Green Wizards

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= project for individuals to learn self-production skills for a Post "Peak Oil" world, proposed by John Michael Greer, and to be contrast with the community-based approach of the Transition Town movement


"green wizards: By this I mean individuals who are willing to take on the responsibility to learn, practice, and thoroughly master a set of unpopular but valuable skills – the skills of the old appropriate tech movement – and share them with their neighbors when the day comes that their neighbors are willing to learn." (


Interesting proposal by John Michael Greer on creating a handbook for the coming generation of green wizards:

1. Establishing the Gaianomicon

“You’re looking, of course, for books from the original appropriate technology movement of the 1970s and 1980s. There were hundreds of them back in the day, a small number from the large publishing houses of the time and a great many more from struggling presses run by individuals, or by the little nonprofit groups that created so much of appropriate tech. You may find anything from professionally bound hardbacks with dust jackets down to staplebound pamphlets with hand-sketched illustrations. You may find them in the gardening section, or in the home repair section, or in the science section, or in the nature section, or in a special section all its own labeled “Homesteading” or “Back to the Land” or something like that. (I haven’t yet found a store that labeled it “Naked Hippie Stuff,” but hope springs eternal.) You may even find it jumbled up all anyhow with the general nonfiction because the proprietor of the used book store has no idea where to put it.

Wherever it turns up, you’re looking for a book on organic gardening, energy conservation, renewable energy, or anything related to them, preferably one that includes hands-on projects or ecological philosophy, or some of both. If you get one of the classics – The Integral Urban House, Other Homes and Garbage, Rainbook, The Book of the New Alchemists, The Food and Heat Producing Solar Greenhouse, or the like – that’s good, but it’s not required. It counts just as much if you find a little staplebound pamphlet on composting, or a ragged trade paperback from a small press on building a solar oven, or an old Rodale Press hardback on insulated window coverings, or what have you.

There are two points to this exercise – well, actually, two and a half. The first point is that your work with green wizardry certainly shouldn’t be limited to what one middle-aged archdruid has studied and practiced, under sometimes sharply limiting conditions, over the last thirty years or so. If you make appropriate tech part of your life – and if you intend to practice it at all, that’s pretty much what you need to do – at least a modest library of books on the subject is essential. You will develop your own personal take on appropriate tech, and your own personal style in putting it to work; the books you read and study, whether you agree with them or not, will help you start the process of bringing the take and the style into being.

The second point is that many of these books are nearing the end of their useful lives. The limited budgets available to most of the appropriate tech presses meant that most of the books were printed on cheap paper and bound by whatever method cost least. If they’re going to become anything but landfill, and if the information they contain is going to find any sort of new home, somebody needs to take responsibility for making that happen and, dear reader, it might as well be you.

The half point is that the appropriate tech movement, like any other movement on the fringes of the acceptable, had its own quirky culture and its own distinctive take on things. If you were learning a martial art, let’s say, an important part of your early learning curve would have to do with picking up the customs and traditions and little unspoken rituals of the art, which have nothing to do with how to block a punch and everything to do with navigating the learning process and interacting constructively with your teachers and fellow students. This remains important even when the movement no longer exists and the surviving participants have either gone on to other things or have spent the last thirty years laboring away in isolation at ideas and practices nobody else cares about; your task is harder, that’s all, and one of the few ways you can get a sense of the culture of the movement is to spend time with its writings and its material products.

So that’s the second part of your quest for the fragments of the Gaianomicon. The third and final part is simpler, and those of you who are wondering why you can’t just do all your book shopping on the internet can take heart, because this part of the assignment can be done online if you like. Your task here is to get a good basic book on ecology. If at all possible, it should be a book from the late 50s, 60s or 70s, when the concept of the ecosystem was central to the field in a way that hasn’t always been the case since then; the ecosystem approach is central to the way of thinking we’ll be exploring in posts to come, and a good grounding in it will be essential.

If you don’t have any previous background in the life sciences – and if what you have is what you got in American public schools, that amounts to no previous background – a book I like to recommend is a deceptively simple little volume called Basic Ecology, by Ralph and Mildred Buchsbaum. Originally published in 1957, it has been in print ever since, and provides a clear introduction to the ideas you’ll need in a very readable and nontechnical form. If you’ve got enough background that a serious textbook holds no terrors for you, one to get is Eugene P. Odum’s Fundamentals of Ecology, probably the classic statement of the ecosystem approach. There are other good books on ecology to be had, however; while you’re at the used book store, you might want to take the time to see what’s in stock.

So those are your initial textbooks or, to use the archetypal metaphor with which I introduced this post, the tomes of ancient and forgotten lore you need to gather in order to begin your training as a green wizard: the Master Conserver handouts, one or more old appropriate-tech books, and a good introduction to the science of ecology with a focus on the ecosystem concept. If you already happen to have the latter two sitting on your bookshelves, and I know some of my readers do, that’s great; if not, please try to get them over the next week or so. Either way, put some time into reading them, and think about how the ideas contained in them might be applicable to the challenges of a world on the far side of peak oil. Next week we’ll start weaving some of those ideas together and exploring how the green wizardry of appropriate tech can be put to work. “ (


Greer: Why Green Wizards will be a vital resource for humanity

“Pierre Riché’s useful study Education and Culture in the Barbarian West showed in detail how the educational institutions of the late Roman world imploded as their economic and social support systems crumpled beneath them. In Europe – matters were a little more complex in the Muslim world – they were replaced by a monastic system of education that, in its early days, fixated almost entirely on scriptural and theological studies, and by methods of training young aristocrats that fixated even more tightly on the skills of warfare and government. Only among families with a tradition of classical letters did some semblance of the old curriculum stay in use, and Riché notes that while that custom continued, those who learned philosophy, one of the core studies in that curriculum, were widely suspected of dabbling in magic. It’s not too hard to connect the dots and see how a subculture of freelance intellectuals, equipped with unusual knowledge and a willingness to stray well outside the boundaries set by the culture of their time, would have emerged from that context.

All this may seem worlds away from the issues raised earlier in this essay, but there’s a direct connection. The wizards of the early Middle Ages were individuals who recognized the value of certain branches of knowledge and certain attitudes toward the world that were profoundly unpopular in their time, and took it on themselves to preserve the knowledge, cultivate the attitudes, and make connections with those who shared the same sense of values,or at least were interested in making practical use of the skills that the knowledge and attitides made possible. There was no mass movement to support the survival of classical science in the sixth and seventh centuries CE, and no hope of starting one; the mass movements of the time – when they weren’t simply stampeding mobs trying to get out of the way of the latest round of barbarian invasions – embraced the opposite opinion. How much of a role wizards might have played in the transmission of classical learning to the future is anyone’s guess, since records of their activities are very sparse, but it’s clear that they were an intellectual resource much used during an age when few other resources of the kind were available.

I’ve come to think that a strategy of the same kind, if a bit more tightly focused, might well be one of the best options just now for an age when very few people are willing to make meaningful preparations for a difficult future. Certain branches of practical knowledge, thoroughly learned and just as thoroughly practiced by a relatively modest number of people, could be deployed in a hurry to help mitigate the impact of the energy shortages, economic dislocations, and systems breakdowns that are tolerably certain to punctuate the years ahead of us. I’m sure my readers have their own ideas about the kind of knowledge that might be best suited to that context, but I have a particular suggestion to offer: the legacy of the apppropriate technology movement of the 1970s.

This was not simply a precursor of today’s sustainability projects, and the differences are important. The appropriate tech movement, with some exceptions, tended to avoid the kind of high-cost, high-profile eco-chic projects so common today. Much of it focused instead on simple technologies that could be put to work by ordinary people without six-figure incomes, doing the work themselves, using ordinary tools and readily available resources. Most of these technologies were evolved by basement-shop craftspeople and small nonprofits working on shoestring budgets, and ruthlessly field-tested by thousands of people who built their own versions in their backyards and wrote about the results in the letters column of Mother Earth News.

The resulting toolkit was a remarkably well integrated, effective, and cost-effective set of approaches that individuals, families, and communities could use to sharply reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and the industrial system in general. It was not, I should probably point out, particularly esthetic, unless you happen to like a lively fusion of down home funk, late twentieth century garage-workshop, and hand-dyed back-to-the-land hippie paisley; those of my readers who own houses and are still fretting about their resale value (and haven’t yet figured out that this figure will be denominated in imaginary numbers for the next several decades at least) will likely run screaming from it; those who were incautious enough to buy homes in suburban developments with restrictive covenants will have to step carefully, at least until their neighbors panic. Apartment dwellers will have to pick and choose a bit; on the other hand, those of my readers who will spend time living in tarpaper shacks before the Great Recession ends – and I suspect a fair number of people will have that experience, as a fair number of people did the last time the economy lost touch with reality and imploded the way it’s currently doing – will find that very nearly everything the appropriate tech people did will be well within their reach.

What’s included in the package I’m discussing? Intensive organic gardening, for starters, with its support technologies of composting, green manure, season extenders, and low-tech food preservation and storage methods; small-scale chicken and rabbit raising, and home aquaculture of fish; simple attached solar greenhouses, which make the transition from food to energy by providing heat for homes as well as food for the table; other retrofitted passive solar heating technologies; solar water heating; a baker’s dozen or more methods for conserving hot or cool air with little or no energy input; and a good deal more. None of it will save the world, if that hackneyed phrase means maintaining business as usual on some supposedly sustainable basis; what it can do is make human life in a world suffering from serious energy shortages and economic troubles a good deal less traumatic and more livable.” (

Greer: The fallacy of putting hopes in mass movements

Implicit critique of the community or movement based approach of the Transition Town movement:

One of the reasons ‘green wizards’ will be important:

“Now it’s easy to insist that getting people in the door is the important thing, and once they’re in the movement they can be led gradually to more accurate views. The history of mass movements shows otherwise with depressing consistency. The leaders who imagine themselves drawing the masses step by step to some better set of beliefs and behaviors generally find out the hard way, as their predecessors did, that they are the ones who will be drawn step by step into whatever set of beliefs and behaviors will maximize the size and influence of the movement they head – which amounts to whatever set of beliefs and behaviors the masses want them to have. We’ve already seen some parts of the peak oil scene moving in this direction; the insistence that an optimism that will attract crowds is more important than a realism that can guide a meaningful response comes to mind in this context.

The pursuit of a mass movement is not the only option we’ve got, fortunately, and other options – one of which I plan on exploring in detail in next week’s post, and in the weeks to come – offer a great deal more potential for viable change. Still, one of the simplest was on display in the quiet little library and meeting room of the Philadelphia United Lodge of Theosophists. The ULT stayed aloof from Annie Besant’s shenanigans, and has quietly continued to follow the original plan of the movement, offering lectures and opportunities for study to those who are willing to learn. I went there after dinner and took in a talk and a lively discussion about certain points of Theosophical teaching, and had a fine time. Druidry and Theosophy are by no means the same thing, but there’s enough common ground to make for congenial conversation, and you don’t come through the kind of traditional occult training I had back in my misspent youth without knowing your way around Theosophical ideas. When I walked back to the hotel that evening, the day felt a lot less like a waste.

Still, the moment that remains with me happened before the meeting, while I was chatting with some of the Theosophists. One elderly African-American man mentioned that a few years back, considering the state of the world, he and his wife had decided to give up their car. Of course, he admitted, it involved some changes, but Philly public transit got them where they needed to go, and he found that doing without the costs of car ownership left him with so much money left over at the end of the month that at first he kept checking to make sure he’d paid all his bills.

I thought about him as I took the train home the next day, and I also thought about the Amish family seated behind me on the train, father and the boys in white shirts and black hats, mother and the girls in bonnets and ankle-length dresses, talking quietly to each other in the German dialect everyone around here calls Pennsylvania Dutch. The lesson I took from them is that it’s the choices of individuals that ultimately make any difference that’s going to be made. It’s tempting to think that the social pressure of a mass movement can lead people to make changes they aren’t willing to make on their own, but in practice, that’s not the way it works; instead, what generally happens is that sooner or later, those who hoped to lead the world to some shining future en masse find themselves sitting in the smoking crater left by the total implosion of their dreams, wondering what happened. It would be unfortunate, to use no stronger word, to have that sort of fiasco replicated in the peak oil movement.” (

Response from Rob Hopkins of the Transition Town movement


"So, first question, what is a ‘green wizard’? Greer defines green wizards thus, “individuals who are willing to take on the responsibility to learn, practice and thoroughly master a set of unpopular but valuable skills – the skills of the old appropriate technology movement – and share them with their neighbours when the day comes that neighbours are willing to learn”. The idea, as I read it, is that any notion of a co-ordinated response, a la Heinberg’s ‘Powerdown’, a scenario where communities self-organise and work with, or without, their local authorities, to start the rebuilding of that settlement’s resilience, reduce its oil dependency and carbon footprint, is now for the bin, condemned as impractical and unrealistic. Greer appears to have given up any notion that such a thing might be possible, stating “a movement is a great thing if you want to hang out with congenial people and do interesting things together. It’s just not usually a good way to make change happen”.

Both Transition and green wizardry are based on the ideas that peak oil, and peak various other things too, will lead to a future of economic contraction and declining net energy availability, where the communities that are most successful are those that have most successfully strengthened and refocused their local economies in advance. Both (as I understand it) believe in the need for stronger local food networks, more back garden production, more local ownership of key utilities such as energy generation, and for a rediscovery of local building materials, seasonal foods and so on. Greer’s latest post, The Care and Feeding of Time Machines, is a fascinating distillation of useful tips and ideas around season extending, which will be of great interest and use to many involved in Transition. Much of the information being unearthed and rediscovered by the green wizards will be very useful for those involved practically in building resilience at a local level, and it is a very valuable and fascinating project. I do, however, have a few concerns about green wizardry." (

John Michael Greer's response is here:

Do ‘Green Wizards’ build community resilience?

Rob Hopkins:

This is the ultimate question for me. Would having green wizards in my community make it more resilient? I don’t think so. When talking about resilience, I mean the ability of my community to withstand shock from the outside, to not unravel at the first sign of difficulty, and to be able to reinvent itself, using the shock as an opportunity to reimagine and remake itself in a way more appropriate to a world of energy descent. For me, resilience refers to more than the ability to not fall apart when catastrophe strikes, rather resilience is a desirable state in itself, something to strive for because, if done properly, it stands a higher chance of meeting our needs in uncertain times than business-as-usual does.

My first point here is that there are already plenty of green wizards in my community, people with a range of skills. Transition’s working assumption has always been that we need a ‘Great Reskilling’, that we have become collectively vastly useless. However, the research I just completed that looked at Totnes found that actually people are far more skilled than we might give them credit for. The survey I conducted showed that 66% of people stated that they were ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ at food growing, and other methods such as focus groups confirmed this, that a lot more people are gardening than one might imagine. They learn not from government programmes, but largely from friends and neighbours, from people, like green wizards, who are just living it and doing it. The idea that we can build resilience by brushing up on canning techniques and swapping knitting techniques, while not wishing to dismiss the importance of those skills, is rather missing the point.


What green wizardry is definitely not, though, by any stretch of the imagination, is a response to climate change. Becoming a walking appropriate technology library is not going to do anything to reduce your community’s carbon emissions. Climate change doesn’t work like peak oil. It isn’t something that builds to one moment of collapse, a point where circumstances determine that suddenly people see that you were right all along. The need presented by climate change is to reduce emissions today, and to cut them as hard and as deep as possible. Our 1970s ‘how-to’ library has nothing to say in terms of measuring carbon, nor how to most effectively reduce it, producing nothing like Chris Goodall’s ‘How to Live a Low Carbon Life’.

Green wizardry also falls short because it fails to acknowledge that a transition on the scale it is presumably designed as a reponse to will be anything more than purely a challenge of an absence of practical know-how. Communities faced with the realities of energy descent, whether rapid onset, stepped descent or rapid unravelling will be faced with much more than simply a need for windmill designs and guides to making good compost. It is not purely an outer process, indeed the practical solutions side of it is the easier side. Ensuring clear communication, dealing with conflict, supporting people through the grief of the future not turning out in the way they had spent their lives so far imagining it would, is equally important. Are the green wizards also dusting off 1970’s self help manuals?" (