8 Jan 2007
10 Books on Solutions for Energy Descent You Must Read in 2007.
My name is Rob and I’m addicted to books. Yes, they lie around my house in piles several feet deep, and often loom perilously over my bed as I sleep nervously beneath. From the oceans of paper, staples and covers that surround me, every now and then a particular gem floats to the surface and does wonders inspiring new ideas and perspectives, and on occasion I like to share some of these with you in the hope that firstly you might find some similar worth in them, and also that you might write in and tell me about other gems that I have missed. I did this last New Year and it went down rather well, so here it is again. The following are in no particular order, just books that have particularly helped to shape my thinking over the last year, or which I have found useful in their approach. Some are of more obvious relevance to energy descent work than others, but I hope you find it a useful list.
**1. The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life – Eviatar Zerubavel**
Many people write about the question of denial and the role it plays in people’s engagement or otherwise in peak oil planning, yet there is little accessible literature on it. This is a very readable book on denial in all areas of our lives, how it arises and how it can be addressed. Doesn’t directly talk about energy and societal change, but a very insightful book with many useful insights for anyone starting to encounter denial in a community’s response to peak oil.
**2. Fuelling a Food Crisis: the impact of peak oil on food security – Caroline Lucas, Andy Jones & Colin Hines.**
A powerful new study from the office of the Green MEP which is, in effect, an update of Andy Jones’ ‘Eating Oil’ report of a few years ago. Places food security at the centre of UK policy making and argues for the urgent need for a Commission on Food Security, and for relocalisation of production. If you are looking for a clear and passionate arguing of the case for an urgent rethink of our food system, this is it. Available as a free download.
**3. The Wheelwrights Shop – George Sturt.**
I have written about this before, but I can’t praise it enough. Worth scouring your local second hand bookshops for. A fascinating glimpse into the pre-oil English rural economy, where the creation of a wagon involved complex networks of woodsmen, sawmen, and highly skilled craftsmen. He reflects at length on the transition from handcraft to machine craft; *”in what was once the wheelwright’s shop where Englishmen grew friendly with the the grain of timber and with sharp tool, nowadays untrained youths wait upon machines, hardly knowing oak from ash or caring for the qualities of either”*. An essential study of resilience from when that’s just how things were.
**4. The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism and Economic Collapse – Richard Heinberg.**
My first reaction to the Protocol was “nice idea, but it’ll never happen”. The more I’ve thought about it since, the more the common sense of the idea emerges, and I think this is a concept of profound importance. Even if we just use it as the benchmark for our community energy descent work, it is still a very powerful idea, but its real power comes as a way of smoothing the post-peak transition. The book itself is great, its chapter on peak oil condenses all of his previous writings into one chapter. An idea whose time has come.
**5. The Boys’ Book: How to Be the Best at Everything – Various.**
A book that one of my sons got for Christmas, and apparently one of the best selling childrens’ books this Christmas. Written like the kind of books for boys of the 40s and 50s, it offers a succession of ‘how to’ advice, from how to survive being attacked by a crocodile to how to light a fire. What impressed me was how, in with the sillier stuff like how to tear a phone book in half and how to really annoy your brothers and sisters, is stuff like how to tie a knot, how to milk a cow and how to dowse for water. Might it be that it offers a format for how to communicate useful skills and make things like food growing and energy conservation engaging, sneaking them in ‘under the radar’? Might the next version have, alongside the silly ones, how to organise a screening of The End of Suburbia, and how to harvest walnuts? There’s a thought…
**6. Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times – Albert Bates.**
The best book on energy descent of the year, written in Albert’s characteristically humorous yet sobering way. Wonderfully engaging, a mixture of recipes, practical tips and advice, which steers a nice line between the survivalist path and the more communitarian approach. Does a great job of presenting peak oil as the opportunity to finally get round to doing all those things you’ve been putting on the long finger as you have never quite had enough time, what with dashing around frantically supporting the capitalist oil-dependent economy. Essential reading.
**7. Heat: how to stop the planet burning – George Monbiot.**
Whether or not you agree with Monbiot’s recipe for a low-carbon UK you have to admire his courage in having a go. Leaving slain sacred cows, both green and mainstream, scattered in his wake, he challenges many cosy assumptions and asks many awkward questions. You may find his refusal to use the term ‘local’ very often and the sparse set of tools he offers for its implementation a bit frustrating, but it is a seminal work of great importance.
**8. Coal: A Human History – Barbara Freese**
We can get so wrapped up in thinking about oil and gas that we can forget, especially the younger of us who don’t remember it first hand, the role that coal played in the life of the UK. Horrible stuff, that destroyed lives and made urban areas almost uninhabitable for decades. It also enabled the industrial revolution and powered society until its cleaner and more transportable fossil fuel cousins came along. Anyone who has read Orwell’s ‘Road to Wigan Pier’ will be familiar with just how hellish life down the pits was, but new to me were pictures of young children sat in a dusty warehouse by a conveyor belt, picking through the fast moving stream of coal for stones and slate. A powerful reminder that the shift to oil dependency, for all its faults, came about in part because people couldn’t actually breathe any more.
**9. Animate Earth: science, intuition and Gaia – Stephan Harding.**
I am still working my way through this, but it is wonderful stuff. I love the author’s way of making Gaian science accessible, he takes complex ideas and concepts and tells them like stories. When involved in energy descent work it is too easy to get focused just on energy, localisation and so on, and forget the ground beneath our feet and the extraordinary web of life surrounding us. Poetic, insightful and engaging, ‘Animate Earth’ reintroduces us to Gaia, and argues that we need to learn to live “as harmoniously as possible within a sentient creature of planetary proportions”.
**10. Your step-by-step guide to Climate Bliss – I-Count.**
Climate change books. Dull. Statistics. Graphs. Charts. Lots of talk about tons of carbon dioxide which you can’t visualise anyway because how can a gas weigh a ton? Most books on climate change appeal only to the dedicated and the worthy and send most novice readers to sleep. This is a great book, because it is small enough to sustain even the most modern attention span, its graphics are funny rather than scientific, and it is full of things you can do. The best book I have yet read on what the individual can do about climate change, made me laugh out loud and jot down a list of things to do when I got home. I include it in this list because if you are thinking of writing a book on peak oil, read this first, as an exemplar of how to communicate, engage and inspire. Available from the publisher for just £3.
**What have you read recently that you would like to tell other people about? What has most inspired you and shaped your thinking of recent? Do use the comments box below to share your thoughts…**