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Preparing for Collapse, A Few Rants

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Published on The Easiest Person to Fool July 25, 2018

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Beans and Squash in My Front Yard Garden

For a while now I been promising that when I got some other things out of the way, I'd actually talk about preparing for collapse. And that is just what I'm going to be doing in this and the next few posts.

Unfortunately, my crystal ball isn't any better than anybody else's, probably worse than some. What I'll be recommending will reflect my own biases and weaknesses. But even so, I think I do have some insights that will be of value to many people.

Among these insights are a few things that I feel the need to rant about. Let's get that out of the way first.

Rant 1: A Fast and Hard Collapse, NOT

I should admit that by using the phrase "preparing for collapse" I am really being somewhat misleading. As I see it, collapse is not a single event that will occur at some point in the future, but a process that has already been going on for several decades, since the oil shocks of the 70s. Progress has been coasting slowly to a stop while collapse gains momentum. This will continue.

I certainly don't buy into the whole idea of a hard, fast, apocalyptic collapse. That is a fantasy that allows us to imagine getting rid of many of the less pleasant aspects of modern life all at once. Get it over with and start fresh, so to speak. In particular, I think many people see the complete and final collapse of the financial system as freeing them from oppressive debts and jobs they hate. A pretty drastic way to solve those problems….

And of course many of us have been influenced by apocalyptic fiction. A sudden and cataclysmic event certainly sets the stage for a dramatic story. But let's try to keep reality and fiction clearly separated in our thinking here.

At any rate, what I want to talk about is how to survive the slow and unsteady collapse that I believe we are experiencing, so that is what I'm going to do. There is much less to be said about surviving hard, fast, widespread collapse because it is much harder to do and there are fewer strategies that are likely to succeed. Still, much of what I have to say would apply to some extent, should I turn out to be wrong and things all fall apart all at once.

As I have said before this that collapse has been and will continue to be uneven geographical, unsteady chronologically, and unequal socially. Certainly there will occasionally be sudden downward bumps, but in some locations more than others and effecting various social strata differently. And then there will be a partial recovery and things will carry on for a while, somewhat worse than they were before.

This will continue on for quite a few more decades before we finally reach the bottom and the dust begins to settle. At that point, in a few lucky locations, there will still be people arguing that nothing much has really changed. For most of us, though, it will be clear that a great deal has changed and not for the better. Already the world is significantly different than it was when I was young and the strategies that served well in those days are not something I would recommend now.

Perhaps most importantly, we'll need to recognize that collapse is happening and act appropriately rather than carrying on doing the same old thing, trying to fine tune a system that is fundamentally broken and wondering why things don't improve.

Rant 2: Lifeboats and Eco-Villages, NOT

For quite a while yet it will not be feasible for most of us to completely sever our ties with BAU (Business as Usual). We'll find ourselves going in two directions at once, trying to prepare for collapse while still being dependent for many of the necessities of life on the very system that is collapsing. Of course, part of our preparation will consist of reducing key dependencies. But it is challenging to reduce those dependencies when BAU can supply our needs for less than they can be produced locally. This makes it hard to earn much of living as a local, sustainable producer—the prices you have to charge mean that only those who are well off can afford to indulge themselves with your products.

Many have suggested setting up a lifeboat community or an eco-village in a remote location and waving BAU goodbye. Some days it is tempting, but there's a long list of problems with that approach. It's hard to find a group of people who are both interested, willing to sever their ties with BAU and competent. It costs a lot of money to set up such a project. There are getting to be fewer and fewer remote areas that BAU has not claimed and/or spoiled, and where the locals would welcome you. Those that are left are less than ideal (to cold, too hot, too dry, too wet, poor soil, etc.). In any area where farming is feasible, there are likely to be property taxes and building codes. So you can't completely withdraw from the money based economy if you are going to pay your taxes, and it may be difficult to build the way you'd like to without running afoul of the building code.

Better to reconcile ourselves to having a foot in both worlds for now, and whole heartedly become a part of the communities in which we find ourselves living. We can quietly prepare for the day when BAU is more obviously faltering and local production can compete successfully. Of course some communities are more suitable for this than others.

Rant 3: Renewable Energy and Eco-Modernism, NOT

There are some people who recognize problems like peak oil and climate change but think they can be solved by switching over to high tech, low-carbon renewables (mainly wind and solar) and re-organizing things to be more efficient, allowing us to go right on with a green washed version of BAU, and keep the economy growing. These folks don't understand the economic problems with the low EROEI of renewable energy sources, or the degree to which those energy sources are dependent on fossil fuels for their manufacture, installation, operation and maintenance.

Eco-modernism is a particularly egregious example of a plan to fix our problems using technology. It relies on the idea of absolute decoupling. That is, being able to reduce our impact on the resource base and environment while still improving our standard of living and allowing the economy and our population to grow. So far, our best efforts have only achieved a small amount of relative decoupling. That is, at best, increases in population and standard of living have led to slightly less than proportional increases in impact, but nothing approaching decreases in impact.

Looking realistically at what technology can do, I find it hard to see how it could be otherwise and expect that collapse will force us to reduce both our population and level of consumption. At such lower levels of consumption, energy use and technology, renewable energy sources such as biomass, wind, moving water and passive solar will no doubt supply essentially all of the energy we use. But nowhere near enough to support the sort of high tech industrial civilization we have today.

Rant 4: Violence, NOT

Violence is another area where ideas based on apocalyptic fiction are likely to lead you astray. Conflict is necessary to make a story move along, and a long tradition of collapse porn saturated with interpersonal and inter-group violence has lead many people to see that as the only way things can unfold. Food becomes short, the "have-nots" go after the "haves" and mayhem ensures. This may make good reading, but it's not so much fun in reality, and certainly not something I'm interested in.

So, I am not a survivalist, and you won't find me talking much here about security and defense. There are lots of other sources of that sort of information, if it interests you. I'm more interested in not being where the fighting is likely to break out and setting things up in the community where I am so that co-operation is a more likely outcome than serious conflict. Like giving people better alternatives than violence, meeting them with food rather than guns. The trick is being able to do so.

Rant 5: Back to the Good Old Days, NOT

A number of well known voices in the "collapse sphere" have claimed that recent advances in social justice such as feminism and equal rights for LGBTQ people are likely to be rolled back during collapse. The argument is that these freedoms are possible only in a society with lots of surplus resources. These guys are men who are obviously uncomfortable with what they see as disadvantageous changes to the power structure of our society. They have a socially conservative fantasy of collapse putting them back in charge. But really, that is not the way it works.

First of all, while we will be returning to levels of energy use and material consumption that were common one or two or even more centuries in the past, it isn't really possible to go back to the way things were then. We are starting from a different place, we know a lot of things now that we didn't back then, and formerly oppressed people who have been given a chance at equality aren't going to give it up so easily.

Second, if you look across the world and throughout history, the patriarchy is far from universal and many societies working at very much lower levels of consumption than ours have functioned quite well as matriarchies or anarchies. A patriarchy is neither the most natural way to organize human societies nor the most efficient.

I am an old white guy too, if I can accept social changes, so can you.

Rant 6: Saving the World, NOT

Some have accused me of being out to save the world. It's pretty clear that by the world, they mean "Business As Usual" and in my opinion that world needs not to be saved, but to be shut down as quickly as possible. Sadly, this isn't going to happen voluntarily. Too many powerful people and institutions have a vested interest in keeping things going as they are. Heading straight toward collapse, in other words. A collapse that will see a drastic reduction in human population and consumption of resources per capita. This isn't going to be much fun to live through and many of us won't. The only good thing about it is that it will be the undoing of the very system that caused it. And when it is over it may be possible to continue on in a more modest, less destructive way.

Rant 7: Crunchies and Woo

I've noticed lately that posts on this blog often draw positive comments from people who go on to make it clear that they are "Crunchies" who believe in one sort or another of idea that isn't supported by the evidence, that isn't reality based—what I call "woo". After they've said such nice things to me, I always feel bad having to break it to them that I don't agree. Most of these folks are organic farmers or gardeners, who have bought into the "naturalistic fallacy" and think that everything that's natural must be good for you. In fact the products of organic farming and conventional farming about equal in terms of safety these days. That's good news for the many people who can't afford pricey organic food and don't have a garden to grow their own. The bad news is that both conventional and organic farming are also about equally unsustainable, mainly due to their reliance on energy from fossil fuels. We need to develop a "sustainable farming" that's based on science, not woo.

The tagline for this blog is "A reality based approach to life in the age of scarcity." When I use the terms "evidence based" or "reality based", I mean ideas that are supported by the scientific consensus. Many people today unfortunately believe that the scientific consensus supports BAU, and that's no wonder since BAU does its best to encourage that view. Fortunately, it's not true. The scientific consensus support some things on the Crunchy side and some things on the BAU side, because those things happen to be true. The scientific method is an excellent tool for filtering out biases, political or otherwise. There really isn't any good reason for ignoring its results.

But to be clear, comments from Crunchies of every sort are welcome here, just be aware of what the project of this blog really is and, that if you are pedlling woo, you'll get a gentle but firmly negative response.


But enough ranting for now. Time to talk about what we can do to prepare for the continuing process of collapse. We need to anticipate where current trends are taking us, and harder still, when things as likely to reach a tipping point and changing more drastically.

First off, I'd say that if you are new to this, give it a year or so to sink in before making any big decisions, and don't do anything rash in the meantime. Then you may want to consider some changes in the way you are living. What those changes might be will be the subject of my next few posts.

We'll be considering the following subjects, and probably a few more:

  • where you want to be—where bad things are less likely to happen
  • who you want to be with—people you know, trust and can work with
  • what you are doing—something that can support you, and allow you to develop the skills and accumulate the resources you will need

While waiting for my next post (these things often take a while), here are a few links to articles which may be of help:

On this blog:

Sharon Astyk hasn't been very active as a writer lately, but her earlier writings are a great source of practical advice on "Adapting in Place", which is exactly the sort of preparation I'd advise you to do.

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