With a depth of analysis that borders on the academic, Fleeing Vesuvius leaves almost no stone unturned and no aspect of living untouched in its sweeping treatise on how to avoid what it regards as the impeding collapse of civilisation and how to deal with the current crisis we have found ourselves in. Compiled by contributors specialising in a range of sectors including finance, business, food, media, politics, community organisation, energy, architecture, psychology and all the nooks in between, it is as pervasive as it is drastic.
The title is a reference to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79 which put paid to the Romans’ hubristic perception of themselves as untouchable. As editor, Richard Douthwaite, says: 'We are ignoring these eruptions in the way that inhabitants of Pompeii ignored the earthquakes that preceded the volcanic blast that destroyed them’. By 'eruptions', Douthwaite means the endless stream of evidence telling us that we are in the midst of a global emergency; peak oil and the financial crisis being two of the most significant.
The key theme of the book is fossil fuels and the need to become less dependent on them. It’s also the basis for the book’s main contention: that the introduction of fossil fuels into our societies is the cause of our current problems. This is a disappointingly reductivist premise for a book with such a wide scope. 'The common cause of all our crises today is our use of fossil fuels', Douthwaite asserts, while drawing an analogous relationship between fossil fuels and society, and the effects of an addictive drug on the metabolic system of the human body.
Although it would be difficult to describe the use of fossil fuels as a means to increase productivity as a healthy move, (and Douthwaite does provide ample evidence as to why), it cannot be decoupled from other factors affecting corporate dominance, such as the legal frameworks surrounding the production of profit for shareholders and Friedmanite market deregulation. The dominant business-ethic, which certainly is at the root of a substantial proportion of global issues, is a multi-faceted model, of which the use of fossil fuels is one significant part. The line 'tariff barriers were maintained to allow the continental industries to build themselves up...' implicitly acknowledges this: although fossil fuels created a new means of highly efficient production, financial techniques, driven by an ideology for market dominance, facilitated their global surge.
Returning to the drug addiction metaphor, it is the same as attributing addictive drugs (one assumes Douthwaite is referring to the more personally and socially detrimental choices like heroin and crack-cocaine as opposed caffeine) to the deterioration of a metabolic system while ignoring other factors that are deeply intertwined, such as the conditions of the black market.
The introduction is probably Fleeing Vesuvius' biggest downfall but the rest of the book is detailed, practical and concise. Packed with useful suggestions for ways in which modern society can be overhauled to save the environment, its uncompromising approach combined with extensive first hand experiences makes for a refreshing repertoire of arguably militant but highly practical alternatives.
Fleeing Vesuvius costs £17.50 and is available from Amazon
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