This is what happens sometimes when you play God:

“Birds dropped from the air. The sky rained mud. And, as men from the rig struggled to save themselves from the aftermath of (the) explosion . . . the Gulf of Mexico itself caught on fire.”

The Washington Post, covering a federal inquiry into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, summarized the scene, described by witnesses on a nearby supply ship, as “almost Biblical” — which is sort of a comic-book expression these days, but conjures up a moment of superstitious awe that, God knows, seems appropriate. This is love of nature stood on its head: nature as (wow!) spectacle. What a symbol for the profound alienation of our times.

And we’re all caught up in this crisis of faith, no matter where we position ourselves on the political spectrum. No matter how comfortable we are, no matter how securely gated our community, we live with profound insecurity, at the event horizon, you might say, of awareness: Civilization cannot go on this way. Our way of life is unsustainable. If we don’t destroy ourselves with our own nuclear-armed self-hatred, “nature” (as though this were a force separate from us) will do the job for us.

All of which brings me to the Dark Mountain Project, a growing movement out of the U.K. that challenges mainstream environmentalism, which it sees as hopelessly compromised, collusive with global capitalism and the myth of material progress, and tied to technical (rather than spiritual) solutions for the profound structural contradictions of Western civilization.

“But there is no Plan B,” reads the Dark Mountain manifesto, “and the bubble, it turns out, is where we have been living all the while. The bubble is that delusion of isolation under which we have laboured for so long. The bubble has cut us off from life on the only planet we have, or are ever likely to have. The bubble is civilisation.”

Civilization is far more fragile, the manifesto continues, than humanity in its arrogance is capable of acknowledging. Its foundation is planted in the planet’s finite supply of coal, oil and gas: “millions upon millions of years of ancient sunlight, dragged from the depths of the planet and burned with abandon.” Upon this base we have built, over the millennia, “a jumble of supporting horrors: battery chicken sheds; industrial abattoirs; burning forests; beam-trawled ocean floors; dynamited reefs; hollowed-out mountains; wasted soil. . . .

“We are the first generations born into a new and unprecedented age — the age of ecocide.”

The Dark Mountain Project’s controversial conclusion is that the collapse of our global civilization is both inevitable and necessary. Attempts to “save” it with green technology — more wind farms! more solar panels! — are, therefore, wasted efforts that ultimately feed the forces of greed and exploitation and become, therefore, part of the problem, not the solution.

Step one, then, seems to be that we must surrender to the inevitability of the collapse of our unsustainable civilization. “And so we find ourselves, all of us together, poised trembling on the edge of a change so massive that we have no way of gauging it.”

Step two, as far as I can tell, is pretty vague — and tangled in paradox. As critics of the Dark Mountain Project have pointed out, its “dark green” proponents are as much a part of the problem as the corporate greens, by virtue of the fact that they’re Internet-based, computer-dependent, woven as thoroughly into this unsustainable culture as everyone else. For instance, they’re holding a festival at the end of May in northern Wales; my guess is that most of the attendees will not be riding bicycles to get there.

I say this without sarcasm and in dark green solidarity with most, if not all, of the Dark Mountain Project’s analysis of our situation. Paradox is woven through the human condition. There’s no greater illusion, no tighter spiritual cul-de-sac, than the pursuit of ideological purity.

If we are indeed poised on the edge of massive and unprecedented change, and I believe we are, anyone pushing a comprehensive, detailed agenda of what to do next is probably a charlatan. I agree that the “solution” is not primarily technological. We have to give up the idea of being in control of the natural world; more to the point, we have to stop drawing the distinction between human beings and nature. We have to figure out how to reconnect with and befriend the rest of the planet and surrender, like an addict in a twelve-step program, to a higher power — to the universe itself.

And in the process of surrender, we will discover, I believe, not a dependence on but an interdependence with, all that we have consumed, exploited and taken for granted these last half-dozen millennia. We’re part of the cosmos, but we have to learn to listen to it.


Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at or visit his Web site at:

Common Wonders