You Can’t Run Away
The Inevitability of Collapse
I’ve seen Bill McKibben speak a handful of times in person. Every time, he begins by listing the new records being set: longest drought, hottest day, most-quickly declining glacier. He always speaks of the 2º Celsius threshold, which, if we pass, won’t bode well for the chances of civilization’s survival. Currently we’re closing in on 1ºC of warming, and 2º are already in the pipeline.
I was recently listening to the Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann where he was interviewing editor of David Fleming’s Lean Logic, Shaun Chamberlin. In the interview, Shaun mentions how he feels as though a great weight has been lifted off his shoulders with the recognition that humanity will not avert catastrophic global warming. We had our chance to “save the world,” and we missed it. If anyone had any doubts about this, they have since evaporated with the Trump administration’s actions in regard to the matter.
Chris Martenson, founder of the Crash Course in economics, would have you know that, as people have been saying for years, infinite growth on a finite planet is a mathematical impossibility. At some point, our financial games are going to end, and the economy is going to permanently collapse.
With the understanding that a period of collapse is coming—whether it be initiated by climate change, financial crisis, or nuclear warfare—what do we do now?
Can I Run Away?
You may have heard of the reality TV show, Doomsday Preppers, produced by the National Geographic Channel. Or maybe you’ve read the recent New Yorker article about the paranoia of the super-rich. I remember my Sustainable Living class at University of Massachusetts Amherst with John Gerber. In it, we learned about various possible futures, including the “life boats” scenario, where people flee the cities and a lucky few are able to set up bastions of self-sufficiency while the vast majority of humanity perishes. This is the basic model that people subscribe to when they stock up on gold and ammunitions and buy a bunker out in Wyoming.
Unfortunately, this is anything but a long-term solution. Bunkers may be marginally useful in the short term, when various countries bounce in and out of turmoil. But in the long-term, volatility will only increase, to the point that no “life-boats” can survive. Over the course of years, decades, and centuries, where would these people get their food or their medical care or their technology?
In Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein describes the “peasants with pitchforks” reality:
Even physical gold doesn’t provide much security when things get really bad. In times of extreme crisis, governments typically confiscate private gold holdings–Hitler, Lenin, and Roosevelt all did so. If even the government falls apart, then people with guns will come and take your gold or any other store of wealth.
Some have taken this fantasy of flight to epic sci-fi extremes, such as Elon Musk’s plan to inhabit Mars. Peak Oil aside, the planet earth actually happens to be an extremely special place for living organisms. It turns out that we can’t call just anywhere home, in large part due to the ionizing effects of cosmic rays. As the Arch Druid Greer will have you know, this hurdle is not insignificant, and will likely never be overcome.
Feasibility aside, would it be possible to live a meaningful life, holed up in some bunker deep in the Russian wilderness, or on the last remaining human colony on Mars after homo sapiens have bit the dust on their home planet? I highly doubt it. That’s not a future I’m gunning for, and not where I’m going to set my sights. I’d go as far as to say that such futures are unacceptable, and shouldn’t even be considered as an option.
Back Doors Destroy Perseverance
My friend Ted Gonder speaks of the importance of “scuttling your ships” as Cortez did when invading Cuba in 1546. In other words: removing the option of a back door, a way out. Once all other options are off the table, there’s no choice but to fully invest in the path ahead.
Just for its impact on morale, harboring the belief that we might one day escape our predicament by running away is dangerous, in that it means we don’t need to give this one world—our only home—our all.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Our only choice—functionally, ethically, and spiritually—is to choose a place, dig in, and begin the process of regeneration. More on this from Charles again:
Even if you care mostly about the security of your own future, community is probably the best investment you can make.
…If you have wealth now, I recommend, as your investment advisor, that you use it to enrich the people around you in lasting ways.
Although the future will be difficult, the need to relocalize could result in lives that are more rich and meaningful then they are now. Authors like Charles Eisenstein, David Fleming, and Mark Boyle [author of The Moneyless Manifesto] can tell you all about your options. Our palate can draw on permaculture, gift economics, and community.
Put place and community first. Don’t run away.
In the Aeon post, “Whitey on Mars,” Russel and Vinsel echo my tenor with a more social-justice oriented bent.