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An Atlas of Collapse

An Atlas of Collapse

I've been thinking about When/If as a project lately, about what my niche is in this environment of leftist-preparedness. I recently heard Dark Winter Concepts on Margaret Killjoy's Live Like the World is Dying , and I came to the conclusion that you all probably did a long time ago–this isn't exactly a preparedness newsletter anymore. Sure, we touch on it, and I remind y'all of what you should be packing in your protest bags (masks, goggles, squeeze-bottles of water, a change of clothes, and a snack), but we haven't talked about the roots of When/If in a long time and that's because I can only say the same thing so many times. Projects like Dark Winter Concepts, in contrast, can get into the nitty-gritty of the practical–how to build and make things, how to repair things–and I shouldn't need to try and occupy that space. Particularly because I'm not all that useful, practically–I'm just not a handy person, I'm sorry to say. Which means that I should redouble my efforts on what I'm good at: analyzing and interpreting current events, headlines, studies, and creating from them a kind of roadmap of where things are heading.

This will be a multi-part letter, meant to catch us up and let us prepare for some of the things to come. And just like it says on the tin, this is not a letter about how things are going to be okay. Events around the world are so much more immediate than collapse, headlines flashier, governments fascier, but we can't let ourselves forget the ultimate destination of the planet.

And this is not to say that we should be thinking more about collapse and less about what's currently grabbing headlines. I think the student encampments for a free Palestine are vitally important to our struggle. Palestine is vitally important. In fact, I think they are at the very center of the fight because ultimately they stand for freedom from colonization, freedom from the destruction engine that is capitalism, freedom from white supremacy, freedom from fascism. If you have the means to support the student encampments, or Gaza directly, you absolutely should. You can help a family evacuate, for instance, or assist with bail funds for students.

Everything Ends

Let's remember that, first and foremost, a society that demands unlimited growth from a closed system is doomed. It doesn't matter how big the system, or how "green" the growth. This is as certain as a physical or mathematical law, because it essentially is one: 1 =/= infinity. This reality can be obfuscated, it can be delayed, but it cannot be stopped. If we continue to consume the resources of this planet, we will effectively end it.

There was a time when I would have couched this differently. I would have said we would end, or society would end. But now, with runaway climate change all but certain, we are bound to recreate in the span of hundreds of years what the Great Dying did in thousands: the greatest extinction event the planet has ever seen. This is not just the end of cell phones and Love is Blind. This is the end of us, polar bears, whales, ladybugs, marmosets, birds, crocodiles (maybe--they might survive actually), wolves, dogs, and cats. Along with most everything else. This is the sort of abyss we're staring into.

Bringing this enormous event into a more immediate context, collapse is going to begin (it's begun, but you get my drift) around energy. Our pursuit of fossil fuels is rapidly degrading into inefficiency, with the energy-returned-on-energy-invested (EROEI) decreasing in some instances into near equity, so that the amount of energy gained by acquiring these fuels equals the energy spent acquiring them. This should mean that costs of such fuels skyrockets, and that markets abandon them. But because world governments are so beholden to petro companies, these industries are propped up. This is one leg of the two-legged stool–the other is that our world is, or should, divest from fossil fuels and invest in green energy. The problem is that investment in green energy requires dirty energy, and until we have enough green energy to make more green energy, we're using the dirty stuff that is running out, costs a lot, and is killing us. And we don't really have enough of it to continue our world as we know it, at this point, into a green transition. Thus collapse.

The Evidence of the Collapse Era

Globally, it's expected that fossil fuels will cost more energy than is gained by them before the end of the 2030s. That's just fifteen years away. And certain regions and methods of extraction are already upside down. At its peak, fossil fuels produced an EROEI ratio of 100:1–a phenomenal investment as evidenced by almost literally everything around you. However, that EROEI ratio is now hovering at less than half that, and dropping fast as we finish off the easiest sources of fossil fuels. Pursuit of any further resources almost exclusively means the subjugation and colonization of vulnerable peoples–such as the billions of dollars worth of oil off the coast of Gaza. The decline in cheap energy isn't the only evidence of where we're headed, though.

If you'll allow me to get conspiratorial (no, I've not been up until this point), it's a pet suspicion of mine that the rich and powerful of the world completely understand the mess that they've made and they are preparing for the fallout in much the same way we're trying to–just with way, way more resources. This is why you hear about rich people with bunkers, secret islands, armies of security guards, and all that. The rich are making sure they've got theirs.

This isn't all conspiracy, though. I would posit that the immense push in the United States for an ever-more militarized police force at the expense of other public goods is in preparation for the breaking point on the horizon. Plans are proliferating across the country for Cop City-esque training facilities, and meanwhile police budgets continue to gouge out more and more municipal funds. All this while it's getting harder for basic needs to be met. All this while we can't get decent fucking roads, or air conditioning in schools, or public transportation. This is not happening because of ignorance, or incompetence. This is happening to ensure we don't get the chance to rise up.

There is the lack of aid, the lack of news coverage, even, of countries in dire need of support like Haiti, Congo, and Sudan. Countries decimated by white colonizers who are now being left to struggle with the mess that we made–probably, in no small part, to make the acquisition of their resources easier once the dust settles and all the blood has been spilled. Unrest is an opportunity for actors like the United States, like Russia, to muscle in and secure oil, or, importantly, rare earth metals for the supposed green growth to come.

There is the creep of fascism in supposed democracies across the globe. Everywhere people have risen up to protest the genocide of Palestinians and virtually everywhere (good on you, Ireland, South Africa, and Spain) these protests are being curtailed, criminalized, and crushed. Students in the United States are being arrested and beaten for camping on school commons. Protests in Germany for Palestine have been severely curtailed, with Berlin banning singing protest songs in Irish and police stating that only English or German can be spoken at some protests.

There is, more than anything, both seemingly imperceptible and inescapable, the growing consequence of climate change. The oceans remain hotter than ever. Coral is bleaching worldwide. Heat waves are raging in Asia. The UK is at risk of serious crop loss from heavy rains. The AMOC is slowing. This summer is likely to be brutally hot and the hurricane season is forecasted to be especially rough. More than any other actor, climate change is what is going to end things for us. It's our very literal comeuppance for abusing resources that we could have managed, if it weren't for the greed of the rich.

Next week, we'll dive into some of these climate change issues, and move into fascism and colonialism as they pertain to the coming collapse in the weeks ahead.