The Rising of the Waters

A call for submissions for Dark Mountain: Issue 6

is the co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project, of which he was director from 2009-2017, He is the author of nine books - three novels, two poetry collections and four works of non-fiction - all of which, it turns out, tell the same story: how we walked away from the wild world, and how we might get home again, if we can. He runs the Wyrd School which teaches wild writing and art and lives in the west of Ireland.
I grew up in the south of England. It is where my family comes from and has lived for centuries. It is my heritage, and wherever I go, it will be in me. This is what your culture does to you: there is no escape from the sediment it leaves within. It is best to get to the point where you don’t need to escape.

The south of England of my childhood, and young adulthood, was overcrowded, mostly suburban, crawling with motorways and spreading chain stores; its old human culture was shrinking away. But still, it had frosty downs, green hills, white fields, hedges of blackthorn and woodbine, chalk carvings, ancient barrows, bluebell woods and small, old pubs. Our ancestral home, or our childhood place, stirs conflicting feelings in us. I once wrote a book which, in retrospect, seemed to be trying to reconcile those feelings with each other.

The place you grow up seems, if you are lucky, to be a solid one. I wanted to escape those suburbs and motorways for years, and I did, in the end. But they always had an aura of agelessness about them. The south of England seemed an eternal place. It saw off Hitler and Napoleon and revolutions and strikes and wars, and the ‘invincible green suburbs’, as Orwell famously called them, never seemed likely to fall.

But what the dictators couldn’t do, the waters can. For the last few weeks, the south of England has been flooded, to a degree that hasn’t been seen for years – even though ‘the floods’ have become, quietly unacknowledged, an annual event now. Gradually, quietly but entirely inexorably, everything I knew is sinking.

This is Worcester, where I was born:


This is Oxford, where I lived for fifteen years. Behind that iron fence on the left is my old allotment:


This is Marlow, where I used to go fishing on the Thames. I never caught anything:


This is Muchelney on the Somerset levels: I’ve been here every year for the last five years or so, for the annual Scythe Festival, because this is the kind of thing I do in my spare time.  I’m not sure there’ll be any grass this year:


Sometimes I feel like I’m being stalked. But I’m lucky: I don’t live in these places anymore. I live in the North of England now, and I’ve made sure I don’t live near a river. Many people have not been so fortunate.

I’ve been tracking the BBC reports on the flooding, and it was only yesterday, to my knowledge, that the dam finally cracked, and a discussion about climate change actually began. A spokesperson from the Met Office dutifully repeated what climate scientists and meteorologists have been saying for decades: no, it’s not possible to link specific weather events to climate change definitively, but yes, this fits with the pattern of weather changes that were predicted. In fact, it is all happening faster than was expected. Weather patterns around the globe are going haywire, and that’s not going to change now. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is at record levels, and we are continuing to pump the stuff up there at an accelerating pace. From here on in, it is all change; to what degree and at what speed, we have no idea.

We are not in control, and we don’t like it.

What is interesting to me personally is to see this hitting the south of England so hard. For a long time, environmentalists have been telling us that it is the poor who will be hit hardest by climate change. Of course, they are right in many ways. The flooding of Bangladesh is going to be much worse for its people than the flooding of England. Nevertheless, what we can see here is people in one of the richest countries in the world taking the full force of the climate shift that is now beginning.  It has been happening elsewhere for a long time; it will keep happening, everywhere. This is just my small, local perspective on a shift that is taking place across the planet. The reality of that shift – of its scale, likely depth and inevitability – is only just beginning to seep into the public consciousness. But like the flood waters, it can’t be held back. In the end, it will cover everything.

How are people responding? Mostly, they are blaming the government and the Environment Agency. This is a tried and tested response throughout human history: when things go wrong, blame the elites. This applies even if you had no complaints about the same elites when the money was flowing in your direction just a few years before. Hence today, few people are blaming climate change, and even fewer people are blaming their own actions. But how many of us who are or who will be flooded in countries like this fly off on regular holidays to the sun, or drive unnecessarily large cars, or own or aspire to big houses full of consuming and polluting gadgets? Most people, probably. We’ve been brought up to believe that this is progress, after all. Well, here is progress turning around to eat us. Nobody is safe now from being consumed.

But there’s something else here as well, which is worth reflecting on.  Since we set out on the Dark Mountain expedition five years ago, we have published much writing analysing the twin poles of Progress and Apocalypse which our civilisation is so hooked on. When we talk of the future, which we so often do, it is easy for us to cleave to one of these poles. Depending on our ideological bent, we find it very comfortable, and very easy, to see either a total collapse of society, or a Star Trek-like progress to the stars. It is easy to imagine that what we currently call progress will continue in the same direction, until everyone in the world is a car-driving consumer with a flight to the moon booked for their holiday. It is equally easy, and strangely comforting, to imagine everything falling apart in rapid period of time; a total and immediate collapse, from which there will be no recovery.

What is much harder – what seems almost impossible sometimes – is to imagine a gradual grinding down of our civilisation. What is harder it is to imagine another century of floods, with the waters rising higher every year. No apocalypse and no bases on Mars. No industrial collapse followed by a return to hunter gathering, and no Singularity either. Just a gradual, messy, winding-down of everything we once believed we were entitled to. The American writer John Michael Greer wrote an interesting blog post about this recently, with a similar take on this coming reality:

… imagine that this is your future: that you, personally, will have to meet ever-increasing costs with an income that has less purchasing power each year; that you will spend each year you still have left as an employee hoping that it won’t be your job’s turn to go away forever, until that finally happens; that you will have to figure out how to cope as health care and dozens of other basic goods and services stop being available at a price you can afford, or at any price at all; that you will spend the rest of your life in the conditions I’ve just sketched out, and know as you die that the challenges waiting for your grandchildren will be quite a bit worse than the ones you faced.

This possibility, for the population of the rich world at least,  is somehow more terrifying than apocalypse, yet we don’t want to talk about it. What would happen if we did?

What would happen if we took it seriously – as something to write about, think about, imagine, engage with? Make no mistake: to do that  is to re-imagine our attitudes to the future. It is to walk away from those twin poles and stand in an uncertain place between them; a real place, where no easy answers are forthcoming. What happens if we make a conscious effort to go beyond the comforting fantasies of both endless progress and inevitable apocalypse, and take this grinding-down seriously? What if this is your future, and that of your children and theirs? How does your worldview change?

This is the question we are putting to you as we open submissions for Dark Mountain book 6. Imagine this future. Write about it. Create art about it. Use it as a jumping-off point for your creative response. If you are tempted by the twin daemons of Progress or Apocalypse, push them away, and watch the waters rising instead.

These are the questions we offer to you as we ask for submissions for our sixth collection of uncivilised writing and art. Take them,  do with them what you will, and send us the results.We look forward to seeing your responses to the rising of the waters.

Dark Mountain: Issue 6 will appear in October of this year (book 5 is currently being typeset and will hit the streets in April.) The deadline for submissions is Sunday, 4 May 2014. Please read our submissions guidelines before you send us any work.


  1. First time on your website. Was given link by relative. Yesterday, I went to the “Daybreak Magazine” website from a link with Star Trek materials. Optimism is okay: Pollyanna may have had an agreeable personality.

    The decisions are made on the margins. The edges and fringes have so many endearing and irritating qualities. Hope to check out materials on your website in the future. Just not too long into the future…

  2. Are the “Dark Mountain” books and resources available in electronic formats? Glossy books just seems too corporate though more permanent and durable materials can be a good thing too.

  3. I just read your manifesto. I put input into “Green theory” in Wikipedia and your approach is at least one part of the possibilities of the future. But I would not wish to throw out the baby with the bathwater: there may be some aspects of civilisation that may be ponderable — and preservable. Preservation itself is an aspect of civilisation. It is too easy to suggest a synthesis of ‘civilisation’ and ‘uncivilisation’ as real choices must be made.

    Political science was misnamed. It is more of an art than a science and although policy-making resembles problem-solving, and uses policy instruments (nodality, treasure, authority, and organisation) as tools to influence humanity. Humanity and humanitarianism can have an ecosystem-centred basis.

    That “idol” of the ‘laager’ or circle of wagons against the outside which is the metaphor for cities, nations, or even planetary consciousnesses, is the basis or growing edge where we can become more inclusive and less exploitative. Power always has a context.

    Discourse is good. Total propaganda is assumed to be bad. Communication can be a process of making space for the other. Seeking out other othernesses is often what literature is about. Naming them does not justify exercising power over them. Domesticating and taming ourselves might well not be justifiable either. Artists do have discipline though.

    Paying attention to the factors of military might and overcoming these with a culture of nonviolence is a challenge. Poets who have studied the epic war poetry and novels and drama – these can assist with a vision of what the warriors need to know. Loving the outsiders means educating the warriors.

  4. also first time landed here. Maybe it’s an old/new story: After many years I’m still listening to Blake, and also among the English, “September 1, 1939.” Good luck or godspeed, as you will, to us all.

  5. Very interested to invest energy and our approach to thinking about these vita challenges. We share the messy ambiguity and inconvenience of the precept and would be happy to write, help and contribute in some way. Not sure how or what that means but that’s the right place to be. Happy also to see what emerges and happy to talk further.

  6. Would you be interested in something on overcoming patriarchy to foster solidarity and sustainability? Each of the following could be a section:

    Gender Balance in the Post-Patriarchal Age, Mother Pelican, November 2013
    On Gender Groupthink, Solidarity, and Sustainability, Mother Pelican, December 2013
    On Gender, Family, and Integral Human Development, Mother Pelican, January 2014
    On Families and the Human Family, Mother Pelican, February 2014
    Sustainable Development of the Human Family, Mother Pelican, March 2014
    Sustainable Development of Body-Persons, Mother Pelican, April 2014


  7. It is easy to identify with the polarizations in any situation, but hard to pin down the likely muddy ground in-between: the Rising Water analogy (?) chimes with how I grapple with the reality of change. I have an academic background in Environmental Biology and a Doctorate in Population Biology: Many years on and many professions later, I still grapple with explaining why I think what I do, while trying to remain independent within the confines of our society whilst not alienating my audience. I just hope I come up with an idea worthy of this challenge…

  8. Thank you for this wonderful post. It really is a great jumping-off point, and I’ve gotten started on something that I hope to be able to send you by the deadline. That ‘in-between’ point is a fascinating place to explore in writing.

  9. I am now 61. In my youth I was convinced the world would end very soon, mostly via nuclear war, with variations including ice ages, epidemics and so on. As I moved into my late 20’s and 30’s, built a sort of career, married and started a family, my attitude began to change. A simple survival mechanism I suspect, which I observe in my own children – a complete loss of interest in dystopian futures (because if that’s what you believe, why have babies, buy a home, plan for a future that will never happen) – which arguably is the problem for the doomsayers (mostly green) – the average Joe or Josephina cannot cope with staring into the abyss and trying to live a life. Fine as a feckless teenager or early twenty something singleton, no use to young marrieds looking for a decent school for their infants.
    Now, I am no longer responsible. My children have flown the nest. My wives have disposed of me. I have learned how to live on very little, and to enjoy each day as it comes. I am truly one of the lucky ones. But from the perspective of 60-odd years I can see how much poorer my world has become, how an entire country which was once nothing but jungle, rubber trees and a few scattered kampongs and small towns has turned into a giant housing estate with oil-palm plantations (Malaysia), in fourty years. And I know this is happening all over the world. This is not a gradual change on any timescale apart from the busy day-to-day human’s, this is planet wide change happening in a real sense almost instantaneously. So it turns out my teenage nightmares were not nightmares at all, but a reality. I still tell myself that in all ages old(er) men and women have felt this way about the world (for precisely the same reason as I feel this way, because we really do remember what it used to be like) but the fact remains that the pace of change that we have experienced is several orders of magnitude greater than anything prior to 1800. And we’re still breeding like rabbits, and we’re not, yet, dying like flies. So, I think, quite dispassionately, that we are heading off the cliff. No great matter to me, but I feel for my children and their children. I tried to write a book that told this story with a happy ending. I believe there can be one, but that there will be a great deal of pain before we reach that point. I believe that there is a genuine qualitative difference between the world problem Malthus described, and where we are now. He saw the problem but didn’t understand the timescale, or the impact of technology and plentiful cheap energy. We neither see the problem or understand the timescale.


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