“People had more than they needed. We had no idea what was precious and what wasn’t. We threw away things people kill each other for now.” Denzel Washington as Eli in The Book of Eil

Why are post-apocalyptic films so resonant? Why do they speak to us as though they are relevant? Is it because they talk about something that will happen?

Or is it because they are talking about something that has happened, and in fact is happening now?

Appearances aren’t what they seem. What Denzel is describing isn’t just something that happens before a apocalypse, something that creates it, it itself is he apocalypse. Instead he is describing an apocalyptic world! The Buddha was right, the action that creates the karma is the karma itself.

Let’s face it, whilst there are lots of nasty happenings in the world can we really believe that everything is right in the wealthier countries? We’re in the midst of an apocalypse right now, but some countries can hide it better than others. But how long can we hide it?

Ok ok ok, maybe saying “apocalypse” may be a bit of an exaggeration. And by that I mean I don’t expect the Four Horsemen to materialize and cause havoc, the anti-Christ to wage war or the Kingdom of God to miraculously descend on Earth after all the bad things have happened. Or that the Earth suddenly stop existing, like it really is the “end of the world”.

But there is something not quite right. And apocalypse seems to be a frighteningly relevant word even if not particularily accurate.

I look at our “wealth” and have a feeling that something isn’t quite right, that it’s all a lot of a show and no substance, that the foundation is all a bit, well, flimsy to say the least. A look at the facts about peak oil shows just how flimsy. We have built a stone castle of cardboard foundations!

What are the essentials for living a fulfilling and healthy life that don’t include “lots of stuff”?

How can we dig down through the foundations of our society and find the bedrock that we really need?

Can we do it before this Great Edifice collapses on us?

And what is it that we really need to build and develop?

One thing’s for sure, some films get you thinking and questioning… and if more people do that we are en route to a better world.

The quote above hints at something, and that is the values we hold, the values that lead us to use or misuse the world around us… and each other.

We build our world by our values. What values are we building with?

“Above all, and most immediately, we face the end of the cheap fossil fuel era. It is no exaggeration to state that reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as a benefit of modern life. All the necessities, comforts, luxuries and miracles of our time – central heating, air conditioning, cars, airplanes, electric lighting, cheap clothing, recorded music, movies, supermarkets, power tools, hip replacement, surgery, the national defense, you name it – owe their origins or continued existence in one way or another to cheap fossil fuel.” James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century

“Rebuilding local agriculture and food production, localising energy production, rethinking healthcare, rediscovering local building materials in the context of zero energy building, rethinking how we manage waste, all build resilience and offer the potential of an extraordinary renaissance – economic, cultural and spiritual.” Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience

I have only just learnt about Peak Oil. I’ve been more interested in a parallel subject; climate change, and must have skipped over this one completely. But then I’ve also been realising that this issue really isn’t that well known in general, so I’m passing the message along!

I knew long ago what the definition of “non-renewable” was and how that fits in with fossil fuels, but I didn’t know when or what would be happening. After reading The Long Emergency and now reading The Transitions Handbook my eyes are opening a little wider.

But Peak Oil isn’t about having no more oil, this is an issue that happens before then, when we have reached the maximum amount of oil we’ll ever use in history, after which oil becomes more scarce and more difficult to extract and thus more expensive. It’s also when demand for it outweighs supply, clearly a balance that just doesn’t work.

And it’s not a case of replacing oil for other sources of energy because oil represents an energy source that has been created over a long amount of time, storing energy from the sun that arrived on he Earth long ago. It’s like we’re rereleasing all of that energy, whereas something like solar can only absorb as much solar energy as there is in the sky at one time.

There’s something called Energy Return On Energy invested (EROEI). If you’ve ever had to live with a log fire you know that energy has to be put in (chopping, purchase, transport, lighting and maintaining) to get energy out (heat and light). At one point the EROEI of oil was 100:1, which means you could invest one unit of energy or money and get 100 units back. Now it’s closer to 20:1.

Other energy sources have much lower EROEI. Here’s a website with some EROEI figures: http://www.eroei.com/eroei/evaluations/net-energy-list/

Other energy sources will replace some of what oil supplied us with, but no where near the amounts we’ve had in the last century or so. This means not only a change in infrastructure but also in the lifestyles of people.

You can see this as a crisis (long emergency) or an opportunity (transition). In truth it’ll be an uneven mix with not one or the other in different parts of the world. Places where their pre-industrial economies have remained intact may not feel the impact of this so much and also places that have prepared for a post-oil world ( such as the Transitions Movement- http://www.transitiontowns.org/ ).

One thing’s for sure, we’re going to be seeing changes which’ll effect us all for How we take that is up to us (all).

“If life on Earth were suddenly to cease, all the hundred-plus elements that make up the surface, oceans, and atmosphere would react until no more reactions were possible, and a state close to chemical equilibrium was reached. The planet would become a hot, waterless, and inhospitable place.” James Lovelock

One thing that I often use for tag in my blog is the word Gaia. This is a loaded word so it’s best to really be clear in the way I use it. I don’t mean a conscious entity that is embodied in the Earth itself that so many people associate with Gaia. Rather I think of the scientific idea that was first set out by James Lovelock in his Gaia Hypothesis and later explored in the Earth System Sciences.

Let’s start with an experiment. Find a small object, say a penny, and hold it between your fingers above the ground. It is now in an energy rich state. Now drop that penny and watch it fall to the ground where it bounces, rolls, flips and/or slides to the ground and finally stops any movement. It is now in an energy poor state, no more energy is able to be extracted from it, unless the floor develops a hole where the penny can continue falling.

Here’s another image of energy rich and energy poor. Think of a car; the fuel that goes into it and the exhaust fumes that come out of it. The fuel is energy rich, ready to be transformed into kinetic energy. The exhaust fumes are energy poor, no more energy is able to be extracted for the car’s movement.

James Lovelock once worked with NASA to investigate if there was life on Mars. At some point he came up with the idea that perhaps the atmosphere of Mars could show signs of life by virtue of interacting with it. Mars’ atmosphere is energy poor, with chemicals comparable to a car’s exhaust fumes, whilst the Earth’s atmosphere has an energy rich chemistry. If the Earth had not developed lifeforms it would have fallen (like the penny) to the same fate as Mars, a dead, lifeless rock incapable of supporting or even developing life.

Somehow the collective action of life on Earth stops entropy from make the Earth irreversibly lifeless and keeps it inhabitable. Free energy from the Sun’s own entropic decay is “collected” by life through photosynthesis. This energy is exchanged with the environment, like the atmosphere, and with other organisms, where it takes on energy rich qualities in a balancing way that means that life can live on the Earth.

In a way it’s like having a system of organisms attached to your exhaust fumes that aborb those chemicals and, using the Sun’s energy, turn them into energy rich fuel that goes back into the car to power it, or another system of organisms that use the Sun’s energy to keep that penny in the air to stop it from falling to the ground, with the added bonus that by doing so it makes the existence of life possible.

That is a very simplistic explanation leaving out many details, which doesn’t do the theory any justice at all. I could talk about homeostasis, chemical equlibrium, disequilibrium, Daisyworld, the albedo effect, glacials, interglacials, the Milankovich effect, global warming, climate change, greenhouse gases,  defining life, neo-darwin evolution, Gaian evolution and other facts and theories that James Lovelock has woven together to create a compelling picture of the Earth’s life. All I want to do is introduce one aspect of it from which other aspects can be explored. My reference for this is James Lovelock’s Healing Gaia, though there’s plenty of other books about it, and lots of information on the internet. Just do a search of any of the terms I used above.

Gaia theory as a whole is just scientific theory, yet it is gaining credibility all the time, especially within Earth Systems Sciences. Parts of it have been proved and parts of it have yet to be proved.  So far it is the best image we have of the Earth as a self-sustaining system, an image that is being confirmed, modified and updated all the time by scientific research. But from this theory we can grasp a feeling of the world around us and how we fit in with it. Personally I have no doubts that Gaia Theory has something to it, that somehow the Earth is alive in some sense, that somehow it is an interdependent system and that there definately are consequences to our actions within it.

“When… Arthur loses the power to give, his court disintegrates and his kingdom hangs in the balance. Only the restoration of his ability to give makes him leader of the community again.”

“The kingdom of the Grail, for example, becomes the Gaste Pays, a barren wasteland, when the Fisher-King was wounded for transgressing a geis and could no longer govern properly.” Jean Markale King of the Celts: Arthurian Legends and Celtic Tradition

I have something brewing in my head, a stew of ideas; of Celtic Sovereignty, kingship and kings’ sacred marriages to the Goddess of the Land; of healthy kings, wounded kings, fisher kings and Grail Quests; of suffering people, suffering landscapes and abused Sovereignty; of Arthurian legends, Dragons, Knights in Shining Armour, Maidens in distress, yet also of Empowered Maiden-Warriors fed up of waiting for glorified tin-cans. Awen, the Spirit of Inspiration, shines forth from the cauldron and a vision is formed. Please enjoy.

Long ago, in the land of my ancestors, there once was a King who’d achieved the Quest of the Source of All Rivers, passed the test of the Servants of the Goddess, and partaken of the Spring Waters, endowing him with the powers of Kingship and Sovereignty. He was a very powerful, ambitious and clever King, bringing great fortunes to his People and the Land but he had little wisdom to bring balance with it. Though he and his People revelled in the glory of his reign, neither he nor his People saw where all of this success was heading or the great troubles that would arise from it.

One day, a bright sunny day, the King and his band of faithful Warriors were out on an excursion, expanding the boundaries of the kingdom and its wealth. They encountered at the foot of some mountains a wild forest, and so, eager to investigate, they cut a path through it, chopping many trees down until they reached the foot of the mountain. There they found a cave, which one by one they all entered, led by the King.

Inside it was so vast they could not see the walls or ceiling, but even if it was smaller they would not have noticed the walls or ceiling for it was filled with many treasures, enchanting the eyes of the King and of the men. They went outside, drunk with excitement and greed for what they had found. They went back to their People and told them about the treasures and organised a way to take them and make the People rich!

So it was done, they went and cut down more trees to make way for the many carts and carriages that would take away the riches and inside the cave it was alive with people inspecting the glittering pieces, and people filling sacks up and lugging them away. But no one had noticed the dark presence inside, though it certainly noticed them. It was a Dragon, black as coal, that had been sleeping there for so long that the People only remembered Her in their ancient legends, and even then in vague foggy references that no one quite believed, or even understood.

The Dragon had finally awakened, and She was not happy. Her mouth began to smoke and filled the cave, suffocating all those who were inside. The smoke poured out of the cave and formed a great pillar where once there had been a mountain. The King fell out from the cave, coughing and spluttering, into the arms of his Warriors. The King died, but before he died the King warned his People to stop what they were doing for it meant great catastrophe to them and to the Land. Few heard him, for they were enchanted by the treasures or panicking over the Dragon.  And even those that did deluded themselves into thinking that maybe, just maybe, the King could be brought back to life and restore the Kingdom. But they did not know the source of his power or had forgotten it.

The Warriors rode away to the castle to see if they could bring the King back to life. Behind them, as they rode away, the smoke formed a wall that spread across the land, poisoning it. There were too few trees to hold the black wall back for they had all been cut down. The Land became poisoned, the crops failed and the Dragon’s hot breath melted away the ice-caps upon the mountain tops melted into water flooding the Land and destroying many people’s homes. The riches from the Dragon’s cave began turning to dust, leaving many People poor and at war with one another (though they had really been at war for quite some time). The Source of All Rivers dried up and the Servants of the Goddess withered in strength, and wailed and weeped for this great misfortune. The People suffered, the Land suffered. They needed healing.

Back at the castle the Warriors brought the King’s body and took it to the Queen’s sanctuary, where she stood guard over the Healing Chalice that the King recieved on his coronation. But upon entering the room a great horror met the eyes of the Warriors, for the Queen lay on the floor, dead, and the Healing Chalice had disapeared from its place. Court was held to decide what to do, but a further blow was struck for it was there that the People realised that the Princess, one and only daughter to the King and Queen, had disappeared, and with her the Royal Lineage. Some remembered the last words of the dead King and, taking it to heart, they set out to stop the catastrophe, though some people dispaired and could not bring themselves to do anything and others scoffed, still enchanted by the Dragon’s treasures, deluded by an ephemeral wealth.

Here is where I should tell you about a Great Quest, undertaken by only the best of the Warriors, to seek and slay the Dragon, to free the Princess, restore the Healing Chalice to its rightful place and for a new King to take the old one’s place, marry the Princess who becomes the new Queen and brings a new era of wealth and health, though this time a bit more wiser and a little less greedy. And so Happily Ever After and all that jazz.

I would that I could, but I can’t so I won’t.

This story has not really finished yet. In fact right now, the land is only just feeling the effects of the People’s greed and the King has only just left the cave, warning his People. But he will die, he has to. The old Patriarchal order has to go and make way for a new order if the land is to be restored to something like its previous state and the People freed from their suffering. But the scar will linger for some while, carried by many future generations.

Will the Dragon ever be slayed? I think not, the Dragon can never be killed for She is the raw power of the Land itself provoked into a destructive mode against the People that disturbed it and abused its generosity. There is no hope to slay this Dragon, because if we did we’d just be provoking more of the same. We can but hope that we don’t provoke Her any more than we have, so that She might once again go down to the Land and rest deep within it again. Perhaps by not cutting down any more of the Wild Forest and planting and growing more trees we could entice the Dragon back to the Land because She likes that luscious greenery and when she knows there are enough trees (and Ents?) standing guard over the Land She can rest at ease, supporting life’s energies in the continuous breaths of her peaceful dreaming sleep; the unconscious evolution of the living Earth that has been going on long before humanity appeared.

And we cannot expect a single champion to put all things right by his own efforts alone. Even the Princess, though she is trapped in the Dragon’s lair, cannot rely on a Knight in Shining Armour to save her. She is not a passive or weak victim and must prepare herself to be free, with or without the help of a hero. And her Queenship is innate, not determined by her social status or something to be supplanted by a King’s reign whilst she stands by, supporting him as a passive symbol of Sovereignty. She is empowered, she is power and has a little of the Dragon in her too. A lesson for all women.

The King is dead, long live the King; so the saying goes. But there is no new King to replace the old one. The old King was Patriarchy that supplanted the power of the Queen and led the People into imbalance within themselves and with the Land. This is what killed the Queen, the passive female supporter of the Patriarchy. The old King can no longer lead us when he has gone past his use-by-date. Replacing him with another King would  be repeating more of the same, just with new packaging.

It is the Healing Chalice we need. Where is the Healing Chalice? Where can we find it to heal all that is ill and poisoned? Can we restore the King back to life? Or the Queen? The Healing Chalice, like the Holy Grail, is spiritual. As Jesus said “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, and people will not say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” Each of us has the Healing Chalice within us. It has not disappeared; it has simply become entrusted to each of us so that we can all help heal the People and the Land. It is up to each of us to engage with our own spiritual journey within, to access our own inner resources of healing and wisdom and to use that in the service of Land and People.

It is in the power of every man to be a King. It is in the power of every woman to be a Queen. The Sovereign is one who keeps the balance within their People and between People and Land, making sure that justice is maintained and that true and noble Sovereignty is kept constant. Though one person cannot lead the People without the help of the People. The People themselves must commit themselves to the restoration of Sovereignty within and without and the healing of Land and People, with or without a leader.

If the kingdom lies within then we should strive to learn to be good Kings and Queens individually and maintain the balance within ourselves, within our own psyches. And that this inner balance be balanced with the surrounding environment. With the inner balance of each individual established and that in balance with the environment, then the balance of Land and People, of Earth and Humanity, naturally follows on from there.

Each of us is a King, each of us is a Queen, each of us is a Princess, each of us is a Warrior, each of us is the People, each of us is the Land, each of us is a Dragon and each of us is a Healing Chalice. Blessings on your Quest and upon mine also.  Let us seek out and restore the balance in the ways that we can, remembering this vow wherever the journey takes us.

“These days we are surrounded by debate and discussion about climate change. It is a complex scientific problem which is still not completely understood, and its implications could have major implications for the human species and indeed the rest of the world. Moreover, humans actions to reduce climate change and adapt to its effects could also have major implications. Inevitably, then, the issue is the topic of heated debate.” Richard Betts, Human-Caused Climate Change in Earthy Realism edited by Mary Midgley

After reading the science behind climate change AND the alternatives, I still wonder how people don’t understand it. Either they deny it completely or take the parts that are theory and think that it is fact. So I thought that I should explain a few of the facts behind it and reveal the legitimate doubt there is behind all of the confusion. This is a very simple overview, and there is more to climate change than just what humans are doing to it, but it’s a place to start…

Simple Fact: Greenhouse gases (like methane and carbon dioxide) absorb heat.

Too little and our climate cools down. Too much and our climate heats up.  Extremes either way make the atmosphere uninhabitable for life.

Not-So-Simple Fact (but a fact nonetheless): The collective action of life on Earth regulates and is regulated by the atmosphere to keep the atmosphere inhabitable.

The Earth is a closed system, barring the constant supply of solar energy and occasional meteorite and perhaps other cosmic phenomena, so it has its limitations, such as how well it can cope with stress to its system and how well it can maintain balance (see homeostasis).

Fact: The Earth’s climate changes naturally, being maintained between livable extremes of glacials (ice ages) and warmer interglacials (like now).

Fact: Humans are also having an impact on global warming.

Humans are digging up and burning carbon, as fossil fuels, and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  The capacity for the atmosphere to absorb heat is increasing, so, yes, it is getting warmer.

Another Fact: Humans are destroying a lot of ecosystems which weakens the Earth’s capacity to maintain itself at habitable levels for life.

One such destructive action is deforestation, which weakens the Earth’s capacity to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere. If we see the Earth like a body, we can say that humans are poisoning the Earth AND taking away the Earth’s ability to remove the poison, which, as the saying goes, adds insult to injury.

Legitimate Doubt: It is known that we are contributing to climate change but it is not known to what extent.

A spectrum between two possibilities exists, a best case scenario and a worst case scenario.

Best case scenario: We might only be warming things up a little more than usual, in which case the Earth will resume its usual climatic course and return to an Ice Age.

Worst case scenario:  That we reach some sort of tipping point where the Earth may not be able to recover sufficiently to return to an Ice Age and move into hotter climatic levels in which humans won’t be able to survive.

So, these things are not doubtful:

YES we can and do affect the planet.

YES we do have to be careful.

YES we can overpopulate the planet.

YES we can overuse resources.

YES nonbiodegradable matter can choke up the system if there is too much of it.

YES we can end up making our planet uninhabitable for ourselves.

And YES, we do have to review our effects on our planet’s capacity for life and effective changes in our ways to avoid potential climatic catastrophes.

The FACT that humanity can contribute to climate change ought to tell us that we are capable of reaching tipping point. Its happened to local civilisations that misused the environment, but now it could happen on a global scale. Considering all of the carbon that can be dug up and burnt and all the forests we are capable of cutting down, it’s not hard to imagine the Earth heading into the Worst Case Scenario, it is not impossible.

Here’s three books that I recomment reading;

Healing Gaia by James Lovelock- This is a more up to date and clarified overview of his Gaia Hypothesis, as it has since been revised, put under testing and shows its successful predictions. It also integrates some of the criticisms leveled at it and works to resolve and include these arguments within it, such as biological evolution and defining life.

Earthy Realism edited by Mary Midgely- With articles written by several people this includes explanations about Gaian or Earth Systems science but also looks at its implications for it in several aspects of human existence, political, social, economical, philosophical, ethical and spiritual.

Collapse: How societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared M.Diamond- I haven’t read it yet, but from what I’ve found on the internet of it, it shows some good examples of environmental collapse that causes the collapse of civilisations. In my “to read” list.