We are living in extraordinary times. A combination of climate change, energy crisis and resource shortages are undermining the industrial civilization that has dominated the globe for the last two centuries.
The questions and struggles of British Quakers over the coming decades will not be those of the past. The most pressing and controversial issues will no longer be about our relationship to our Christian and theist roots, or the challenges of pluralism and secularism. These were the debates of the age of globalization, that effectively ended with the financial collapse of 2007/8.
The debates of the age of the ‘long descent’ will be quite different. How do we prepare for a future of diminishing energy resources and a contracting economy? What aspects of our religious tradition need to be revived or transformed to meet the needs of the future? What ways of life, habits of thought, practical skills and spiritual practices can sustain us and our children through the profound changes that we are facing?
This is not a perspective that comes easily to British Friends, and it may turn out to be exaggeratedly pessimistic. It is certainly unrealistic, however, to expect the next few decades to continue on the same trajectory of accelerating economic growth and energy consumption that we have lived through since the 1950s.
The usually unacknowledged basis of much of the prosperity of the late 20th Century was cheap and abundant fossil fuel energy, chiefly oil. Just as Britain’s Industrial Revolution was powered by coal, it was the cheap and ever-increasing supply of oil that fuelled the last century’s massive expansions in industrial capacity and technology, first in the USA, and then throughout much of the world.
However, the physical limits to oil production are well-established. Once the cheapest and easiest to reach oil deposits are extracted, production first plateaus and then goes into an irreversible decline, as each remaining barrel of oil requires more energy and expense to extract. This pattern has already repeated itself over most of the world’s 800 major oilfields (including the
These hard facts of resource depletion and energy scarcity have far-reaching consequences for a civilization that has been built on the necessity of ever-increasing consumption. A prolonged period of economic contraction with spiralling energy, food and fuel costs; at the same time as climate change is blighting much of the world’s food producing capacity, will have deep political, social, cultural and spiritual effects as well as economic ones.
How will these global shifts affect our society, our economy and our own lives and neighbourhoods? How will they re-order our priorities and concerns as a religious community? And what resources and relationships will we have to draw on to guide and support us?