Cover image for The last hours of ancient sunlight : waking up to personal and global transformation
The last hours of ancient sunlight : waking up to personal and global transformation
Hartmann, Thom, 1951-
Personal Author:
Revised edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harmony Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxii, 314 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GF41 .H39 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Sunlight warms the Earth with life.  As our culture moved from ancient hunting/gathering times to the technological era, we discovered ancient sunlight -- captured millions of years ago by plants and compressed into oil deep under our soil and oceans.  Now, as our planet's oil supplies are projected to last no more than 30 to 50 years, and species and cultures are dying off at an unprecedented rate, we confront difficult choices. In this passionate yet thoroughly researched work, author Thom Hartmann proposes that the only lasting solution to the crises we face is to relearn the lessons of our ancient ancestors -- who lived sustainably for thousands of generations.  When you touch this new yet ancient way of seeing the world and hearing the voice of all life, you discover that you, personally, hold the power of personal and planetary transformation.  In that breathtaking moment, we see both a possible future for the survival of humanity, and the fulfillment of our highest dreams and aspirations.

Author Notes

Thom Hartmann is an award-winning author, international lecturer, teacher, and psychotherapist.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



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 you see 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. Excerpted from The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: Waking up to Personal and Global Transformation by Thomas C. Hartmann All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Forewordp. xiii
Introduction: Why This Book?p. 1
Part I We're Running Out of Ancient Sunlight
We're Made Out of Sunlightp. 9
Extracting more sunlight--from other animalsp. 11
Extracting more sunlight--from the landp. 12
When ancient sunlight got stored in the Earthp. 13
Using ancient sunlightp. 15
More ways to burn ancient sunlightp. 17
So, how long will our savings hold out? How much fossil fuel do we have left?p. 19
How Can Things Look So Good Yet Be So Bad?p. 23
1. Don't "pay as you go"--just live off your "startup capital"p. 23
2. The "Ponzi scheme"p. 25
Our fossil fuel resources: startup capital or Ponzi scheme?p. 26
Can we "grow our way out of it"?p. 27
Ancient diseases are re-emergingp. 29
Things may look good simply because we don't see or hear what's happeningp. 32
Slavery and Freedomp. 35
Glimpsing a Possible Future in Haiti and Other Hot Spotsp. 39
The Philippines: children hunting for garbage to eatp. 42
Nepal: walking four hours to find the day's woodp. 42
Western Africa: the wood was used up, erosion set it, now it's desertp. 43
We notice rapid changes, not slow onesp. 44
The Death of the Treesp. 46
Treesp. 47
The root system "water pump"p. 48
Reseeded saplings can't pull the water downp. 49
Trees for beef: slashing rainforests so Americans can have a 99-cent burgerp. 49
Deforesting removes roots, affecting groundwater and the water cyclep. 51
Extinctions: Diversity Supports Survivalp. 55
Diversity supports survival, and we're losing itp. 57
When systems are small, local, and widely scattered, they're relatively immune to failurep. 58
Social diversity, too, is sufferingp. 59
Climate Changesp. 64
The Garden of Eden and the Floodp. 73
Consider where we are at this pointp. 76
A Visit to a Country that's Planning How to Survive: Chinap. 78
Who will feed China?p. 82
Deforesting, Fighting for Fuel, and the Rise and Fall of Empiresp. 85
Can we save our civilization with alternatives to oil?p. 89
"Green" energyp. 91
When fuel runs low, fighting startsp. 93
Part II Younger and Older Cultures: How Did We Get Here?
The Power of Our Point of View: Older and Younger Culturesp. 97
There's power in how we think about thingsp. 98
Younger Culture Drugs of Controlp. 103
We're not just asleep: we're intoxicatedp. 106
The sickness of "living in boxes"p. 109
What it's like to be in touch with the world againp. 114
Younger Culture Stories About How Things Arep. 118
Today's "Younger Culture" viewp. 119
Wetiko: gaining by consuming others' livesp. 122
The Basis of Our Culturep. 124
1. "It's women's fault."p. 126
2. "The Creator made us all bad" (a uniquely younger-culture idea)p. 127
3. "The Creator is a forgetful bookkeeper"p. 127
Consequences of the story that "everybody else is bad, too"p. 128
The present story: we're disconnected, separatep. 131
Our view of "primitive" peoplep. 134
Our culture's growth has similarities to cancerp. 136
Assault by Younger Cultures leaves one with limited choicesp. 139
Change the storyp. 141
What We Need to Rememberp. 142
"The Great Forgetting"p. 147
The beauty of rememberingp. 149
What we must remember: The "Older Culture" viewp. 154
The birth of class differences and power structuresp. 156
How it happenedp. 157
The "slavery" (losing your freedom) of civilizationp. 158
Leisure timep. 159
Depth of culturep. 160
Modern-day slavesp. 163
The Lives of Ancient Peoplep. 165
From the San and the Kogi: Value community and cooperation; we are part of the world, not separate from itp. 165
From the Kayapo: sustainable agriculturep. 169
Power vs. Cooperation in Social Structure: the City/State vs. Tribesp. 172
Tribal and city/state cultural structuresp. 173
The structure of a tribal groupp. 174
The structure of a city/state culturep. 177
How city/states might have startedp. 181
Tribal Populationsp. 186
But how do tribes control their population?p. 187
"But our nations are so stable ..."p. 190
Anarchy or tribalism?p. 191
But What About Darwin? Isn't the Victor Right?p. 193
Part III What Can We Do About It?
The New Sciencep. 203
The first person's viewp. 205
Physics discovers consciousnessp. 207
You do change the world every dayp. 211
Practice small acts of anonymous mercyp. 212
Reconnect with G-d ... directlyp. 214
New Stories Are Necessary to Change the Worldp. 218
The dominant story can and does get changed. Then reality changesp. 220
Touching the Sacredp. 223
Viewing the Pastp. 225
Achieve Presencep. 226
Learn to Create Awarenessp. 229
Lessons from a Monkp. 234
Re-empower Womenp. 241
The Secret of "Enough"p. 243
The meaning of wealthp. 244
The wealth of securityp. 245
But aren't they dirt-poor?p. 245
Our povertyp. 246
Respect Other Cultures and Communitiesp. 249
Respecting the Sabbath for the land and Jubileep. 252
Older Culture Wealthp. 254
Renounce War Against Any Living Thingp. 257
Look into the Face of G-dp. 260
Change the Focus of How We Use Technologyp. 263
Use our oil to not use oilp. 264
Living "off the grid"p. 266
Conservationp. 268
Turn Off the TVp. 270
The Modern-Day Tribe: Intentional Communityp. 274
Tribes and communitiesp. 275
Intentional communitiesp. 276
Get support and information from the growing community movementp. 279
A visit to an "intentional community"p. 280
Reinventing Our Daily Life and Ritualsp. 293
Rituals don't go away, they merely changep. 294
Intentional ritualsp. 297
Reinventing ritualsp. 299
We Have Much to Learn ... and Even More to Rememberp. 301
Afterwordp. 304
Recommended Readingp. 306
A Note from Thom Hartmannp. 309
Indexp. 310