7 min read

The Big Abysmal Picture

The Big Abysmal Picture

There are a number of reasons I believe we're bound for collapse. We've witnessed in the last few years what is, unfortunately, only a taste of what the world has in store from climate change. We're making little progress to head those damages off at the pass or to even mitigate their severity, meaning they will only get worse for the foreseeable future. The grip of the pandemic has not loosened, only complicated–incubated, even, in the space between politics, media, and scientific literacy. Democracy is on the wane across the globe. America has fallen into a state of perilous division, in which one side–admittedly the majority–seeks to pour some measure of oil on troubled waters while the other seeks to set that oil on fire. The problem is the amount of power the latter has even while the former is supposedly in control. The problem is that the latter will stop at seemingly nothing to achieve their aims, and those aims are barbarous, while the former are bound by archaic rules which were designed to assist only the already-powerful. Any benefit found by anyone else within the system is a byproduct, a happy circumstance that placates those upon whose back the system is supported. This is not a stable position.

Perhaps the main reason I believe, though, is that there is little alternative. There is no plan, no Deal, which sees us in the year 2050 all driving electric cars with food on the table and vast fields of CO2 harvesters humming away delightfully, fed by solar energy along with everything else on the planet. It's not just because we would have to actually do these things and won't–it's because we can't. There are not enough resources readily available to us on the planet to replace the millions and millions of internal combustion engines that keep our lives running. There aren't enough resources to create a green infrastructure that would power those electric vehicles replacing the engines. The creation of that green infrastructure itself necessarily demands fossil fuels, having no alternative, which pushes us closer to the brink of truly apocalyptic climate change scenarios beyond 3-4C. Politicians can talk about curbing emissions and fostering green energy but the math simply does not add up; we cannot continue on this planet the way we exist now. That possibility vanished about the time Al Gore was warning us, if not before. The technology to remove CO2 in any meaningful capacity doesn't exist, and what does exist is prohibitively expensive, energy-consumptive, and we currently lack the ability to safely store that CO2 at scale. Finally, if we were to magically teleport all the necessary resources to the surface of the Earth and simply need to put everything together and find a place for it all, we'd still need land roughly the size of a Four Corners state for the world's energy needs. There are so many assumptions here, so many ifs, that there's not much hope for a conclusion other than this: the world is bound for darker days. If Keanu Reeves himself ran for president on the platform of peace, love, and cookies for all, and he ushered in an era of cooperation between left and right, we would still be facing the unstoppable, irreversible thresher of climate change. Would President Reeves and everyone being excellent to each other help stave off the worst of climate change? Yes. Could we stop all emissions quickly enough to keep from facing worsening global disasters? No. The math just doesn't work. And let's face it; Keanu doesn't need that kind of stress in his life, and he doesn't deserve it.

It's a cliché, in a way, because don't all people think things were better in the past, when they were younger? But then I remember we're literally in a neverending pandemic and I realize the history books are going to look back on these years as dark, dark times (if they have history books after the even-darker times). What I'm saying is, it may be natural to resist the idea that we're truly about to witness a long-term, likely semi-permanent, period of decline, of unrest, of, eventually, collapse. I assume most folks reading this are American, and this idea is antithetical to all the things we were taught in school (which is its own problem). You may think this sort of thing can't happen here, or that we can't be the generation unlucky enough for all this. But we are. We just are.

This doesn't mean immediate collapse. When I say collapse here I'm essentially using it as shorthand for the gradual evaporation of what constitutes our normal lives. I don't think that's likely to disappear entirely overnight. Instead we'll see what we've seen writ large: empty shelves, inflation, people left in the dust and rubble of calamities both foretold and unseen. We're butting up against a lack of resources and a burning world and the only way out is for humanity, put plainly, to shrink. We must stop living the way that we do, particularly in America, and find a way to live closer to our worldwide means. For everyone who isn't braced for this contraction, this is itself a collapse. For everyone who is, it's a sure-to-be bumpy transition to a sustainable future. If we're lucky.

Whys and Wherefores

What sets the standard for our shrunken budget is the end of consumption of the most readily available and potent natural resource the world has: fossil fuels. There's no denying that the use of fossil fuels changed the world–and few can argue, up to a point, for the better. Humanity boomed off this energy source, but it can't any longer for two reasons:

  1. The effects of burning these fuels have caught up with us. Climate change is going to kill millions (likely billions) and air pollution already does.
  2. We're out of the good stuff. We're drinking wells dry and relying on smaller, dirtier reserves. The amount of energy it takes to get to these energy stores is coming closer and closer to a net wash with what those stores provide. Practically speaking, this means it's neither reasonable nor profitable to pursue fossil fuels further–and once we hit that point, we're in uncharted territory (unless you count pre-industrial history).

As we brace for the collapse, what we're doing, in a sense, is running out of the money Mother Nature socked away for us–money saved by millions of years of natural processes on the planet that, ultimately, got their energy from the sun. Without this metaphorical nest egg, we have to rely on that same metaphorical source of passive income; unless you're living on top of a hot spring, all the world's energy comes, originally, from the sun. And as weird as it may seem to boil this down to sunshine, that's exactly what all this trouble is about. Instead of preparing a proper budget and investing this energy into becoming a Type I Civilization, capitalism came along and a few folks got wealthier than most of the rest of us, and you know how that story ends. What we're left with are the last few dirty pennies at the bottom of the jar, and we have to spend them wisely.

Living Close to the Bone

Making ready for collapse, our goals are twofold: survive, and rebuild. But, crucially, these goals are intertwined–they are not step one and two. We cannot survive long without some kind of community, some kind of society, forming around us. In these early days of preparation pre-collapse, it is of paramount importance that you begin taking steps toward building community as you take steps toward acute disaster survival.

The first layer of preparation–not even Step 1, anymore, really–is your backlog-of-When/If-posts-prepping. Disaster prepping. It's consumptive, it's short-term, it will keep you alive for a few months. While we're navigating the middle ground of the Apocalypse/Working 9-5 Venn Diagram, it's important that you're able to make use of the infrastructure around you before it no longer exists. Build up that buffer between yourself and disaster, with a watchful eye toward the door. Store water, food, medicine. Pack a bugout bag. Learn some rudimentary first aid and self-defense skills.

While making those preparations, we have to begin to divest from consumption, or at least be ready to do so. Are you able to survive if, suddenly, gas prices shot up–or if gas was impossible to get for weeks on end? Can you bike to work or the grocery, walk there, take the bus? Do you have neighbors you can rely on for home repairs, for food, for medical help?

Ultimately you must be prepared to not have your job, to be able to buy food or water, medicine, even if temporarily. This is why consuming less–participating in capitalism less–makes you less susceptible to shock when our standard of consumption is no longer possible. Having that safety net of a pantry full of food or a friend with a garden can really soften these early-stage blows.

What Lasts is What You Start With ~ Charles Wright

Going forward, both you readers and this project, one of our guiding principles will be working with what you have–what you start with. Look at what resources you have where you are. This principle will keep your ecological and consumptive footprint low–which means that ultimately your survivability is higher. Is there arable land around you? (Notice I don't ask, "Do you own any arable land?") Is there a natural source of water nearby? If the answer to these questions is yes, even yes with a but, then you've got some ground to stand on. If the answer is no, you're going to be relying on your community for some basics–so create community. If there is land, plant a garden–even if you don't own the land or have permission. If able, build and install a rain catchment and filtration system. Sow seed anywhere you can. Though foraging isn't a complete solution by any means, it can benefit you and others. These are largely non-consumptive methods of small-scale survival that will assist you as the collapse sets in. They require little buy-in, and don't fall into the trap of traditional land ownership. With time, energy, soil, and water, you have the potential to be set for life. Without them, you have to trust that society will keep you going in exactly the same way it does now (which is not as scary a thought as you may think). You already trade your time and skill for food and water; post-collapse, in a community, you'll do the same with fewer steps in between.