The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: Waking up to Personal and Global Transformation


A call to consciousness combining spirituality and ecology that offers hope for the future.

As the world's population explodes, cultures and species are wiped out, and we have now reached the halfway point of our supplies of oil, humans the world over are confronting difficult choices about how to create a future that works.
Thom Hartmann proposes that the only lasting solution to the crises we face is to ...
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A call to consciousness combining spirituality and ecology that offers hope for the future.

As the world's population explodes, cultures and species are wiped out, and we have now reached the halfway point of our supplies of oil, humans the world over are confronting difficult choices about how to create a future that works.
Thom Hartmann proposes that the only lasting solution to the crises we face is to re-learn the lessons our ancient ancestors knew — those which allowed them to live sustainably for hundreds of thousands of years — but which we've forgotten.

Hartmann shows how to find this new yet ancient way of seeing the world and the life on and in it, allowing us to touch that place where the survival of humanity may be found.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a well-intentioned but soggy New Age manifesto, Hartmann (The Prophet's Way) calls for a spiritual ecology to stave off impending ecological collapse. (The title refers not only to waning or forgotten ancient wisdom but also to dwindling fossil-fuel supplies.) In an informal, disjointed style, Hartmann surveys the crises we face: the decimation of the rain forests, mass extinctions of plant and animal species, global warming exacerbated by industrial emissions, famines and the threat of new epidemics. But his sweeping view of history veers into retrograde romantic fantasy. In his simplistic framework, "younger" cultures" (i.e., Sumer, classical Greece and Rome, the modern West) are hierarchical, claim resources through trade and conquest, wage genocidal warfare and foster domination and control over both nature and other peoples. "Older" cultures (i.e., such tribal peoples as Native Americans, the Ik of Uganda or the Kayapo of Brazil), he maintains, are sustainable, more egalitarian, live in intimate connection with the natural world and grant women and men roughly equal status. To prevent planetary doom, he argues, we should adopt some of the older cultures' lessons, such as practicing small acts of goodness, meditating or joining a small "tribal" community sharing land ownership and a common purpose. Bereft of original ideas, this tract (originally self-published in 1998 under the Mythical Books imprint) preaches to the converted and lacks either the political specifics or the spiritual focus its weighty scope demands. Author tour. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Second-rate eco-spirituality from the well-known environmentalist guru Hartmann (The Prophet's Way; Beyond ADD; etc.). Hartmann's book succeeds best in part one, when he shows how we are destroying our planet through deforestation, extinction, global warming, future famine, oil scarcity, proliferating wars, increased drug use, etc. But the book heads downhill from there. Part two is an oversimplified presentation of "Older" (good) and "Younger" (very bad) cultures: those in Younger cultures, like ourselves, tend to justify their dominance of creation, while Older hunter-gatherer types were just really grateful to be here. Older cultures were "cooperators, not dominators," who knew nothing of class differences or harming the Earth, taking only what they needed. (Why can't we all just be like those nice earthy folks, the Druids?) Part three proposes—you guessed it—that we heed our ancestors' lessons of eco-spirituality and form small "tribes" in which people can really, like, connect with one another. The environment will be hunky-dory again once we reempower women, "touch the sacred," tell one another "new stories" about the Earth, and respect others. We should also stop watching so darned much TV. Very disappointing, naive solutions to the urgent environmental problems so well outlined in part one. (Author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609805299
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/10/2000
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Read an Excerpt

We're Running Out
of Ancient Sunlight
Where our energy came from,
how we're "living beyond our means,"
and what will happen to our
children when we run out
It all starts with sunlight.

Sunlight pours energy on the earth, and the energy gets converted from one form to another, in an endless cycle of life, death, and renewal. Some of the sunlight got stored underground, which has provided us with a tremendous "savings account" of energy on which we can draw. Our civilization has developed a vast thirst for this energy, as we've built billions and billions of machines large and small that all depend on fuel and electricity.
But our savings are running low, which will most likely make for some very hard times.

In Part I of The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight we'll lay out the scope of the situation as a foundation for planning our response. Topics in Part I include:
The history of sunlight in the human story
How can things look okay yet be so bad?

The importance of trees—their three vital roles in a renewable environment, and some alarming statistics on what's happening as we cut them down
The accelerating rate of species extinctions as we alter the world and its climate

Let's start at the beginning, with the fuel source that gave life to this planet millions of years ago: Sunlight
We're Made
Out of Sunlight
The Sun, the hearth of affection and life, pours burning love on the delighted earth.
—Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)

In a very real sense, we're all made out of sunlight.

Sunlight radiating heat, visible light, and ultraviolet light is the source of virtually all life on Earth. Everything yousee alive around you is there because a plant somewhere was able to capture sunlight and store it.

All animals live from these plants, whether directly (as with herbivores) or indirectly (as with carnivores, which eat the herbivores). This is true of mammals, insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, bacteria...everything living. Every life form on the surface of this planet is here because a plant was able to gather sunlight and store it, and something else was able to eat that plant and take that sunlight-energy into power its body.*
In this way, the abundance or lack of abundance of our human food supply was, until the past few hundred years, largely determined by how much sunlight hit the ground. And for all non-human life forms on the planet, this is still the case—you can see that many of the areas around the equator that are bathed in sunlight are filled with plant and animal life, whereas in the relatively sun-starved polar regions there are far fewer living creatures and less diversity among them.

The plant kingdom's method of sunlight storage is quite straightforward. Our atmosphere has billions of tons of carbon in it, most in the form of the gas carbon dioxide, or CO2. Plants "inhale" this CO2, and use the energy of sunlight to drive a chemical reaction in their leaves called photosynthesis, which breaks the two atoms of oxygen free from the carbon, producing free carbon (C) and oxygen (O2). The carbon is then used by the plant to manufacture carbohydrates like cellulose and virtually all other plant matter—roots, stems, leaves, fruits, and nuts—and the oxygen is "exhaled" as a waste gas by the plant.

Many people I've met believe that plants are made up of soil—that the tree outside your house, for example, is mostly made from the soil in which it grew. That's a common mistake, however—that tree is mostly made up of one of the gasses in our air (carbon dioxide) and water (hydrogen and oxygen). Trees are solidified air and sunlight!

Plant leaves capture sunlight and use that energy to extract carbon as carbon dioxide from the air, combine it with oxygen and hydrogen from water, to form sugars and other complex carbohydrates (carbohydrates are also made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen) such as the cellulose which makes up most of the roots, leaves, and trunk.

When you burn wood, the "sunlight energy" is released in the form of light and heat (from the fire). Most of the carbon in the wood reverses the photosynthesis.

The small pile of ash you're left with is all the miner als the huge tree had taken from the soil. Everything else was gas from the air: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

Animals, including humans, cannot create tissues directly from sunlight, water, and air, as plants can. Thus the human population of the planet from the beginning of our history was limited by the amount of readily available plant food (and animals-that-eat-plants food). Because of this, from the dawn of humanity (estimated at 200,000 years ago) until about 40,000 years ago, the entire world probably never held more than about five million human inhabitants. That's fewer people worldwide than Detroit has today.

I suspect the reason for this low global census is that people in that time ate only wild-growing food. If sunlight fell on 100 acres of wildlands producing enough food to feed ten people—through edible fruits, vegetables, seeds, and wild animals which ate the plants—then the population density of that forest would stabilize at that level. Studies of all kinds of animal populations show that mammals—including humans—become less fertile, and death rates increase when there is not enough food to sustain a local population. This is nature's population control system for every animal species: population is limited to what the local plant/food supply can feed.

Similarly, people's clothing and shelter back then were made out of plants and animal skins which themselves came to life because of "current sunlight," the sunlight which fell on the ground over the few years of their lives. We used the skins of animals and trees (things that had consumed sunlight in recent years) to construct clothing and housing. All these are made from relatively current sunlight.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2001

    Until we understand our nature, we can't understand our context!

    I was appalled at the critics' review of this remarkable work. I have found far too many times that writings such as this are arrogantly and briskly disregarded and even mocked as just one more intellectual's cry of 'the sky is falling!!' If truly committed to growth, development, and ascension as a world species (and I do mean all of us -- human, animal, plant) where else can we begin except with writings such as these? Until we stop viewing ourselves, our families, our communities, our races, etc. in isolation, we will continue to bash our collective head against the proverbial brick wall of the reality that we are ALL interrelated and interdependent. This book, and the efforts and passions contained within, help us to more fully understand this. For more, read the Conversations with God trilogy and other related works by Walsh. Read works by Stephen R. Covey, B. Marx, Margaret Wheatley, and the writings of Ghandi. I believe very deeply and with a profound sense of awareness that it is no coincidence these books are all saying at the most fundamental level the same thing. We have to embrace the questions found within this work and others like it, and in so doing can learn to live the answers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2000

    Opening your eyes to our world.

    Thom Hartmann has written a book that has opened my eyes to my part in the destruction of our planet. All I can say about the above ¿professional¿ reviewers is that they might be too afraid to see their part in the predicament we have put the earth in. I have not been the same since I read this book and I am glad of it. Thank you Thom for your dedication to helping us all wake up from the sleep we have been in for thousands of years.

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