What happens when you stop pretending?
For over fifteen years, since my student days, I was a committed environmentalist. I used much of my writing, and the associated campaigning I filled up much of my life with, to try and stop the human machine from devastating the natural world.
It was around 2008 that I began to accept, reluctantly, that much of what I had (probably naively) imagined could be done was not possible. We weren’t going to stop climate change. We couldn’t prevent the onward march of the human economy, with much of its associated destruction. Instead, we seemed to be committed to a denuded future in a much poorer world.
It wasn’t a cheery message, but it seemed to me – it still does – to be an honest one. The question I wanted to answer was: where did it leave me? Where did it leave me as a writer, and where did it leave me as a human being? When you give up on the failing stories you have been telling yourself, what replaces them?
The Dark Mountain Project grew out of these questions. It marked my personal departure from campaigning writing and from identification with political movements and narratives. It first took form in a slim, self-published pamphlet called Uncivilisation, co-written with Dougald Hine. which called for a cultural response to what was, it seemed to me, a cultural crisis.
The roots of our converging global problems – peak oil, mass extinction, climate change, a cannibalistic economic model – are not technological, nor even economic, but are rooted in the stories we tell ourselves as a civilisation about who we are and where we are going. The Dark Mountain Project was set up to challenge these stories and begin to explore new ones.
Dark Mountain has taken off way beyond my imagining. Thousands of people from around the world have been involved since it launched in 2009, and the movement has broadened out from writers to take in painters, artists, philosophers, farmers, scientists, policy wonks, journalists and many more. We currently publish two books of ‘uncivilised writing’ every year, as well as staging occasional events and collaborations.