No place sacred: ENERGY (review)

December 14, 2012

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

With that in mind, the 195 color, mostly full page — often double page — photographs in the Post Carbon Institute’s latest book, ENERGY: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth, speaks volumes beyond its gigantic sized pages about the energy and environmental predicament humanity is immersed in today.

But while the book is heavy on blunt and unforgiving photographs, it also boasts a series of probing essays from such peak oil luminaries as John Michael Greer and Richard Heinberg; commentary and analysis by eco philosophers-cum-farmer/cultivators Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry, and insight from America’s most famous global warming activist Bill McKibben.

Twenty-five other writers, observers, and analysts also contributed to the project.

Let your coffee table do the talking

Image Removed Every peak oil-aware person out there knows the difficulty of convincing the energy unaware of energy crisis using plain language, logical arguments, facts, metaphors, analogies, and any other explanatory or storytelling device that makes evident the peak-everything case.

Same goes for chatting up global warming deniers, technotopians, and the just-go-green crowd.

That’s where this book comes to the rescue.

First of all, like I said, it’s physically huge. No one’s going to miss it sitting there on your coffee table screaming out in boldly graphical type: ENERGY, above a photo of BP’s exploding and iconic Deepwater Horizon.

Any visitor to your living room, office, or even dorm room will inevitably ask about the book and be drawn to flipping through it.

That’s when those 195 pictures are worth 195,000 words! So give your visitor all the silence necessary to let the book’s many intense, arresting, and provocative images speak for themselves.

And then wait for it. Now’s your opening.

With the visually uncomplicated aid of the book you can explain a thing or two about peak oil/peak-energy/peak-ecosystem, how you became aware, and why it’s a concern to you. By having in mind a few photos to flip to — one’s that you particularly connect with — you can go forth with your script and the floodgates of curiosity open to more.

In other words, this book is one heckuva ice breaker. No pun intended, Mr. McKibben.

A lovin’ spoonful

But make no mistake, ENERGY isn’t simply for imparting a raft of intellectual information about our worsening energy predicament. The book’s opening dedication reveals a higher purpose than just that:

For the wild creatures whose habitat is being destroyed by a rapacious energy economy, and for the children whose breathing is labored due to pollution from fossil fuels. May a future energy economy that mirrors nature’s elegance arrive soon enough to relieve their suffering.


A clear vision

Explaining in the Foreword that the book began as an idea in which to reveal the devastating toxicity of tar sands development, conservationist Douglas R. Tompkins says that it soon became obvious that the project should expand, aiming to explain and link all contemporary energy sources to expose a more complex, interrelated picture of human resource use and its far reaching impacts.

Seen and unseen, energy-related impacts are ubiquitous. Even the chemical composition of the atmosphere records the way that humanity is using energy. As soon as one looks beneath the surface — behind the light switch or gasoline pump — one sees an energy economy that is toxic to nature and people….

A deeper look at the energy picture reveals ugliness.

And ugly it is.

The reader is immediately plunged into that truth as the following 25 double-folio full page photographs detail a raft of eco horror shows resulting from our violently extractive and resource-heavy energy economy.

Behind the curtain

It’s difficult to pick the most arresting from this initial onslaught of photos — each one nearly outdoes the last with an unadulturated bird’s eye view into the hidden world of humanity’s seemingly insatiable appetite for energy slaves.

But my personal favorite, if such a thing can be said, is “No Place Sacred,” a picture of a clergyman outside a church with an ominously billowing dark cloud of coal smoke emanating from the too-close coal-fired towers flanking the church on all sides.

As a Christian woman I couldn’t help but see the contrast between the God that I love and His humble church on earth and the polluting atmosphere that human greed and corporate profits engender.

But not every photo in the book is grim, though most are. The editors reserved a few shots for the beauty of the earth, the diversity of her inhabitants, and the awe of creation (or geology, geography, ecosystems, if you prefer). It is a beautiful earth indeed, making the unflinchingly destructive extraction impacts doubly sorrowful in the comparison.

The book goes on to look in pictures and words at every industrial energy source people use to fuel the globalized economy, offering hours of information to plumb and yet the immediacy of pictures to return to again and again.

With any luck, ENERGY: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth will be to understanding resource extraction and fossil fuel use what the documentary film Chasing Ice is rapidly becoming in the case for global warming action.

To that end there’s a place for this book just waiting on your coffee table — and for your conversations — too.

–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

Lindsay Curren

Lindsay Curren is Editor-in-Chief of Transition Voice, the online magazine on peak oil. She also writes Lindsay's List, the women's conservation blog. She's the co-founder of Transition Staunton Augusta for which she leads a community garden. Lindsay is the mother of two daughters.

Tags: book review, economic growth, Energy, environmental damage, Fossil Fuels