Nearly a month has passed since learning about the short time horizon for probable human extinction. This is twice as long ago as it feels to me: the associated emotions seem to have condensed my perception of the passage of time. Each day, in addition to managing fear and grief, I have done a few things directly related to one or more of the four survival essentials:

  • water
  • food
  • shelter
  • community

The big downer has been coming to terms with moving beyond storing a cache of emergency rations to establishing a permanent, renewable system that could sustain me (and others) for the rest of my/our lifetimes and provide a foundation for future generations. There does appear to be a chance that some humans will survive and adapt to a post-apocalyptic planet. At any rate, it makes no sense to me not to strive to be among them.

 Food and Water First

I attended a talk on permaculture and began to absorb the necessity of reinventing self-sufficiency: literally building the means for my own survival. Have had to ride out some intense waves of regret, and a round or two of the If Onlies: for instance, how far along I would be ‘if only’ one of several previous relationships had worked out. There has also been confronting the fantasy of ‘being able to do it right’ – as in, owning property and having the financial resources to bring in the right people with the right knowledge to craft the required systems and teach me how to use them.

Instead of the dream, my subsistence survival will have to be a piecemeal affair, hobbled together through a mixture of friends’ and neighbors’ resources as well as my own resourcefulness; largely contingent upon ethics of generosity, sharing and reciprocity; and my own will to learn and apply the principles rigorously.

I am not exactly starting from scratch (even though it feels like it).

Community Next and Concurrently

The real temptation is to procrastinate, let awareness slip out of consciousness, turn my attention to continuing to do the things I’ve always done, just as my friends around me continue on, with or without the dire realization, to do what they, too, have always done. In the bookstore where Peter Bane was giving his talk on permaculture, I saw a new book by Barbara Kingsolver, Flight BehaviorIt brought to mind fond memories of listening to The Prodigal Summer as I drove across country after a break-up some years ago. Kingsolver’s writing touches me deeply, I have requested her new novel from the local library. I observe myself and wonder, how many of my own flights of denial, avoidance and/or acting out has she covered?

Meanwhile, in addition to Bane’s permaculture book, I have begun reading Walking Away from Empire and  just received  a copy of the Deep Green Resistance Manual.  I also think I want to read The Day Philosophy Died by Casey Maddox.

 

Resources on seeds and gardening:

 Permaculture in general:

 

 

 

Do you believe in math? Before you decide not to read this blogentry because of my known apocalyptic tendencies – e.g., twenty-five years ago a friend told me she was not surprised that I identified with Kassandra in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Firebrand - think about your scientific and rational training. If you believe in math, and you want to know the real deal, this is it. Perhaps you already know what’s coming, but have not believed in what you know? The following info (based in math and science) kicked my ass from knowing to believing.

“I wanna be an un-fucker!”

I want to be funny and still have fun and enjoy living, while confessing that I am not completely eager. Not panicked or desperate, either – at least not yet. Maybe I’ll stave that off until we’re all gasping for the last molecules of oxygen in the northern hemisphere. Even better, perhaps (with a couple of decades left to practice), I’ll have achieved an ideal state of Tai Chi relaxation and simply cross over. I’ll hope the same for you, too (whenever and however your turn comes).

This information didn’t come to me on purpose; I was not trying to learn it. (Crap!)

Randomly, a last minute request came through to interpret a lecture at UMass. The talk by Guy McPherson was livestreamed, you can view his lecture here (simultaneous interpretation into American Sign Language begins at the 7th minute but it’s hard to make out). Trying to prep before the talk began, as good interpreters tend to do, my colleague asked McPherson about his main point. Guy promptly showed us a music video by Katie Goodman. That’s all we got; it was enough to understand that the news was not going to be particularly cheerful.

“It’s not the temperature that’s going to kill us.”

No, its the ecological effects to the environment that are gonna take out homo sapiens and quite possibly every other living creature with us.

In twenty-five years, give or take a few…. (approximately 35 for the southern hemisphere, lucky dogs.)

2037. ( 2047)

Because the oceans are going to get too warm and acidified for the plankton to survive.

Plankton from the ocean produces half, that’s 1/2, as in 50%, of the oxygen for the entire planet. (Guy said something about a potential for losing all the land plants too and then there goes the rest of the oxygen. Poof.)

I’m not going to reproduce his argument – watch the video linked above or check out the data at his website, for instance, this entry on “What’s Important.”  He’s as entertaining as a person can be, under the circumstances. For instance:

The last time the planet was six degrees warmer there were snakes the size of yellow school buses living in the Amazon and the largest mammal was the size of a shrew…. The last time it was six degrees warmer on this planet there were no humans.

McPherson did emphasize that the essential prediction was made in a United Nations report 22 years ago, “rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses” leading to catastrophic ecosystem changes. That results from only 1C degree temperature increase. More recent reports (2009, 2010) show 3.5C  and 4C  temperature increases by mid-century.  Tim Garrett’s 2009 paper sums up the current situation: “ the current rate of energy consumption is determined by the unchangeable past of economic production.”

“Economists think you need population and standard of living to estimate productivity,” he says. “In my model, all you need to know is how fast energy consumption is rising. The reason why is because there is this link between the economy and rates of energy consumption, and it’s just a constant factor.”

{Link to a free version of Garrett’s full published study here.}

The only solution is systemic collapse and the resulting decrease in standards of living.

There is no science fiction solution

Telling a friend about the talk soon afterwards, she asked about a technological solution. So did some of the people in the audience. I’ve kept thinking about this because, I too, want to believe someone, somewhere is figuring out the massive (global) retrofit and someone else, somehow is crafting the implementation plan. (And everyone is getting ready to go along with it, no problem!) Well, call me a pessimist in the end, but I haven’t smoked that much pot! Have you noticed how nicely we’re all managing American democracy lately? And we’re supposed to be the good guys? The ones everyone else around the world looks up to and wants to be like? (Seems that was just a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….)

Guy wasn’t as harsh ast that, he just said there is no politically viable answer. The reason we’re in this mess is because we’ve allowed the system to develop as it has.  We cannot save our lifestyles and ourselves: we have to choose. The other popular question from the audience was, “Why aren’t the climate change scientists talking like this?” Guy’s answer makes sense to me. “They all want to save civilization.”  Dammit!  So do I!  I like being warm and eating all kinds of exotic food and traveling and coming home and not worrying about whether there’s going to be power or water pressure to flush the toilet and SHIT, I’M REALLY GOING TO MISS HOT SHOWERS.

Tim Garrett (quoted above), says we need to be building 2.1 nuclear reactors per day to maintain current energy production/consumption without increasing global warming. Obviously, this ain’t happening. Solar and wind are coming but ever so slowly, and the energy costs of their production contribute to Garrett’s energy consumption constant.

Saving humanity for the next civilization

What there is, however, is hope. Earth’s natural systems can still recover if we simply stop the industrial machine. Unplug. Completely. No more drilling no more unclean power generation of any type. Stop driving stop flying stop with the lights, the internet omg, the factories, the production production production and consumption consumption consumption. I’m thinking of friends who would only attend the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in a camper or by staying in a hotel. I wish it was different; I wish we/our forebears had had the gumption to stick with limits, stop fighting over everything and figure out how to share. They didn’t and we still haven’t, not enough of us (yet) but we can, because we have to.

There is a choice, hard as it is to imagine. We can persist in denial, waiting waiting for the system to collapse (while wishfully hoping not) and then, when the end comes, however it comes, it will truly be beyond awful. Or we can Do It, start shifting now, mobilizing alone and with friends, neighbors, and at the level of communities and towns to transition to old ways of living. I am not excited, but I am less and less afraid.

Feet in two worlds

I will work “aboveground” – but there are options for radical work underground. Please do not inform me about any underground activities.

Guy lists the four things human beings need to survive: clean water, food, shelter that maintains body temperature, and community. Depending on where you live, you’ll have more or less immediate access to any or all of these things. Start thinking about how you’re going to take care of yourself. Better, start talking with people about what to do, identify the important problems and start solving them. How will you get clean water without city plumbing or regular deliveries to the grocery store? I know, it is fantastical to imagine, maybe start by making it a game of What If? 

In the meantime, don’t panic. Keep doing regular things in the world as it is. I’m writing my dissertation, tending my cat, socializing with friends . . . enjoying what each day brings because tomorrow can no longer be assumed to follow today as today followed yesterday. The other popular question audience members asked Guy was along the lines of, “Well, since it’s so fucked up why not just party like it’s 1999? Go out dancing, playing with the band while the ship goes down?” Guy’s answer, again, was laconic: how would we know if Americans became any more hedonistic than we already are?

The point is, there is a chance of evolving beyond our limitations and rescuing humanity (and some of the rest of life on earth) from extinction. We just have to become better than we believe we can be.

 

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