Geographical recently reported that pledges to reduce CO2 emissions at the Paris climate conference lack ambition. This divergence between public commitments, ambition and the impacts of climate change represents a long-standing tension that led to the creation of what might be described as the world’s slowest, most thoughtful think tank, the Dark Mountain Project – a network of writers, artists and thinkers who ‘have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself. We see that the world is entering an age of ecological collapse, material contraction and social and political unravelling, and we want our cultural responses to reflect this reality rather than denying it.’
‘People were getting up and making speeches at rallies and events they had been making five years earlier with the same rhetoric, saying that with one more push we could deal with climate change, but if you met these people later in the evening you would find they were disappointed to the point of despair,’ says Dougald Hine, who co-founded the project. ‘The gap between the movement seemed to be such that the priests had lost their faith, but the people were not ready to hear the bad news.’
This desire for an honest accounting led to the Dark Mountain Project, which is less an attempt at taking environmentalism in a new direction, and more about creating a sensibility and an acceptance that the current industrial life, as led by approximately 1.5 billion people, might be completely unsustainable. Having grown out of a feeling that contemporary literature and art were failing to respond honestly or adequately to the scale of entwined ecological, economic and social crises, the project believes that ‘writing and art have a crucial role to play in coming to terms with this reality, and in questioning the foundations of the world in which we find ourselves’. Dark Mountain’s activities are eclectic, and include curating a small festival in Wales, publishing books and songwriting.
‘If you go back six or seven years then the environmental movement was coming to a crisis and a parting of ways,’ says Hine. ‘You now have environmentalists who have gone off on a much more tech-based, pro-geo engineering, progress on steroids. That doesn't fit with our experience, our values of why we came into the movements that we have become part of.’
‘One thing that is clear is that [now] you don't hear very much talk that if we organise enough around Paris we will get a global agreement to end climate change,’ says Hine.
But there was a time when the approach was different, perhaps a little deluded, as expectations ran high. ‘If you go back to Copenhagen [the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference] it was different. The disappointment was very great. It broke people. And what I’m seeing this year is that the disappointment is almost factored in,’ says Hine.
Hine points out that there is a perception that the impact from climate change is something that will happen in the future when in fact the disaster is already in progress: ‘I don't find the Anthropocene particularly satisfying because it is shadowed by a kind of dark pride in some way. When you start talking about humanity having become so powerful that we are a geological force, it is easy to confuse two different kinds of power, the power to destroy and the power to manage or control things.’
The Dark Mountain Project isn’t prescriptive. It has a pessimistic scepticism towards coping with climate change. The situation is much more grave than people realise and there is no simple solution. Hine emphasises that the project wants to give people an opportunity to think over the problem slowly.
‘I hope it is contributing to a culture better able to deal with the fear, doubt and uncertainty,’ he says. ‘Since the beginning of agriculture, everything we know of has taken place in the Holocene. Whatever we are moving into it is going to be a very different world, and with a lot of loss on many different scales, but I hope the kind of help we offer will provide a way to understand and find the possibilities for doing the best job we can under the circumstances.’