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We're Doomed, Not Dead (Pt. 4 of 4); Calm in The Storm

We're Doomed, Not Dead (Pt. 4 of 4); Calm in The Storm

Over the course of the month it took to write and release this series, the climate news has been consistently miserable. The planet has seen its hottest June since before we recognized months as things. It's likely that 2023 will be the hottest year on record and we just need to run out the clock to prove it. There's a coral bleaching warning off the coast of Florida. In Iran, the heat index was 152°F–in other words, it felt hotter than you want to cook a steak. Fully a third of Americans have been under heat warnings and advisories in recent days. Around 300,000 people in Catania, Sicily, have gone 48 hours without water or power because the cables are underground and the roadways above them melted in the heat. A study has predicted the end of the AMOC cycle by mid-century.

Meanwhile, Russia took backsies on their deal to let Ukraine export grain through the Black Sea, and wheat prices have predictably soared. Ohio lawmakers are trying to pass anti-Trans legislation that would ban drag performances and is broad enough to end some theatre. They're also trying to squeeze through a reform to the Ohio constitution that would make it more difficult for Ohioans to propose future amendments. Everything is continuing apace.

We began this series by acknowledging my belief (it's not fact, of course, and I would love to be wrong) that we are not going to keep to climate commitments, indeed, that we're going to blow past all the limits we've set and thereby unleash events the likes of which the world hasn't seen for millions of years. We talked about what the world is going to look like as this process begins, and how it will continue to worsen, unfortunately, throughout our lives. Last week we looked at what preparing for doom looks like. Today we expand on that, and into, surprisingly, some joy.

Your Village May Vary

A while back, I wrote a little bit of fiction on here about what life might look like if we took the degrowth route and some of the climate crisis were mitigated. For me, while it's looking harder to pull off, that "degrowth utopia" is still the goal. At the heart of my ethics around preparedness are my politics; as an anarchist, I want self-determination for all, a needs-and-care based economy, and to live in equilibrium with the natural world. In a vacuum, humanity could (could) work like that from the jump. But being that we live with thousands of years of history and thousands of years of oppression, hierarchy, and privilege, the best way toward that kind of living is degrowth–an end to the growth model of economics, whether in a capitalist system or not.

There has been a fair amount of Discourse around degrowth and anarchy in social media lately, most of it, in my opinion, in bad faith. Degrowth gets a bad rap for breaking the bad news to Americans that we won't get to always have more and more stuff. Anarchism gets a bad rap because people assume we're all primitivists who want to live in caves and eschew medical technology–and when you bring both terms together, well, we must be fine with Malthus and with some kind of passive eugenics. But that's not so. Even when I wrote that bit of degrowth fiction, I wrote it with the idea in mind that we would dedicate time, energy, and labor to the preservation of modern medical technology and research so that all of us could live in this world.

Which is why I think that it's important to state that this community I've been pitching, this village, doesn't have to look like what you might expect. It's possible that where you are right now is a fine enough place–in fact, it's likely. We will need to live with what has been built, to learn how to repair, to replace, to eke out value in places you wouldn't suspect. Just because you live in a city, in an apartment building, doesn't mean you'll need to leave. We won't all have to disappear into the countryside and live in tiny homes–that's not the answer. Whether you're in an apartment in the middle of a nest of concrete and asphalt or in a suburb with plenty of (though not enough) green space, there are workable solutions to the problems we face. Key to everything, even in the climate crisis, is not the amount of resources but their appropriate application.

The Work

The idea that we can keep a village safe in the middle of the climate crisis is a tenuous one, perhaps actually a little naïve. But we have to try for as much stability as we can–and by that I mean self-sustaining stability. The trappings of capitalism will exist alongside us for a while yet, in some places, but they will not last forever. So wherever you are, you have to prioritize the fundamentals of survival: shelter, water, and food. If you are unable to guarantee these things for your village by virtue of location and acquisition, then you must be able to guarantee them by relationships with others, or you have to move your village. What I mean is, unless you and yours have such a specialized skillset that it allows you to live in symbiosis with other communities, you need to think about either finding that skillset or relocating someplace where resources are more plentiful.

It's important to remember that a lot of our scarcity in the United States is artificial, and that we waste a lot of food and water. The appropriate application of these resources can go a long way toward people staying where they call home, and that can include, potentially, some major cities. Something we'll have to be mindful of in our villages is this application of resources. We can't take the food we grow for granted. We can't take the food that is available on shelves for granted. When COVID hit, we went from having ample food and products in stores to suddenly being without a variety, virtually overnight. That will happen again.

This, as you might be realizing, is where the dual-power rubber meets the road. We're providing our small communities with food, water, and shelter. We will almost certainly need to provide some kind of community defense–though it need not look like arms and armor alone. Community defense can be as simple as being out and about, being alert, providing in a public way that fosters more community rather than hostility. It may, though, look like folks with weapons guarding their own or others from the state or from fasc from time to time. And, if you don't mind how silly it sounds, we need to defend our community from climate impacts.

Hardening Your Village

Remembering that I'm taking a bye on most other threats for this series, we will need to put our labor chiefly toward ensuring our communities, in whatever shape they exist, are as resilient as possible to the most common climate impacts: heat waves and floods. We do this, contrary to my "hardening" verbiage, by digging up roads and demolishing large concrete structures. Roads and concrete buildings are heat sinks and prevent the absorption of water, so they are about as bad as you can get when it comes to prevalent neighborhood materials. A not-insignificant part of why heat waves are worsening is because our building material in cities hoards heat and exudes it at night, when temperatures would typically allow for some respite for people, plants, and animals.

You might guess that this is a difficult task in a city or town that is still working within capitalism. In that regard, you will have to push within the extant levers of power when you can and work outside the system when you can't to whittle at this issue. Preventing heat islands in cities–particularly in historically redlined areas, will be critically important to the health and safety of residents as climate change worsens. Wherever you can pull up roads and, say, parking lots, do. This will create a lot of open space within which you can plant small farm holdings, gardens, or native trees and plants. All of the above will help absorb rainwater and cool off your neighborhood.

This infrastructure is, if you haven't noticed, all vehicular. That's no accident. We have got to limit our usage of both fossil fuel vehicles and green energy vehicles in order to limit further ecological destruction, whether by further dumping of CO2 into the atmosphere or the wreckage brought about by mining rare earth minerals. What it becomes replaced with depends a lot on your community–sustainable public transportation is a viable option, in my opinion, but eventually a lot of us are just going to go the pedestrian route.

The Calm

Having shored up your supplies and skills, enlisted friends and neighbors into creating this community, demolished as much harmful infrastructure as possible and replaced it with green space, you have created a barrier against the apocalyptic. It's not impregnable, but it is considerably more resilient than it would have been without your work. As the government and capitalism around your community breaks down and fades away, you could see your village grow as more people come to realize that yours is the way forward through the fires.

What I am hoping that we create, ultimately, no matter how large or small, is a nimbus of peace in a world that is increasingly difficult to survive. If it's just your family operating sustainably out of your backyard, or an empty lot down the street, that's something. If it's a whole town living for each other, raising and sharing food and caring for one another without a race for material goods, that's great. I can see people living this way across the globe–I really can. Because we're going to try to survive as a species, no matter what. And this happens to be the best way to do so.

In the same way that we began this journey of preparedness as individuals and moved outward, we can benefit from linking our villages together across locales until we've created a network of sustainable and equitable communities that live lives of a similar level of comfort, if not a similar type. And I don't put it beyond communities like this to create systems that begin to mitigate and draw down on CO2 and methane, that eventually get some kind of reins on runaway climate change. I'm not saying it's likely, and I'm not saying it's easy–I'm sure as hell not saying that–but it's possible.

This is a difficult future that was made for us. It's not our fault, but it is our responsibility. We have got to think about what this future could look like now, before even these possibilities are taken from us.

The Weeks to Come

I need a break, y'all. I have projects owed to other people and to myself to work on, so I am going to take a few weeks off/write some shorter letters to buy some time. Meanwhile, f you have the ability to help defray some of the cost of hosting, writing, and researching this newsletter, I would appreciate it.