What happens when you stop pretending?
For nearly twenty years I have written about, and campaigned on, what we have all learned to call ‘environmental issues.’ I worked, as so many have and do, to try and stop the human machine from devastating the natural world. There were some successes. But there weren’t enough.
It was around 2008 that I began to accept, reluctantly, that much of what I wanted to do 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 changed and bleaker 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 this crisis, and out of these questions. In 2008 I met the writer and all-round ideas man Dougald Hine, and we began trying to answer them together. From these conversations came a slim, self-published pamphlet: Uncivilisation: the Dark Mountain Manifesto.
Uncivilisation called for a cultural response to what was, it seemed to us, a cultural crisis. In the face of an environmental movement focused on technological fixes and a cultural mainstream in fervent denial about the scale of the mess we are in, we were looking for something new.
We believe that the roots of our converging global crises – peak oil, mass extinction, climate change, a cannibalistic economic model – were not technological, nor even economic, but were 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 write new ones. Our challenge was to unlearn the ways of thinking that we took for granted, so as to be able to understand better the cultural currents that have got us to this point. In other words, to un-civilise our minds.
Dark Mountain has taken off way beyond our imagining. Our message seems to have struck a chord. Thousands of people have got in touch from around the world (many of them can be found on the Uncivilisation network) and the movement has broadened out from writers to take in painters, artists, philosophers, farmers, scientists, woodworkers, policy wonks, journalists and many more.
So far, the forms the project has taken include three books showcasing the kind of ‘Uncivilised writing’ called for in our manifesto, three festivals, with a fourth coming up in 2013, smaller events around the world, newspaper debates, an EP and other songs inspired by the project, art shows and local Dark Mountain branches.
Times are changing, and many of the old answers and old stories simply do not work any more. The Dark Mountain Project is an effort to search for new ones, more appropriate to the age of consequences in which we find ourselves living.