The book was the first serious attempt to bring together the seemingly disparate crises of climate change, energy depletion, food scarcity, economic meltdown, terrorism, warfare, and state-militarisation, into a single framework of analysis and charts the probable demise of industrial civilization in its current form over the next few decades, and suggests a series of fundamental radical political, economic, cultural, ideological and ethical changes that communities need to explore to achieve a transition to more sustainable, equitable and participatory structures.
I’d also warned that our inability to understand the inherent interconnections and systemic context of contemporary crises would not only inhibit our capacity to respond to them effectively; but would lead inevitably to ill-conceived, short-sighted responses based on violence to control symptoms of crisis convergence, in order to maintain business-as-usual.
Suffice to say, my argument would hardly make fun, bedtime reading. So when film-maker Dean Puckett offered to help me promote my book on youtube, after bumping into him at a democracy rally in St. James Park, I was rather chuffed.
We arranged a date, and Dean came round my flat with his camera to interview me for what we both thought would be a cool little clip I could use on my blog or website. He sat opposite me in my little office, flicking through my book and asking me questions as he went. In the end, we conversed for nearly five hours. “Maybe we could make a series of clips, then”, ventured Dean as he left my flat.
About a week or so later, Dean called me up and told me how he’d experimented with splicing footage of our interview with old archive film footage from the 40s, 50s, and 60s – mostly social engineering films by corporations and government celebrating the supposed brilliance of industrial capitalism – to illustrate my thesis.
He’d also asked artist Lucca Benney to create an animation to represent one of the core themes of the book, leading to an eye-popping hand-drawn cartoon of the Unlimited Growth Monster.
The process of working with Dean and Lucca on a shoe-string budget to make the film was enlightening and exhilarating. For nearly a year, we worked to find ways to translate my ideas about civilizational crisis and the necessity of a radical transition to post-carbon societies into the format of a documentary feature film. It was an exercise in breaking down what in the book presents itself as a rigorous, complex and interdisciplinary argument drawing on hundreds of academic and industry sources, and articulating a sophisticated holistic theoretical framework; into an accessible one hour twenty minute narrative, chock full of startling stock footage imagery, modern newsreel, and colourful animations.
The message of the film, like the book, is ultimately simple. If we are going to overcome the convergence of civilizational crises we are now facing, we need to address the fundamental fragmentation in our approaches, and take a much broader, holistic view. But this needs to be done not just in a purely epistemological sense to do with the way we pursue knowledge – requiring joined-up and systemic thinking; but also in a practical sense, related to the way we do policymaking, and perhaps more importantly, activism.
Currently, we are simply not talking to each other. Our economists, politicians, agricultural experts, ecologists, business leaders, artists, and activists operate largely in self-contained silos – we rarely communicate across and between disciplinary boundaries, and even less do we actually actively coordinate our efforts. This fragmentation afflicts not just the way we pursue knowledge, it also characterises the way we devise policy, and accordingly, the way our societies end up functioning. As activists, then, there is a dire need for us to ensure that we counter this by making our activism holistic.We made this film as a tool which could help people get a better handle on the systemic interconnections between multiple, converging crises, and the urgent need for civilizational transition; but more importantly, to help activists and transitioners already somewhat aware of these issues to communicate them more effectively, powerfully and positively to a wider audience. The idea was to give people a solid framework with which to both understand everything that’s going wrong in the world, and thus recognise the necessity of radical systemic transformation in order for us to survive and perhaps even prosper in the twenty-first century.
to run with and show to your friends, families, colleagues, communities, elected and unelected representatives. Aware. Alert. Alive!
Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development in London. His latest book is A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (Pluto/Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). He is the writer and narrator of the documentary film, The Crisis of Civilization (2011)