel supplies dwindle, taking with them cheap food, abundant clean water, fast and easy transportation, and pretty much all the everyday conveniences of modern living. Magnuson's optimism is evident in his choice of the adjective "great" to describe this event, which in his view will be enormous in its impact but also could be turned to enormously beneficial ends.
Magnuson takes heart in the knowledge that the human race possesses a measure of reason and foresight, perhaps even enough to resolve "glaringly obvious contradictions like endless growth driven by corporate institutions and the reality of a finite planet with limited resources." If we fail to prepare for an inevitable loss of 80% or more of our energy supply in our lifetime, we will have only ourselves to blame.
But despair not, exhorts Magnuson: "Hopelessness and despair are human emotions that stem from a kind of blindness to the opportunities for real and positive change that are now presenting themselves. Rather than surrendering to powerlessness, we should become engaged in our own communities and welcome new approaches to meeting our needs."
Among the exemplars of novel, humane engagement touted by Magnuson is New Belgium Brewing. Employee-owned, wind-/solar-/biomass-powered, and suffused with a carnivalesque spirit of creativity and community, New Belgium embodies the values of craftsmanship and sustainability conceived by 19th-century English artist and writer John Ruskin and advocated by Magnuson. If New Belgium really is a viable model for post-carbon industry, maybe the future isn't so bleak after all.
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Review by Don Beistle