The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight – Thom Hartmann, published by Hodder & Stoughton (London) and by Harmony Books – 1999
Thom Hartmann is well-known in the US as a liberal commentator. This book is about the declining availability of non-renewable energy and the impact that this will soon have on our world. The term “ancient sunlight” in the title of this book refers to the solar energy that was originally captured by plants and then stored in the form of hydro-carbons (oil, gas and coal) for hundreds of millions of years. Hartmann also produces the figures on the foreseeable impact of global warming and the rapid destruction of habitat, including the rain forests.
Hartman says: “Because of human actions – and inaction – our planet appears to be on a collision course with disaster.” He adds, “we long ago passed a human population number that could be sustained without the intensive use of gasoline and oil, so we are burning up a 300 million year old fossilized-plant resource (which, if things don’t change, is expected to run dry in the lifetimes of our children) in order to feed the six billion humans currently riding spaceship Earth. Many more may starve, even more than are starving today.
And virtually nothing is being done by governments to offset this very real possibility.”
He looks at the effects that current policies have had in third world countries such as Haiti, and argues that of all the major countries only China is now planning how to survive in the difficult times that lay ahead for the world. He argues that their investment in the Three Gorges Dam is being made for a future where oil is in very short supply. Hartmann also highlights the small margin the world has in terms of its food production, and says that, “food may well become the commodity that’s scare long before oil dries up.”
One of the book’s main arguments is that all Empires were destroyed by a failure in the availability of resources, rather than by external enemies. All this is the standard information provided by many environmentally aware individuals and bodies. True most people appear to be unaware of the problems, but it is accepted by the oil industry and governments that the is a time, which may be within the next few years, when demand for oil will exceed the available supply, “Peak Oil”. It is also recognized that the climate of the world has already been affected by global warming and that the changes will continue; especially after Europe’s extremely hot summer of 2003. However Hartmann goes further, he argues that contemporary culture is developing in ways which renders the citizenry non-resistant.
He says that; “Far more seductive than opium, infinitely more effective at shaping behavior and expectations than alcohol, and used for more minutes every day than tobacco, our culture’s most pervasive and most insidious ‘drugging agent’ is television.”
“People .. reply on that box for the majority of their information about how the world is, how their politicians are behaving, and what reality is, even thought the contents of the box are controlled by a handful of corporations..” Hartmann has no solutions for all the world’s problems, but he does make a strong case for looking to “older” cultures, like that of native Americans for ideas and we need to change our perception of the world. We says that in particular we need to stop our cultural domination of “Older Cultures”, he says, “when we see that our cultural practices in the name of ‘free trade’ and ‘modernization’ are vulgar and destructive to the health of the human community, perhaps we’ll be able to stop the ongoing exploitation and destruction of the resources and people of the Third World.”
You can disagree with Hartmann’s views, but what is most interesting is his belief that people can only face the environmental crisis which is coming (that I think is common knowledge now) by turning to the spirit and reaching out to the sacred, transforming our relationship with the planet we live on and with each other. He sees our present culture as sick and dysfunctional.
Hartmann ends this book by saying: “As you change your view of the world – and thus begin to change your ways of living and consuming, to invest your rituals with spirit – your life will easily and naturally change, bringing about the new ways of living which are now necessary as we face the last hours of ancient sunlight. Through this simple, practical, daily process, we begin to save the world.”
This is an important book, especially if you have not given any consideration to the environmental problems the world will face in the coming decades. I recommend it, even if you are not yet ready to throw out your television!
For a list of recommended books please click here.