Get down off your Dark Mountain: you're making matters worse

path from a dark mountain
Drawing people's attention to the enormous challenges we face is one thing; revelling in the collapse of society is quite another. Dark Mountain could learn from Douglas Adams, says Solitaire Townsend...

'The End of the Universe is very popular', said Zaphod… 'People like to dress up for it…gives it a sense of occasion.'

In Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe diners enjoyed watching the obliteration of life, the universe and everything, whilst enjoying a nice steak.

When I first discovered The Dark Mountain Project I couldn’t help secretly hoping a bunch of uber-cool hipsters were making an ironic analogy between our current climate challenge, and Adams’ satire. Of course, it turns out there wasn’t a drop of irony involved.

This project/art installation/book/festival, ‘starts with our sense that civilisation as we have known it is coming to an end; brought down by a rapidly changing climate, a cancerous economic system and the ongoing mass destruction of the non-human world’.

Basically, the end of the world is nigh and there is sod all you can do about it. Extrapolate forward from their Principles of Uncivilisation and you’ll find that a bunch of us are going to be washed away but a few survivors will live in harmony with nature.

This is pretty gloomy stuff, even for two ex-journalists (a breed who seem often rained upon). But Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine have decided that life as we know it is over, the collapse is coming and it’s time to essentially turn off and restart human (particularly western capitalist) systems.

An orgy of Armageddon

My mounting frustration with Dark Mountain isn’t their brutal honesty about the problems, but a growing suspicion that, like the diners at the Restaurant, they are enjoying the show.

Their festival pamphlet reads like an orgy of Armageddon. A climate change session asks ‘how will we choose to live out the last years of the Holocene and mark its passing?’ Read on and commemoration begins to sound suspiciously like celebration. From biodiversity wipeout to financial crisis with a dollop of climate meltdown, all with a song, poem or workshop celebrating it. We have brought about a ‘Capitalist Holocaust’ and all the health, nutrition, education, women’s rights and choice in our societies don’t get a look in.

Aren’t they just being brutally honest? Haven’t all thoughtful people had their ‘what’s the point, we’re all screwed anyway’ moment?

Unfortunately the Dark Mountain message is playing right into a nascent and incredibly dangerous public narrative. The term ‘pro climate change’ is now showing 36,100 results in Google. Pro-climate change scientists are ‘tricking’ the data, pro-climate change liberals are manipulating the media, and pro-climate change spin doctors are in government.

If we’re not careful environmentalists and climate change will end up ‘on the same side’. We are becoming climate change’s cheerleaders, we’re so desperate for people to realise the magnitude of the looming threat that we begin to sound like fans. This narrative eats away at public trust, and can exile us to the problem side of the debate, rather than the solution.

But by implying we might actually want collapse, we strip ourselves entirely of the right to help prevent it. I’m sure the Dark Mountain founders didn’t intend their ‘brutal honesty’ to play into this narrative. But self-flagellation always has a suspicious air of gratification about it.  

An outcome of inaction

When a previously unimaginable threat looms there are always those prophesising the end of the world. And also always a few recommending hard work and a vision of a better future. Dark Mountain isn’t a prophesy: it’s the outcome of inaction.

I can’t help wondering how Dark Mountain’s philosophy would be taken in idealistic and progress-orientated countries like Brazil, China and India? They are facing the threat soonest and hardest, but President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives is hopefully representative of their response when he compares being a political prisoner with the climate fight: ‘I could have lost my life if I'd given it up. By simply believing in life you can get out of situations. I believe in human ingenuity. We are not doomed. We can succeed and we must work along those lines.’

Yes, we’ve got the fight of our lives ahead of us. On that I utterly and entirely agree. But must we not fight utterly and entirely against that destructive change? Get down off that gloomy mountain and get to work.

‘But what about the End of the Universe? We'll miss the big moment.’

‘I've seen it,’ said Zaphod, ‘it's rubbish, come on, let's get zappy.’

Solitaire Townsend is co-founder of sustainability consultancy Futerra. She is also a member of the United Nations Sustainable Lifestyles Taskforce

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