Responding to Collapse: Resilience and Adaptation
The decline of global, industrial civilization is happening, and responding to collapse is important. Being proactive rather than reactive makes sense to me; that’s why I’m sharing this with you. Beware, this is a long paper!
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.” Mark Twain
I strongly believe that our world in 2100 won’t look at all like it does today. In fact, I think that within twenty years, give or take a decade, our lives, no matter our socioeconomic status, or where we live, will be radically different. But I don’t think that our near-term future will be a happily-ever-after techno utopia; rather, it will be the ongoing decline of industrial civilization.
Personally, I’m acting as if the most dramatic changes to come will happen possibly by 2025, and likely by 2030. I’m taking that approach based on intuition, risk management, and precautionary principles; and because I think living in a more communal and self-sufficient lifestyle would enrich my life.
I’ll try to describe the main causes for the abrupt decline of our global civilization, what our societies could do to attenuate the fall, and what we can do as individuals, families, and communities to respond to the biggest converging crises that humanity has ever faced.
- You can skip to the response, adaptation and resilience part if you don’t want to read about why we’re in this predicament.
We can’t predict the future, but… We can hypothesize where we’re going by looking back.
Mega Trend: Urbanization/Civilization
We know every single past civilization and empire has collapsed: Greeks, Mongols, Egyptians, Mayans, Chinese, Incas, Romans, you name it.
And researchers and historians know that these civilizations showed most of the following symptoms during their decline: destruction of the natural world, depletion of critical resources (such as water, fertile soil, and forests), famine, overpopulation, social and political unrest, inequality, invasion or war, and disease.
Many of those symptoms are occurring at this moment, and some at an unprecedented level.
But our situation is quite different from past civilizations: we have a global industrial system with no room for expansion, our natural world is in a crisis, and the logistics that keep civilization running have never been more complex, and therefore, fragile.
What are mega trends in our recent past and present?
Even if we could isolate one of these converging crises, we would require huge amounts of effort and coordination to stabilize or reverse even one of them.
These trends combine and feed each other, and they could very well lead to cascading systems failure or a snowball effect.
When you stand back and look at the whole picture, it is easier to understand that the foundation of our civilization is in decline.
‘How did you go bankrupt?’ Bill asked. ‘Two ways,’ Mike said. ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’
It’s unlikely that we will experience an event, and be able to say in hindsight “yeah, civilization collapsed last week”. It’s much more likely that collapse continues to unfold in a “geographically uneven, chronologically unsteady, and socially unequal” manner. This means that different regions will suffer different effects, the crisis won’t impact everyone at the same time, and we will be affected in different ways depending on our status.
Northern countries like Russia and Canada might be able to maintain food and water security much longer than countries in the heart of Africa for instance. But our world is more interconnected than at any other time in history; crises in countries far away will still be felt at home. Particularly if the crises are not temporary.
Below is a chart of worrisome trends from the 2017 World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, signed by 15,364 scientist from 184 countries:
Below are some mega trends that help us connect the dots:
Pollution (Ocean Acidification, Water and Air)
Every year the oceans become more acidic from pollutants. Every year rivers become more polluted with manufacturing waste, human waste, agricultural runoff, and household waste.
Every year our atmosphere becomes more polluted from emissions from transportation, factories, processing plants, and power plants.
Environmental Destruction (Deforestation, Habitat loss)
Every year we cut more forests (We’re losing 18.7 million acres of forests annually, equivalent to 27 soccer fields every minute).
Every year more natural landscapes are over-exploited: woodlots are converted to agriculture, agricultural lands converted to suburban development, suburban development converted to urban areas.
“We’ve done more damage to the environment since the United Nations established its climate change framework in 1992 than we did in all the millennia that preceded it.”
Climate Breakdown (Climate Change, Global Warming)
Every year we break hot temperature records, and we increase greenhouse gas emissions. And every year the economic, environmental, and social damage from global warming increases. Climate change is now an existential risk to humanity.
“Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond. Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security (World Threat Assessment, US Intelligence Community).”
We’ve had more than 50 years to change course, but we haven’t; and now we don’t have enough time.
None of the measures our society has taken have made a meaningful change in CO2 emisions:
The oil industry knew about the dangers of climate change since the 1970’s; they buried the information, and funded very successful disinformation campaigns1Exxon Knew about Climate Change almost 40 years ago. Some people are skeptical, but out of 54,195 scientific articles, there is a 99.94% scientific consensus on human-caused global warming2The Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming Matters
Here’s a graph of average annual temperatures of our planet courtesy of NASA:
The latest IPCC 1.5 report says that surpassing a 1.5°C increase in global temperatures will be catastrophic for many people, hundreds of millions of lives are at stake. It’s assumed that surpassing 2°C will be catastrophic for billions, in the image below it’s the planetary threshold3Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. In other words 2°C is the start of a very steep and slippery slope. In 2019, we’re already past 1.2°C4Global emissions pathways under different socioeconomic scenarios for use in CMIP6: a dataset of harmonized emissions trajectories through the end of the century and there has been no slowing down, or effective effort, to reduce fossil fuel dependence.
The 2018 IPCC report giving us maximum of 12 years before catastrophe is unavoidable was “incredibly conservative” said Bob Ward, policy director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, because it did not mention the likely rise in climate-driven refugees or the danger of tipping points that could push the world on to an irreversible path of extreme warming.
“The worsening impacts of climate change in three densely populated regions of the world could see over 140 million people move within their countries’ borders by 2050, creating a looming human crisis” (World Bank).
Climate change is a security risk. And I believe that it could be the final nail in the coffin.
“Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.”
Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, says that the issue now “is the very survival of our civilisation, where conventional means of analysis may become useless” and that “climate change is now reaching the endgame, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences”
“One of the most eminent climate scientists in the world, Peter Wadhams, believes an ice-free Arctic will occur one summer in the next few years and that it will likely increase by 50% the warming caused by the CO2 produced by human activity”.
“Actual temperatures and sea levels, are greater than what the climate models over the past decades were predicting for our current time. They are consistent with non-linear changes in our environment that then trigger uncontrollable impacts on human habitat and agriculture, with subsequent complex impacts on social, economic and political systems.
The politically permissible scientific consensus is that we need to stay beneath 2 degrees warming of global ambient temperatures, to avoid dangerous and uncontrollable levels of climate change.
But when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life. With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go (Bendell).”
“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” Sir David Attenborough, COP24 Conference, 2018
“It takes seven years to produce an IPCC report . . . By the time it is published, the science is already dated … and the models being used aren’t accurately assessing how rapidly these changes are taking place (IPCC author).”
Adding to the complexity of the climate emergency I’ll briefly mention that there is also an aerosol effect, or global dimming effect6BBC documentary-dismiss title: greenhouse gas emissions are on one hand warming the planet (methane and CO2), and on the other hand pollution is cooling our planet by dimming the sun (sulfate aerosols). It is estimated that this masking effect is currently reducing global warming by ~1 °C (“pollution reductions of 35%–80% result in ~1 °C of additional warming”7The roles of aerosol direct and indirect effects in past and future climate change8Global Dimming and Global Warming: Dangerous Alliance).
“[A]bout one-third of potential continental warming [0.4°C – 1.2°C] attributable to increased greenhouse gas concentrations has been masked by aerosol cooling during [1964-2010]”9Disentangling greenhouse warming and aerosol cooling to reveal Earth’s climate sensitivity.
It is possible that we have already passed the tipping points of runaway climate change (Hothouse Earth), or that we are very close to pass them10Tipping points could exacerbate climate crisis, scientists fear11Climate change tipping point could be coming sooner than we think.
Technological Escalation (AI, Electric Grid, Cyberwarfare)
Every year our society becomes more dependent on complex technologies and systems.
Automated algorithms are now embedded into things like the stock market, traffic, distribution systems, the electricity grid etc.
Additionally, the internet and computer systems have become weaponized; cyber warfare and internet propaganda is on the rise. Social media bots, and election meddling are examples that come to mind.
Our civilization is extremely dependent on complex, and therefore fragile technologies like the electric grid and the internet. Most of us can’t even imagine a world without them.
Every year our civilization assimilates or destroys indigenous cultures and other ways of life, of thinking, of knowing, and ways of being. Meaning that every year we have less “alternative” cultures rooted on ancestral knowledge.
“Three-quarters of Earth’s food supply draws on just 12 crops and five livestock species”.”Agrobiodiversity is a precious resource that we are losing”🔗 . Diversity is resilient, our food supply is not. Growing just a handful of crops to feed the world means that one or two staple crops failing due to weather events or diseases could have a massive impact.
Sixth mass extinction (biological anhilation)
“60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals“12Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study
Every day 200 species go extinct… every day. Industrial civilization has caused a mass extinction crisis with a rate 1,000 times higher than normal. We’ve reduced animal populations by 60% since 1970.
The summary of the most comprehensive report on biodiversity and ecosystems (IPBES 2019) declares that 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.
“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide (Sir Robert Watson)”.13IPBES 2019
One in eight species is threatened with extinction in the next decades, but because of the principle of co-extinctions it’s impossible for scientists to accurately predict how much further damage that would entail. The quote below from a 2018 paper explains the risk of coextinctions.
“[It] is becoming increasingly evident how biotic interactions, in addition to permitting the emergence and maintenance of diversity, also build up complex networks through which the loss of one species can make more species disappear (a process known as ‘co-extinction’), and possibly bring entire systems to an unexpected, sudden regime shift, or even total collapse”15Co-extinctions annihilate planetary life during extreme environmental change
This is literally the canary in the coal mine warning us that something dangerous is happening.
Every year there is less “easy access” oil, this slowly reduces the return on energy invested (EROI). We are scraping the bottom of the barrel by fracking, offshore drilling, and extracting oil from tar sands. There is still plenty of unconventional oil, but extracting it has become harder. Due to diminishing returns on energy invested, we will never extract it all.
This graph below shows the combined return on energy invested of oil, gas, and carbon:
And the graph below shows the EROI just for oil:
Cheap energy, aka Oil, has enabled unprecedented growth and abundance (for some). Our agriculture for example, has become increasingly dependent on oil, for production and transportation. Oil is the lifeblood of industrial civilization.
“Climate change is bringing droughts and heatwaves across the globe, as well as floods and sea level rises. Pollution is growing, both of freshwater supplies and underground aquifers. […] Fertilisers leaching nitrates into the supplies can also make water unsuitable for drinking or irrigation”.
Growing water use for agriculture and oil extraction, means water demand is increasing every year. Glaciers that feed rivers and aquifers, are melting, and precipitation patterns are changing.
The natural water cycle is natural desalination, solar powered and free. Nature has provided us with millennia of desalination, and that service can’t be easily replaced.
Soil degradation from chemical-heavy farming, erosion and salinisation continues at an alarming rate. “Generating three centimeters of top soil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue all of the world’s top soil could be gone within 60 years”.
“Extreme weather is imperiling food security across the globe with greater frequency”. History has shown that lack of food or a jump in price can easily lead to social unrest.
“Food crises have led in the past to famine, internal and external conflicts, the collapse of governing authority, migrations, and social disorder. In such cases, many people in the crisis zone may be well-armed and dangerous. […] In a society confronted with starvation, food becomes a weapon every bit as important as ammunition (Joint Operating Environment, U.S. Department of Defense)”.
In the last five years we’ve seen a trend reversal in the number of people with malnutrition.
Multiple breadbasket failure:
“A projected increase in extreme climate events and an increasingly interdependent food supply system pose a threat to global food security [. . .] For example, climate shocks and consequent crop failure in one of the global cereal breadbaskets might have knock-on effects on the global agricultural market. The turbulences are exacerbated if more than one of the main crop-producing regions suffers from losses simultaneously – a scenario often described as multiple breadbasket failure (UN Global Assessment Report 2019).”
Growing demand of Fuel and Food
In the near future, our growing population will require more food. In fact, crop yields will need to increase by at least 50%, over the next 30 years (in a business as usual context).
“In the past, continually moving to new land and soils provided a boost in food production to meet the global demand. That easy fix will no longer be available, however, as more than 98% of all land suitable for agriculture is already in use or degraded beyond repair”.
Runaway Debt and Energy-Economy nexus
The economies of many industrialized nations are in an unsustainable course of ever-increasing debt without a proportional increase in GDP; this is a bubble guaranteed to pop:
“Taken in aggregate, the extent to which the loss of [US] dollar purchasing power has been understated is almost certainly enormous. Between 1985 and 2011, official data shows that the dollar lost 53% of its value, but the decrease in purchasing power might stand at more like 75% on the basis of underlying data stripped of hedonics, substitution and geometric weighting (Tim Morgan).”16perfect storm energy, finance and the end of growth
“Energy is completely central to all forms of activity, so the threat posed by a sharp decline in net energy availability extends into every aspect of the economy, and will affect supplies of food and water, access to other resources, and structures of government and law”
“How will we know when the decline sets in? The following are amongst the most obvious decline-markers:
– Energy price escalation. The inflation-adjusted market prices of energy (and, most importantly, of oil) move up sharply, albeit in a zig-zag fashion as price escalation chokes off economic growth and imposes short-term reverses in demand.
– Agricultural stress. This will be most obvious in more frequent spikes in food prices, combined with food shortfalls in the poorest countries.
– Energy sprawl. Investment in the energy infrastructure will absorb a steadily-rising proportion of global capital investment.
– Economic stagnation. As the decline in EROEIs accelerates, the world economy can be expected to become increasingly sluggish, and to fail to recover from setbacks as robustly as it has in the past.
– Inflation. A squeezed energy surplus can be expected to combine with an over-extended monetary economy to create escalating inflation.
With the exception (thus far) of inflation, each of these features has become firmly established in recent years, which suggests that the energy-surplus economy has already reached its tipping-point (Tim Morgan).”17perfect storm energy, finance and the end of growth
Every year the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The world’s 26 richest people own as much as poorest 3,750,000,000 people. So 1 person owns as much as 144,000,000 people. This is a level of economic inequality never seen before, in our entire history.
Not in their wildest dreams could Egyptian pharaohs imagine this level of inequality.
Increased complexity and interdependence
Because of technological escalation, and habit of solving problems through added complexity, our civilization has grown more and more complex, and energy dependent. Joseph Tainter, author of Collapse of Complex Societies argues that the fundamental cause of collapse is an ever increasing complexity that leads to eventual diminishing returns. Once energy extraction can’t keep up with growing complexity, the jenga tower falls.
Another way to understand how complexity makes our society fragile is just in time production and logistics.
Just in time is a technique to save costs by having minimum inventory at hand. That’s why supermarkets only stock 3 days of food supplies. The increased efficiency, means a decrease in redundancy and ability to cope with emergencies. A minor disruption in the supply chain can have a snowball effect.
Even water is affected by just-in-time: “without truck deliveries of purification chemicals, water supply plants will run out of drinkable water in 14 to 28 days (American Trucking Associations).”
Rapid Population Growth
Until very recently our population has skyrocketed: after the 1900s, population growth exploded, courtesy of fossil fuels and synthetic fertilizers.
“We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats (Scientists Warning 2017)”🔗.
The Myth of Infinite Growth
Our dominant socioeconomic narrative is that of infinite growth. The specific economic and social systems we’ve created are based on debt, and therefore depend on constant growth. Only an idiot, or an economist will tell you that you can have infinite growth on a finite planet. Unfortunately they are not the only ones perpetuating this narrative.
Watch the news and you’ll hear our governments tell us that what we need is economic growth, more jobs.
In 1972 The book Limits to Growth brought awareness to the idea of limits. It immediately triggered countless critics, and their idea that there are limits to growth was disproven, falsely, many times, mostly by economists.
They didn’t seek out to prove there are limits (that should be common sense), they just assumed there are and used computer models to try to estimate them.
- 1970s: There are no effective limits.
- 1980s: There are limits, but they are far away.
- 1990s: The limits are near, but technology and markets can evade them easily.
- 2000s: Technology and markets do not always evade the limits, but the best policy is still to pursue growth, so we will have more resources to solve problems.
- 2010s: If we had been able to sustain economic growth, we would not have had trouble with the limits.
Why is exponential growth impossible?
If China continued its economic growth of 7% per year, its economy would double in 10 years! It would quadruple in 20 years, and in 50 years it would be 32 times bigger! Can you imagine?
Boundaries and Limits
Boundaries can be thought of as frontiers that shouldn’t be trespassed because they put our planet in unknown territory, a fragile and dangerous state that entails high risks. According to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, we’ve breached 4 out of 9 planetary boundaries: climate change, mass extinction, habitat loss, and biogeo-chemical flows.
Limits are walls that are impossible to get through, like the laws of thermodynamics.
Peak oil is not a theory, it is a geologic principle (that also applies to minerals). It’s the point in time when the maximum rate of extraction of petroleum is reached, after which it is expected to enter terminal decline. Many experts believe, and the evidence suggests that we have or are approaching the peak of the bell curve.
The 2018 International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook contains the graph below that might indirectly imply that peak oil will happen sometime around 202320IEA 2018 World Energy Outlook: Peak oil is here, oil crunch by 202321Commentary: Crunching the numbers: are we heading for an oil supply shock?
In 2014 British researchers concluded: “a sustained decline in global conventional production [of oil] appears probable before 2030 and there is significant risk of this beginning before 2020”22The future of oil supply (2014)
Now peak oil is not a wall, it’s just a point in time after which energy availability declines. Making Business As Usual of economic growth more difficult to maintain. This is because there is an inextricable link between energy use and the economy, as seen in the graph below.23Our Finite World
In the energy sector one of the “thermodynamic” walls is the EROI of 10:1 for oil. Once the EROI of oil extraction decreases and approaches ten units of energy return to one unit invested, its price increases exponentially. Similar walls apply to gas, carbon, uranium, minerals and metals24Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet. See graphic below (Y axis is price).
In the book How everything can collapse (in French), researchers Pablo Servigne and Raphael Stevens describe the concept of lock-in by explaining why all our computers nowadays have a QWERTY keyboard layout. A layout that was designed for mechanical typewriters, but that is not as efficient to use as a layout designed for speed and proficiency like the DVORAK.
They also talk about how the use of cars has led to the design of cities, designed for cars. Through self reinforcing cycles our civilization has come to use specific technologies, ideas, and systems.
In other words, many things, attitudes, ideas, and choices in the past have led to our current circumstances and choices (or lack there of) available to us.
Nowadays three examples of our global lock-ins are the financial system, a carbon based energy system, and growth.25Globalizing carbon lock-in These lock-ins make it very difficult for our society to purposefully mitigate and adapt to our converging crises.
Converging Crises Wrap-up
“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.” Obomsawin, from the Abenaki First Nations reserve.
I’d like to sum up this section of converging crises with a school textbook graph explaining the importance of carrying capacity (K), the maximum population size that the environment can sustain indefinitely.
I think the blue path represents us best; we are past the Earth’s carrying capacity and the environment is damaged, but our population keeps increasing, at the cost of damaging further the future’s carrying capacity.
Our modern culture is unique in that we have the arrogance to think that the laws of nature do not apply to us, that we can overthrow nature and manage the Earth… We can’t even manage ourselves.
In addition, scientists continue to discover more unknowns about our ecosystem and climate. And many agree that this coup d’Etat is bound to fail, and that it will lead to disastrous consequences.
Paul Chefurka has descibed how we climb the ladder of awareness:
“When it comes to our understanding of the unfolding global crisis, each of us seems to fit somewhere along a continuum of awareness that can be roughly divided into five stages:
- Dead asleep. At this stage there seem to be no fundamental problems, just some shortcomings in human organization, behaviour and morality that can be fixed with the proper attention to rule-making.
- Awareness of one fundamental problem. Whether it’s climate change, overpopulation, peak oil, biodiversity loss, corporatism, economic instability or sociopolitical injustice, one problem seems to engage the attention completely.
- Awareness of many problems. As people let in more evidence from different domains, the awareness of complexity begins to grow. At this point a person worries about the prioritization of problems in terms of their immediacy and degree of impact.
- Awareness of the interconnections between the many problems. The realization that a solution in one domain may worsen a problem in another marks the beginning of large-scale system-level thinking. It also marks the transition from thinking of the situation in terms of a set of problems to thinking of it in terms of a predicament. At this point the possibility that there may not be a solution begins to raise its head.
- Awareness that the predicament encompasses all aspects of life. This includes everything we do, how we do it, our relationships with each other, as well as our treatment of the rest of the biosphere and the physical planet. With this realization, the floodgates open, and no problem is exempt from consideration or acceptance.”
“For those who arrive at Stage 5 there is a real risk that depression will set in. After all, we’ve learned throughout our lives that our hope for tomorrow lies in our ability to solve problems today. When no amount of human cleverness appears able to solve our predicament the possibility of hope can vanish like a the light of a candle flame, to be replaced by the suffocating darkness of despair.”
“How people cope with despair is of course deeply personal, but it seems to me there are two general routes people take to reconcile themselves with the situation. These are not mutually exclusive, and most of us will operate out of some mix of the two. I identify them here as general tendencies, because people seem to be drawn more to one or the other. I call them the outer path and the inner path.”
“If one is inclined to choose the outer path, concerns about adaptation and local resilience move into the foreground. . . . Choosing the inner path involves re-framing the whole thing in terms of consciousness, self-awareness and/or some form of transcendent perception. For someone on this path it is seen as an attempt to manifest Gandhi’s message, “Become the change you wish to see in the world,” on the most profoundly personal level (Chefurka).”
What do we know for certain?
1.- The physical growth of our societies will stop in the near future
2.- We have altered the Earth systems in an irreversible way
3.- We are going towards an unstable future (meaning non linear changes, great internal and external shocks will be the norm)
What do I mean by Collapse?
Collapse can be defined as a social breakdown caused by shortages of both goods (things you buy) and services (including maintenance & repair), as well as public systems like transportation, communications, or utilities (such as electricity and water), and ever-increasing scarcity and downscaling.
I also think that it has been and will continue to progress unevenly in terms of geography, unsteadily in terms of time, and unequally in terms of socioeconomic status.
“Early stages of collapse could occur within a decade, or might even be underway. This suggests, from a rational risk based perspective, that we have squandered the past decades, and that preparing for a collapsing global system could be even more important than trying to avoid collapse (Turner).”
Early indicators of decline
What indicators can we monitor to check how collapse progresses?
Global Debt to GDP: news
Global undernourishment: chart
Famine early warning: EWEA
Death rate: chart
Natural disasters worldwide: chart
Climate Change Tipping points (Feedback Loops)
Melting of the Permafrost: news
Melting of Sea Ice: news
What can we do as a global society to avoid collapse?
Collapse is happening; it is most likely unavoidable.
Our population hasn’t peaked yet, but critical Earth systems are collapsing. And since the Earth and environment form the foundation of our societies… they will follow.
There is no fix: our civilization is unsustainable. That means not sustainable, no amount of greenwashing will save it, no amount of technological fixes or “renewables” will avoid collapse; our civilization as we know it is irredimible.
We would have to change so much to make it sustainable, that it wouldn’t look at all like it does now. We are at the Wile E. coyote, off the cliff, stage of collapse: in the carrying capacity graph above called “consequences of exceeding K”, this stage is the “population overshoots carrying capacity: environment is damaged”. The only thing we can do as a global society is to try to collapse/decline in an orderly way.
In an ideal world, ruled by wise, altruistic humans, we could rapidly de-escalate, transform, and simplify our entire socioeconomic system. We could create a sense of urgency and political will that is unprecedented. Powerful people (as in state leaders and other elites) in coordination with grassroots leaders, could start a movement through a massive, world-wide media campaign to raise awareness about what needs to get done and why, and to instill a sense of urgency in the entire population. Once the critical mass is on board, the majority of the world’s nations and corporations could be forced to work together to “collapse now and avoid the rush”.
In the Western hemisphere we are starting to see a sense of urgency around climate change with initiatives like the Green New Deal, but it will likely remain co-opted by bureaucratic NGOs and private interests, just like the bright-green environmental movement. Also it is in no way a proportional response to our converging systemic crises. Instead of leading the way to adaptation and mitigation, proposals like the Green New Deal are just a way for a few investors to enrich themselves as the world burns. Green Jobs™, Green Growth™, Solar panels, and wind turbines do not tackle our systemic predicament trending towards catastrophic global warming, the sixth mass extinction, and the collapse of industrial civilization.
I’m a realist, so I hold no illusions of a truly effective transformation happening in time.
“Given the context of a complete absence of the political will necessary to divorce ourselves completely and immediately from all fossil fuel burning and mount a globally coordinated effort to shift the global economy into locally-oriented, small-scale, farming-based coupled with soil regeneration and tree planting initiatives to even mitigate the impacts a little bit, there is just nothing to be done other than each of us accepting the reality of where we are and choosing to live accordingly (Jamail).”
How could it unravel?
Our global industrial civilization is composed of complex interdependent systems. So it’s logical to learn from the collapse of complex systems, like the ones found in ecology and networks.
There are two likely ways in which collapse will continue to occur.
The first way and the most desirable, is the one illustrated on the left side of the image above. An oscillating descent with plenty of ups and downs, but with an obvious downward trend. This is what John Michael Greer calls catabolic collapse. This kind of collapse would allow us to become more resilient and to let alternative systems emerge while current systems collapse. Due to the interdependence of our systems I think that this kind of collapse is less likely to happen than the second kind.
The second kind, systemic collapse (right side) is what happens with complex systems. When the system is stressed it remains very resilient. The system absorbs the stress and keeps working for a long time. But if the stress continues to increase, at some point in time a keystone component (node) breaks down. Then a catastrophic shift occurs and the system rapidly changes into a different state. A forest turns into grassland for instance.
Maybe the most realistic path we can expect is a combination of an oscillating or catabolic collapse that reaches a tipping point and then collapses systemically. Or maybe this is wishful thinking and the collapse will be systemic without foreshocks.
On a very different note the point we’re in terms of our civilization reminds me of the psychological stages of a financial bubble, between greed and denial.
If you are convinced that we have a really serious predicament, and that the most likely consequence of our converging crises is the collapse of industrial civilization, leading within this century to a severe decrease in population, then continue reading.
If you are still skeptic, then I suggest you scroll back up and read carefully about each mega trend and crises, following some links to read more about each one of them; or bookmark this article and read it again in a week or month.
I know it’s not easy to change your mind. I don’t want to either. I’m showing you the door, your nature-nurture will lead you to open or close it.
Understanding our predicament requires a paradigm shift, a change in perspective that questions our firmly-held assumptions about reality.
Having a raison d’être, a life purpose would make it easier for anyone to fully understand our predicament. After all, this topic has parallels to confronting our own mortality.
I’ve spent a lot of time digesting the evidence and ruminating on what it means for my life, my attitude, and my actions. I’ve felt depressed, I’ve grieved, I’ve been angry, I’ve bargained, and I’ve accepted it for the most part. I know the topic of collapse is heavy and could be toxic if handled without caution. I’d like to remind you that you can find or make meaning in adversity.
Even for scientists, embracing a paradigm shifts takes a long time. Many decades had to pass before the idea that the world orbits the sun was fully embraced by the scientific community (an idea older than Copernicus).
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Max Planck, Nobel Prize in physics
“We are scared by uncertainty and we don’t really like the risk associated with it. Furthermore, paradigm shifts often mean re-discussing the fundamental values of our society and possibly admit we’ve been wrong all along — that is, we’ve based our world on wrong assumptions.
Humans are resilient to change and so is our society at large. As much as we’d like to, the best innovator is time — or death if you will. The only way to effectively innovate our society and bring the much-needed change is to wait for time to make its course, for new ideas to spread and for old ideas — and old perpetrators of such ideas — to die”.
In terms of our emergency context, we don’t have the amount of time required for our societies to change their mind. We needed to prevent these crises decades ago.
It is up to us to be a dinosaur or to be a mammal; choose wisely, and assertively.
“Assessments of our environmental problems overwhelmingly tend to envision an apocalyptic future in which depletion of natural resources will lead to either fierce competition for, or strict rationing of, what is left.
Both situations are depicted as quite grim and pleasure-less. It is difficult for even those of us gravely concerned by ecological degradation and highly motivated to address it to be inspired by such prospects, particularly when this entails giving up a lifestyle.
And so while we may in fact claim that we desire the dramatic change we know is needed, we may secretly fear this change as well, engaging in our own disavowal concerning the depth of our commitment to the cause (Fletcher).”
Psychology and Philosophy
I expect most people not familiar with collapse to approach this with a mental defense mechanism engaged. That is, with denial.
Most of us deal with death in the same way, we know we’re mortals but it’s only when death seems imminent that we confront our mortality.
And even if you accept the reality of our predicament, you can’t really accept it without grieving. Without actually understanding what the sixth mass extinction, global warming, and the collapse of civilization would entail for the living world, for humanity, and for us as individuals.
But you don’t know the future, things could improve
No one knows the future.
Hopefully, things improve. It would be amazing if our global society developed a sense of urgency, and managed to coordinate a response. But even if we did, tackling our crises will still require unprecedented, radical changes in our society. I’m not holding my breath.
Saying that things might/could/will improve just gives us an excuse for inaction and complacency, but what we need is a sense of urgency and action.
I hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
“We do not know if the power of human ingenuity will help sufficiently to change the environmental trajectory we are on. Unfortunately, the recent years of innovation, investment and patenting indicate how human ingenuity has increasingly been channelled into consumerism and financial engineering. We might pray for time. But the evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war (Bendell).”
You can continue your life business as usual… I’m not counting on you to change. It doesn’t matter which perspective you take: simplifying our society will be harsh, and it will get done regardless if we want it or not.
Plus, what if I’m wrong and you achieve greater economic resilience? food self-sufficiency? energy independence? resilient, stronger communities? purpose amidst adversity? better health and a more sustainable life? for nothing? (sarcasm).
If the evidence supported by thousands of scientists can’t convince you that we are facing a serious threat to organized life, fine…
“The dinosaurs never saw that asteroid coming. What’s our excuse?” Neil DeGrasse Tyson
But civilization is doing well, as it always has
The doomsday clock is still at two minutes to midnight. World’s GDP is still going up, and industrial civilization shows no obvious sign of slowing down. But the foundation of civilization, the living world, the planet, is showing many signs of catastrophe, from mass extinctions to coral reef deaths to animal plagues. And the Arctic sea ice could disappear soon.
As I’ve stated before, world debt is at an all-time high. Record debt is not a good symptom.
Below are some excerpts from the Joint Operating Environment a 2010 report by the U.S. Department of Defense, talking about the “dangerous vulnerabilities the growing energy crisis presents”:
“By the 2030s, demand [of energy] is estimated to be nearly 50% greater than today ”
“A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India. At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment. To what extent conservation measures, investments in alternative energy production, and efforts to expand petroleum production from tar sands and shale would mitigate such a period of adjustment is difficult to predict. One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest.”
“The implications for future conflict are ominous, if energy supplies cannot keep up with demand and should states see the need to militarily secure dwindling energy resources.”
So on one side, the world’s governments know that to keep civilization running we need to increase energy production substantially (leading to more greenhouse gas emissions).
And on the other side, the world’s governments know that to avert catastrophic climate change we need to greatly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
It is a dilemma indeed.
But technology is always improving, and it will save us… the Techno-Fix
We’ve been researching modern “renewable” technology for decades, and it still is only 12% of total energy use. Revolutionizing the infrastructure of civilization would still require decades and enormous investments of energy and money.
We’ve had the technology required for a deliberate simplification or descent for decades, we don’t need more tech to become sustainable.
Putting all our eggs in an unscalable technology, like carbon capture, is not a sound strategy to tackle our current predicament.
“We’ve deified technology to the point of it saving us. I also see all of this as symptomatic of our radical disconnection from nature, from the very planet from which we came and are completely dependent upon. Until we can each personally foster and reconnect to the Earth, we will be walking into the future of our demise asleep.”
“Renewables […] it’s a misnomer – none of these sources are actually renewable. They are completely dependent on oil to build, maintain, and transport. All renewable technology and construction, as well as the infrastructure and transportation needed to get their product to consumers, is dependent entirely on oil (fossil fuels). Another giant problem is that these are all sources of producing electricity. […] most of the energy we use isn’t electric – electricity production is only 18% of total world energy demand.”
Two highly qualified Google engineers (Stanford PhDs in aerospace engineering and applied physics) that spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology as part of an ambitious Google project (RE<C) came to this conclusion:
“We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope … Renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach.”27Renewable energy simply won’t work
But the Green New Deal could save us
The Green New Deal is another techno-fix, see above.
“The fact that a solar panel and wind turbine has become more strongly associated with nature and environment than an actual tree, insect or animal, is in itself, quite terrifying and a stark indicator in the power of social engineering conducted on the citizenry over the last two decades”
“Today’s climate emergency mobilization must be recognized for what it is: a strategically orchestrated campaign financed and managed by the world’s most powerful institutions – for the preservation of capitalism and global economic growth (Morningstar).”
Like always, big NGOs and the elite will continue to co-opt emerging environmental movements in order to prop-up capitalism and continue economic growth through neoliberal environmentalism.
But we can’t cheat the laws of thermodynamics.
“The non-profit industrial complex with it’s interlocking directorate of behavior change, movement incubation, and networked governance agencies built this opportunity to propagandize reformist measures to tackle impossible goals while framing out the well funded and impending reality that fossil fools will do everything, absolutely everything they need to do to get their way (Swifte).”
The elite knows of these crises but they won’t be able to respond to the root problem, they are not coordinated, and have too many irreconcilable interests. There is no easy way out of this dilemma, there is too much inertia. If anything, we needed a global green new deal 50 years ago.
“The primary commitment of the international community is to maintain the current social and economic system. The result is denial that tackling GHG emissions is incompatible with sustained economic growth. The reality is that Nation States and international corporations are engaged in an unremitting and ongoing expansion of fossil fuel energy exploration, extraction and combustion, and the construction of related infrastructure for production and consumption (Spash)”
“The Green New Deal would not achieve an economic transformation; rather, it would hitch its sustainable-infrastructure investment and taxation reforms to the existing economy. It would leave the private sector untethered, free to produce for profit rather than for quality of life. Inevitably, pressure would build to crank the dirty energy back up (Cox).”
But you are taking it too far, it’s not going to be that bad everywhere
We live in an interconnected world: social instability spreads easily, and impacts everyone. That’s a reason why some countries spend lots of money on foreign aid, to try to keep regional instability controlled and contained.
The interconnected systems in which our civilization relies are very susceptible to cascading systems failure.
For instance, in regards to food and climate change: in 2010 a heatwave destroyed 1/3 of wheat and grain crops in Russia. So they banned them from being exported; that led to a rise in price.28Russia bans wheat and grain exportsRussia bans wheat and grain exports As these crises become more frequent, countries will act similarly, causing a ripple effect on countries that depend on food imports, and destabilising countries that can’t afford the rising prices.
But I can’t accept your premise and/or conclusion, because responding and adapting effectively would require changes in my life that are inconvenient right now.
That’s exactly what I’m talking about when I say that I don’t have faith in our civilization undergoing a voluntary descent/transformation. Even at a personal level reducing our environmental impacts and becoming self-reliant can be very inconvenient.
We think: “I’m not going to move out of the city, or organize my community, or plant a garden, or consume less, or invest money and time becoming more resilient”.
What does that tell you about how our society will continue to respond to our crises?
Nothing will really change until we hit bottom, and by the time that happens it would be too late to avoid societal collapse.
But Nature is extremely resilient
Or, “we will never drive all bacteria extinct.”
It is not only about the Earth, the plants, and the animals, it is about us, humans. The Earth will survive without us; it is us that need a healthy ecosystem.
Nature is way more resilient than anything we can throw at it. But humanity is not.
It is in our best interest to play nice with nature.
In the words of George Carlin: “the planet is fine… the people are fucked”.
Before we begin the section of responding to collapse I’ll share the most comprehensive video I’ve found describing our converging crises, the video goes over a lot of the information above but it also talks about other aspects. It’s 1 hour long and it’s in French but has English subtitles.
Community Response and Resilience
The next section is about what I think are the collapse “best practices” at a community level, and then at a personal and family level.
Resilience, Relinquishment, and Restoration (from the author of Deep Adaptation)
“Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?” Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?” Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?”
“Relinquishment involves people and communities letting go of certain assets, behaviours and beliefs [that] could make matters worse. Examples include withdrawing from coastlines, shutting down vulnerable industrial facilities, or giving up expectations for certain types of consumption.
“Restoration involves people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organisation that our hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded. Examples include re-wilding landscapes, so they provide more ecological benefits and require less management, changing diets back to match the seasons, rediscovering non-electronically powered forms of play, and increased community-level productivity and support.”
Pablo Servigne suggests a few ideas to guide our response to our predicament:
1.- We can reduce waste, production, and consumption (reducing stress on Earth ecosystems)
2.- We know how to deal with shortages (we’ve done it before, fast and at a big scale).
Mutual aid emerges in hostile environments. Contrary to popular belief, the most dominant law of the jungle is not “the strongest, most competitive survives”. It is “the most cooperative survives”. Symbiosis is more important for survival than competition.
Pablo admits that our current society has being conditioned to individualism, but our nature still has a huge tendency towards mutual aid.
2.- When we follow the principles of the living (biomimicry) it creates abundance and resilience.
Working with nature, not against it.
3.- Agriculture without oil.
Agriculture that requires a lot of knowledge of permaculture principles and biomimicry.
It involves a lot of manual work.
Uses forest gardens and habitat regeneration.
resilience, localization, and adaptation
I believe there are three guiding principles that our local communities should strive for: resilience, localization, and adaptation.
- “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress (American Psychology Association, 2018)”. It is the capacity for a community to keep functioning despite external stressors.
- Localization is striving for autonomy and self sufficiency at a local level: growing food locally, generating local renewable energy, using local resources etc.
- Adaptation means coping with our predicament.
This doesn’t mean that a community can implement a response strategy and then things will continue as usual; radical changes are needed, and negative effects of collapse will still be felt.
How would resilience, localization, and adaptation in a community look like (initially)?
- Developing a local economy and marketplace where local goods and services (handcrafts, produce etc.) can be purchased or better yet traded.
- Facilitating activities like: asking neighbors for help, giving away stuff, sharing, bartering, carpooling, pot lucks, events, activities, workshops etc.
- Starting a large community garden.
- Sourcing locally grown food.
- Organizing self-sufficiency and resilience workshops
- Developing skills useful in an adaptation context
Basically, communities need to focus on being self-sufficient in terms of food, water, energy, and transportation.
Personal and Family Response
At a personal level I think there are some prudent actions to take in the context of civilization decline. The first step to take as a response to our predicament is that of acceptance and surrender. To actually internalize and believe that we are facing an existential risk.
“It is important to understand that the situation we are in is a predicament rather than a problem. The distinction is that a problem is something you solve, while a predicament has no solution – it is a situation you just have to cope with as best as you can (Mills)”.
For instance, death is not a problem it’s a predicament. Genetic diseases are not a problem, for they have no solution. To deal with a predicament one must learn to live with it, to adapt.
“There is nothing any of us can do to change the path we are on: it is a huge system with tremendous inertia, and trying to change its path is like trying to change the path of a hurricane. What we can do is prepare ourselves, and each other, mostly by changing our expectations, our preferences, and scaling down our needs. It may mean that you will miss out on some last, uncertain bit of enjoyment. On the other hand, by refashioning yourself into someone who might stand a better chance of adapting to the new circumstances, you will be able to give to yourself, and to others, a great deal of hope that would otherwise not exist (Orlov).”
After learning about our predicament we will proceed through the stages of grief (non-linearly): denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s hard to arrive at acceptance, and you might occasionally regress to earlier stages. I still gravitate between anger, bargaining, and acceptance.
“People often avoid voicing certain thoughts when they go against the social norm around them and/or their social identity. Especially in situations of shared powerlessness, it can be perceived as safer to hide one’s views and do nothing if it goes against the status quo (Bendell).”
“I assume that a lot of you are thinking that this is all quite far into the future, if in fact it ever gets that bad. The danger there is that you will miss the opportunity to adapt to the new reality ahead of time, and then you will get trapped. As I see it, there is a choice to be made: you can accept the failure of the system now and change your course accordingly, or you can decide that you must try to stay the course, and then you will probably have to accept your own individual failure later (Orlov).”
“People who have invested time and money in progressing to a higher status within existing social structures are more naturally inclined to imagine reform of those systems than their upending. This situation is accentuated if we assume our livelihood, identity and self-worth is dependent on the perspective that progress on sustainability is possible and that we are part of that progressive process.
Emotional difficulties with realising the tragedy that is coming, and that is in many ways upon us already, are understandable. Yet these difficulties need to be overcome so we can explore what the implications may be for our work, lives and communities (Bendell).”
I think that the majority of people are in denial, many can sense that something is off, but they don’t really want to know. Many people are in the anger stage, blaming the others, or weaving conspiracy theories. Techno progressive utopians, the ones that think that technology and human ingenuity will solve everything, are in the bargaining phase. Many collapseniks are in the depression, and/or acceptance state.
“Acceptance means staring the reality straight in the face and actively deciding to move forward. Either to get on with the job of living in a fundamentally changed world or getting on with dying”.
One of the barriers to acceptance is our cognitive dissonance (holding inconsistent thoughts): “In his book “Anthropocene”, environmental historian Sverker Sörlin describes our time in the following way: “It is both a success story and a period of breakdown”.
Acceptance is the most important response, it is necessary for developing emotional resilience.
“Many people put their faith in political activism, hoping to convince those who are in power to solve the problems that they are concerned about. This may even work at times, but I have very little faith in it. Our current power structures, regardless of what political labels they operate under, are actually the source of many of our problems. No amount of fine tuning of the system is likely to fix the problems that the system is, by its very nature, causing.
Better to take one’s own situation in one’s hands, take a realistic (and inevitably somewhat pessimistic) view of what lies ahead and get ready to cope with it (Mills).”
Action is the antidote of despair. If you would like to do activism I recommend Extinction Rebellion. It’s not your average fluffy, co-opted activist group, they are striving for a revolution and a systemic overhaul.
“Grant me this day
The courage to change those things I can,
The serenity to accept those things I cannot change
And above all, the wisdom to know the difference”
After acceptance you must choose a course of action. The choices fall in a spectrum between living business as usual, for as long as you can, or assertively preparing to face our challenges and adapt.
If you choose to prepare, you might find yourself feeling overwhelmed. You might have the following thoughts:
How much time is left?… I wish I had more money and time to prepare… how do I prioritize what to do?… etc.
I think it’s helpful to surrender to the fact that we will never be fully ready for what is to come. We have to let go of business as usual, and that won’t be easy.
Often I see people trying to figure out ways to preserve all the luxuries they have come accustomed to have.
But it will be impossible to preserve our lifestyles.
The only thing that is constant is change.
And we will never be able to fully insulate ourselves from the world’s problems.
It will be very helpful for us to realize that our preparations will never be perfect, there will always be ways to improve.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to project your current way of life into the future, that will be doomed to failure. Surrender to the change that is coming. Those who are flexible adapt. Get back to the basics.
“It doesn’t really matter how you think we come to be in this situation, the important question is “what do we do now” and deliberate descent provides immediately applicable answers to that question (Mills).”
Collapse now and avoid the rush
Deliberate Descent: “I’ve been trying to present [it] as a practical adaptation to a challenging situation, which will in any case involve “involuntary descent” if one doesn’t get ahead of the game. Especially at the individual level it can be applied, to at least some extent, without the cooperation of those around us.”
“When it comes right down to it, the bare necessities are energy, food and water. All three are going to be in short supply as collapse progresses over the next few decades, and those shortages will frequently lead to crises. The term “necessities” implies you can’t adapt to such shortages, at least not in the long term. All you can do is try to be where they are less severe.
The only real choice you have is to be part of the influx of refugees or to be among of those who are welcoming that influx. I would say that the latter role is very much preferable. A timely move, before things get serious, can put you on the right side of things (Mills)“.
“If you have made it through the acceptance phase, taking into account those four unavoidable disasters, climate chaos, economic contraction and dependence, resource depletion and social destabilization, it would seem to me that your first prep or adaptation would be to go outside and begin making a clear assessment of, if where you are… has any future. If the answer is no, then you must begin the long process of examining areas that stand the best chance as these changes occur and begin the processes of moving there. You will want to start this now. Not after the collapse or when the shit hits the fan”.
“Strong local communities are the key to survival and joining one now is the best option (Mills).”
You might also decide to “adapt in place”, but I will continue to describe what to look for if you are considering moving.
Below I describe the “ideal” best practices, obviously we’ll have to make do with what we have and no place will be perfect.
The ideal community:
Viable Today as part of BAU
“You really need a community that is viable now, as part of “Business as Usual”, and which can adapt as collapse progresses and then still be viable under post collapse conditions, where you can initially earn a living or set up to live off your savings/investments/pension (Mills).”
Renewable Energy and Firewood
Your town should be close to a source of firewood to use for heating, cooking, construction, and products. If it has nearby, renewable energy plants, then that’s a big asset.
Ideally, the groundwater from already existing wells or surface water is potable or can be made that way through filtration or treatment. Needless to say, water is a crucial part of small scale agriculture so make sure that it is feasible to irrigate the nearby fields using low tech or appropriate technology.
Fertile for small scale agriculture
The ideal location would be an intentional community that is highly self-sufficient in terms of food.
It should have enough fertile land within walking distance to grow more than enough food for the local population, on existing farmland, and without fossil fuel powered machinery.
It should have a highly skilled population of about one hundred to a few thousand (this still leaves room for refugees without becoming too big). This population size is small enough that organizing a transition to small scale agriculture is not impossibly difficult when it becomes necessary.
Think about Dunbar’s number, “number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.”
The extended family of the current population might move in, as urban areas decline.
“Size of small towns will increase first as former locals return from the city and then again as refugees arrive”.
Consider that your location will have to welcome at least some refugees as other places become harder to live in. Your community will eventually have to turn people away, but it’s best to find a location that can afford to grow in size while remaining sustainable.
Near a forest
A forest can be a source of firewood but also a source of wild foods, medicine, and other goods.
Far from a big city
“Small towns of a few hundred to a few thousand people, surrounded by farmland, not isolated farmsteads.”
Being far from a big city will make it more difficult for people to get there; therefore it should help decrease the amount of refugees. It shouldn’t be close enough to be easy to reach on foot or bicycle. Ideally, avoid a location within 150 miles of a major population center. Perhaps consider that the average car range is 300 to 400 miles (400 to 600 km). You can use this map to better visualize distances from major population centers.
Cities are not good places to be during a decline because they depend on fragile logistics. The concentration of population there makes it hard to cope with even minor disruptions.
Strong sense of community
We are very weak as individual, but as a tight, organized community we can be a force to be reckoned with.
Choose a place “where you have connections in the community, or where you can make those connections with some hard work”.
“While perhaps not quite so urgent, some thought should be given to how to welcome refugees. This is on humanitarian grounds, if nothing else. A community that is willing to drive refugees away at gunpoint, will eventually be willing to treat its own members just as harshly. Your remote location should ensure you won’t be overrun, that a manageable number of refugees show up. Your aim should be to treat these folks as well as you treat yourselves and, without abusing them, to turn them into a resource rather than a burden. You will be switching over to a lifestyle where people are needed to replace automation, so that shouldn’t be too hard (Mills).”
Near transportation routes
“Another use for water is transportation. A town located on a canal, navigable river or lake has some major advantages, especially when shipping by truck and rail becomes unviable.”
Think about past historical trade routes used before cars, those routes could become trade hubs again.
Regional map on migration, environment and climate change. You can check other continents as well.
Location Location Location
Look for a place that is, and will continue to be:
- Well above sea level
- Sheltered from tropical storms
- Not in the floodplain of a river
- Not in a desert or semi-desert that relies on water from aquifers or glaciers
- Not subject to extreme hot temperatures or heat waves
- Receiving enough summer rain to allow for agriculture
- With a growing season and soil that will support agriculture
- Where food production at a local, small-scale level is possible and will continue to be possible as the climate changes
Improve your Physical Health
“Get in the best health you possibly can, whatever that looks like for you.”
Health is something that you can improve now and that will help you become more resilient.
- Exercise for at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity (difficulty talking) or 150 minutes of moderate intensity (increased breathing, able to talk) per week.
- Eat diverse and balanced foods, and drink enough water to keep you well hydrated (pee should be almost clear).
“Being physically fit and getting adequate high-quality sleep are one of the main defences against various forms of stress”.
Improve your Mental Health and Attitude
Mental health is just as important. You can try to develop mental resilience through adversity, will-power training, meditation, discipline, and strong social relationships.
This is one of the most important preparation you could do, and it’s one of the skills that will always be with you.
Build Social Connection
Social connection is the strength of your social relationships. Not only does it increase your well being and mental resilience… During crises nothing becomes more important than having a community in which you can rely on for help. So try to strengthen your community. And involve your friends, family, and community in your resiliency and adaptation efforts.
Strive for Economic Resilience
Getting rid of debt is the first step towards economic resilience because having debt will amplify the damage of an economic downturn.
Diversify your income sources doing things like sewing, gardening, building, repairs, selling your own foods etc.
Simplify your lifestyle, save money by cutting back on unnecessary spending.
Sell unneeded assets and possessions.
In case a temporary crisis disrupts your regional economy, you might want to diversify your emergency fund. I would recommend having small savings consisting of bitcoin (only short term), 1 gram gold coins (easier to trade than a bigger bar), 1 oz gold bars, and hard cash in local and/or foreign currencies.
This makes more sense in the short term. In a permanent disruption (catastrophic shift), useful goods along with social capital is the way to go; money and precious metals would lose must of their perceived value.
The ultimate hedge in a serious economic or similar crises is having goods for barter, particularly food.
Think about what would happen if you lost your job, savings, or pension, and how could you mitigate the consequences of that.
During times of economic adversity, unemployment and financial stress can lead to significant personal and social issues among family and friends. So build your social connections.
Don’t dismiss the possibility of having to move
Unless you have a plan set in stone. Consider being prepared to move, build flexibility in your plans.
Have a valid passport, and a go bag.
Leaving your home is a last resort, but it makes sense to be ready in an increasingly unpredictable context (i.e. wildfires, floods).
Learn and Practice Relevant Skills
Focus on skills. They can be very useful; furthermore, skills don’t weigh you down, and they can’t be stolen or seized.
Take a medical course (not basic first aid): Wilderness First Responder or EMT.
Some skills that are useful are: permaculture, foraging, fishing, hunting, trapping, repairing stuff, upcycling, DIY skills, survival skills, music, HAM radio, appropriate technology, homesteading skills, leadership, and people skills (soft skills).
Get Some Gear and Supplies
“Build up inventory […] money will be worthless, but a box of bronze nails will still be a box of bronze nails. Buy and stockpile useful stuff, especially stuff that can be used to create various kinds of alternative systems for growing food, providing shelter, and providing transportation (Orlov).”
As decline and austerity progress, and due to increasing costs, communities might have services like municipal water and electricity, cut. This possibility could take decades, but it is very useful to think about your preparations in a context of expensive, scarce gasoline, and an unreliable access to electricity and potable water.
Focus your resilience efforts on basic needs first: water, shelter, and food. Think long term, low tech, sustainable preparations, not short term, high tech.
You must figure out a way of obtaining drinkable water using low tech in a small scale, and using renewable methods.
Water storage, rain collection, wells, hand pumps, and gravity fed filters are good starting points. Having a durable wind pump and a water tank is ideal in warm climates. An indoor hand pump is an alternative for cold climates.
A good plan B would be to be ready to transition to a lifestyle without running water.
Focus on having an energy efficient home that uses renewable energy for heating and cooling. Use passive solar techniques, thermal mass, insulation, rocket stoves, and efficient wood stoves for heat. Insulation and passive ventilation should help in hot climates.
Reduce your energy consumption by maximising natural light, building a root cellar, and other techniques found in earthships. Another consideration is managing waste; a composting toilet would be the smartest option.
Use wind and solar energy, but transition first into a lifestyle that uses a small fraction of your current electricity need. People complain about the high price of solar panels and batteries but the truth is that if you downscale enough that you use electricity only for indoor light, portable electronics, and a mini fridge; it’s not that expensive.
The problem is that people want to use a toaster, microwave, washing machine, tv, computer etc.
It’s not just about changing to renewables, reducing our consumption is just as important.
Food Storage and Cooking
Food storage is a principle that has been practiced for 99% of human history. Food comes in cycles and if an important hunt or harvest failed, having stored food allowed people to survive until the next cycle.
I’d suggest storing 6 months to a year worth of food. Most people recommend stockpiling the food you currently eat, and rotating your food supplies.
Another cheaper option is buying rice and beans in bulk and storing it inside mylar bags with oxygen absorbents, and then placing them in buckets for long term storage. The latter option is much less tasty and diverse, but it is simple, effective and takes less space. Nevertheless, rice and beans must be complemented with other food to avoid malnutrition.
Stored food should only be seen as a buffer. To have true food sovereignty and sustainability, your community must have renewable sources of food: small scale agriculture, animal husbandry, aquaculture, hunting, trapping, fishing, and foraging.
Woodstoves and rocket stoves are the best way of cooking with wood. Solar cookers can complement a wood stove, but they can’t fully substitute them in most locations.
Self-propelled transport could prove incredibly handy in a scenario with expensive or scarce fuel. If oil is scarce we’ll see a resurgence of water based transport: canoes, row boats, sailboats etc…
On land, bicycles and pack animals would be popular.
Equipment and Supplies
Here is a list of gear related to homesteading and camping that I think could be very useful in the long term, not only for your own use but for bartering as well:
Tent, sleeping bag, solar panel kit, first aid kit, medical supplies, fuel, bleach, warm and outdoor clothes, shoes, work clothes, saw, axe, machete, low-tech farming tools, carpentry hand tools, woodstove, boots, headlamps, shortwave radio, HAM radio, hiking backpack, fishing supplies, hunting supplies, trapping supplies, rechargeable batteries etc.
Other Bartering items: food, lighters, soap, batteries, candles, spices etc.
“A stockpile of this sort, in a walkable, socially stable place, where you know everybody, where you have some close friends and some family, where you own your shelter and some land free and clear, and where you can grow most of your own food, and barter for the rest should enable you to survive (Orlov)”.
“Having the right tools for the job is far more desirable and efficient, but health, knowledge, and skillsets are much more important in a collapse scenario than stored ‘stuff’ that you have come to rely on and can’t do without.”
Work towards Food Sovereignty
It will all come down to food; if your community can’t manage to grow and forage food locally, it won’t be sustainable. So focus on permaculture and other small scale techniques that are feasible in a low tech scenario. Being food sovereign is the key challenge.
Simplify, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The main strategy of deliberate descent is to undergo a voluntary transition towards simplicity. It is a de-escalation from an age of unsustainable abundance. It’s being the change that nature needs, and eventually, will enforce.
The future is uncertain. Industrial civilization has accelerated towards a dead-end in the last 50 years, and the attempts to change course have been largely ineffective. There is massive inertia. Climate change has the potential to be a force that pushes our civilization towards the slippery slope of collapse. It’s certainly not the only systemic predicament our civilization faces, but it’s the “threat multiplier” that can make the other problems hit us faster than expected and much harder.
You can continue life as usual or you can try to inform yourself: find out what is happening and act.
It’s not that hard to connect the dots.
I suggest you prepare yourself and your community for increasing austerity, and for a different world.
The dinosaurs will perish, but some small mammals will survive.
We’re heading for challenging times; there’s no doubt about it.
Realizing the fact that we’re in a predicament means that it’s utopic to think that business as usual will continue, and it is realistic to put full effort into a radical and rapid transition towards local resilience. This means strengthening our communities, and focusing on food and water security at an individual and community level. Individual resilience is futile without community and inter-community resilience.
The collapse of one world means that other worlds will be possible. I ask you to make meaning and find purpose in serving others and the living world. Find courage.
When hope dies, action begins. Action is the antidote of despair.
“The last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”
Viktor Frankl (Holocaust survivor)
For the Children
The rising hills, the slopes,
lie before us,
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
In the next century
or the one beyond that,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.
To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:
learn the flowers
Gary Snyder, Turtle Island (1974)
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Resources and Further Reading:
USA Climate Change Map
Communities and articles related to collapse:
Daniel Quinn: Ishmael (1996)
Derrick Jensen: Endgame (2006)
David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth (2019)
Joseph Tainter: The Collapse of Complex Societies (1990)
Mark Lynas: Six Degrees Our Future on a Hotter Planet (2009)
Richard Heinberg: Peak Everything (2010)
James Howard Kunstler: The Long Emergency (2005)
Pablo Servigne and Raphael Stevens: Comment tout peut s’effondrer (2015)