Who You Going to Call?: People and Possibilities in the Coming Collapse
If you want to go fast, walk alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Whilst, like you, I've read many a tale of imminent ecological collapse, impending disaster, and fervent fear mongering within the pages of some of our more dubious dailies, I could never say I'd been "shaken to the core" in terms of impact to my everyday life. Obviously I'd had a certain appreciation for the gravitas of the climate and resource situation -- just enough to become involved in the UK transition town movement, founding Transition Town Wandsworth in SW London, and even persuading our local council to give us "waste" land to turn around into community gardens. And of course, I've seen all those documentaries, from Chris Martenson's excellent Crash Course, through to the ultra bleak End of Suburbia, and onto the more hopeful Power of Community, yet the ingrained inertia of routine remained.
"What's it going to take to wake you up?," you may ask. Indeed, my -- and almost everyone else's -- determined denial of the coming tsunami of change seems to be a very interesting (but not very helpful) by-product of our information saturated media existence. Perhaps the picture is too big for one mind to get a handle on, or maybe we're overly skeptical, because of a saturation of conflicting data, and wary of misinformation -- throwing out the baby of facts with the bathwater of sensationalist dross? My personal opinion is that most may only make the necessary maneuvers when their direct interests are perceived to be under threat -- sad but true.
Or maybe the situation will just change in time (although I don't think we have too much more of that) as different perspectives dawn. It certainly did for me.
It was only two more straws that finally broke this particular camel's back. Rob Stewart's excellent Shark Water, a film that pulls no punches documenting the hellish worldwide decline of 90% of shark species as a result of a needless finning orgy to fill the stomachs of the Eastern rich, directly followed by a reading of a particularly unsettling Friends of the Earth report, Climate Code Red. I finally internalised the idea that yes, we are actually all screwed. Now, today, this generation, in our own backyard, your life and the life of everyone you know RIGHT NOW. There is no room for any more complacency -- THIS. IS. IT. Needless to add, for me, all the dots have very much joined.
"Well now," you might say from behind your hastily Googled climate models, government reports and caseloads of petroleum dollar funded refutations,"‘there's no need to worry, as it is a fact that the whole solar system is warming." Well friend,"so what?," is my response to that particular short cut to thinking. Even if it's true that it's all a cunning ruse orchestrated by the PTB to raise revenue or put a clamp on your "way of life," what about all the other data? What about the disappearing rain forests, species extinction, increasing seawater acidification, depleted fish stocks, GM contamination of the biosphere? Is it all an exaggeration? Are you prepared to bet thousands of carefully balanced eco-systems, the future of our descendents, the future of hundreds of thousands of species and everything that nature has attained so far (including us) on your own opinion? As the Climate Code Red report states, you probably wouldn't travel by airline if the risk of crashing was 1 in 1000, yet we're prepared to bet EVERYTHING on lesser odds. A risk only the insane would take (no offence if you are crazy, you are absolved, but please turn out the lights when you leave the room).
Now I'm not going to deny that little red devils routinely prod at my best intentions or slam the door to my optimism, but these facts even out-do the worst my sometimes-Sunday-night pessimism can conjure up. In short, it is time for action. But I'm not advocating anarchy, stepping out with the sandwich board, or even escaping into some new-age wishful group-think. We know the risk, so the time for business-as-usual navel gazing has now passed; we need to take action; it's not easy, but you'd be surprised what could be achieved. For example, I live and work in London, around people who most of the time seem as indifferent to what's coming as they are to each other. Yet plunge them into an emergency situation, the Blitz, IRA, or bombs on the tube, and time and again they step up and act together. So regardless of the drag of the day-to-day chains of obligation typical of the western lifestyle, I think we're capable of making ready for the fast approaching day when they break irrevocably; clear the decks on our own terms, as we don't want to merely react.
But it can only happen if we act together.
Whenever there's a catastrophe under way, it helps to start by creating a bit of space -- not only for the casualty (the environment), but also for those on the scene (us). It allows a proper evaluation of what needs to be done. As the repetitive riffs from the media become ever more conflicted and frantic, now's the time to create just enough space for your own story to grow. As I'm sure you're already aware, fixations on incessant fear mongering, blind chattering from the "celebrity" circus, and the monotonous arm lock of pop culture can play havoc with your ability to actually think for, and be, yourself. How about you stop absorbing other people's junk (even mine) and make your own with your own (community/ family) -- it's what you're here for. It will also prevent you from panicking.
What I'm suggesting here is, aside from the somewhat run of the mill act of distancing yourself from all the crazes and cravings of consumerism (giving all the stuff you don't need away, giving up on the pre-packed lifestyle), is some kind of commitment to the consequences of your lifestyle. It might sound like an easy deal, until you realise that I am definitely NOT talking about your own desires to take more than you need, follow your personal ambitions and appetites, or ignore the realities of where you live. Given the way the future is shaping up these things have probably become a liability anyway -- they certainly are to the planet.
No, the best thing you can do is to wake up to the precarious situation you've found yourself in. When it all goes down, on whom are you going to call? Where's your next meal coming from? What are the origins of the resources you depend on and are you capable of emulating them if/ when the plug is pulled? Did you think we could carry on doing what we're doing in this way forever? (Well, speaking personally, I did actually.) Finally, do you think that any authority actually gives a damn about you?
Maybe what we should all be doing is getting out from the shadow of all those screens and becoming well acquainted with the people and possibilities of where we live. After all, pretty soon we may have to find allies in the former who can help you fully make use of the latter. If we strengthen our ties to our locality, we're all the more likely to ride out any big waves of change headed our way. I'm talking community gardens, knitting circles, brewing collectives, sports teams, musical associations, recycling and composting committees, swap shops, social events, and children's herb patches. Do whatever suits you and your particular neck of the woods, but try and be inclusive of everyone -- you don't just want the"‘usual suspects" (white, educated, left leaning folk) involved. The best way is to appeal to everyone through their interests, not through your own dogma.
So is binding to your immediate surroundings what you call an effective response to species extinction and ecological collapse? Can getting to know your neighbours make a jot of difference now that so many of our bridges are already burned? I believe it can. The authoritarian ideal of keeping us separated and ideologically strangled (it takes several thousand hours of airtime to keep that up), has only served to disempower us into accepting a life we're not really into anymore. As you can't break it all by yourself, force of numbers is the finest option. Besides, I believe that creating space for reflection, space for the story of others, and space for personal creativity (we're going to need lots of that) is actually a better way to live than blind acceptance of the way things are, especially as that way leads to a dead end.
We're in a time of massive challenges which some predict will really put a squeeze on everything we are used to now. Even though I find it somewhat surreal to even write these words, it's impossible to overstate the responsibility that we now have. Afraid as I was of thinking for myself, so accustomed to the really big choices being out of my hands, and so insulated from the consequences of my actions, I've found creating space for my community to be my best response so far to a systemic inertia that is keeping us all strapped to this careening car crash. I want to put the wheel back in my hands and quit just being the passenger.
Image by Jim Linwood, courtesy of Creative Commons license.