Fleeing Vesuvius:

Responding to the effects of economic and environmental collapse

Edited by Richard Douthwaite, Gillian Fallon and Living Economies.

New Zealand Preface by Jonathon Boston

Published by Living Economies Educational Trust, Carterton NZ (July 2011) Original edition by Feasta, Dublin, Ireland (November 2010)

ISBN: 978-0-473-19181-8


This remarkable book provides a comprehensive and lucid assessment of the social and environmental situation in which we find ourselves.  Underlying all of the essays of which it is composed is a bold acceptance that the foundations of the developed world, energy and finance in abundance and at low cost, will soon collapse.  This is the inevitable result of the convergence of natural limits on fossil fuel use; depletion of resources and saturation of sinks, with limits on ability to service the debt by which money is created. “Peak oil” is the critical event for both energy and finance. 

The opening essay by David Korowicz points out that the interdependent complexity and giant scale of the systems that constitute contemporary civilisation have a dynamic stability that cannot survive any reduction in energy supply.  Furthermore, these systems are self-organised and intrinsically uncontrollable. They cannot be reconfigured to avoid overshoot of natural limits and catastrophic collapse.  The essays that follow consider what is required to build a cushion that will enable a ‘soft landing’.  They are extraordinarily diverse in content and approach; from the subtleties of economics in Richard Douthwaite’s contributions to the frankness of Dmitry Orlov’s wry humour.  Together, they deal not only with the mechanics of new systems to supply human needs in the absence of fossil energy but also with the psychology, individual and collective, of this epochal transition. At the end of both the international contributions and the separate New Zealand section, there are Action Plans for an immediate start.

The general conclusion is that, in the absence of transport and communications that are integral parts of a system dependent on fossil energy, we need to develop local supplies of food, shelter, energy and technology that are independent of globalised networks.  There is recognition that this will entail significant loss of material benefits and capabilities that are presently taken for granted by many in our society.  This in turn will require major political and personal adjustment.  There is a pressing need to grow social infrastructure at the local level.

This special New Zealand edition is produced by Living Economies.  This valuable effort has brought us a body of work from “Feasta”, the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability, an international network based in Ireland and informed by that country’s recent economic misfortunes.  This is supplemented by work from twelve New Zealanders and includes reflections on the Christchurch earthquake disaster.

The book contains facts and insights of novelty and depth that will reward anyone with concerns about our global situation.  The essay format and the skill of the authors make for great readability. But most of all, the value of this compendium lies in the fact that it is suffused with hope.

Cliff Mason, Lyttelton, NZ