A few years ago, I was having a beer in the bar at King’s Cross narrowboat marina, when someone called Fred asked me what I did. When I said that I worked for an environmental organisation, he came up with a classic line that I’ve quoted many times since. He said:
“We’ve been ****ing about with Mother Nature for so long, that soon she’s going to turn round and give us such a slap.”
He was absolutely right. There’s a crash coming – a ‘slap’ from Mother Nature, as Fred calls it. You might hear something on the radio, or see an article in a newspaper or online, mentioning the warnings coming from ecologists and climate scientists, but it never quite gets top billing. There’s always something more important – Brexit, elections, celebrity gossip, sport. But it will take centre stage soon, because nature is our life-support system, and it’s very, very unwise to destroy it.
There are other areas of concern – for example the dramatic decline in human sperm count; the sharp increase in antibiotic resistance; the fact that almost twice as many countries have nuclear weapons as when the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was signed; or that we’re embarking on genetic modification of ourselves and the building of super-intelligent machines without the wisdom and oversight to ensure that it’s done in a way that won’t harm us. I don’t believe that our current systems will generate the leadership to solve these problems. Quite the opposite, in fact. I believe that the way that we choose our decision-makers will make the problems much worse.
Now, I’ve heard many times over the years that people working in the environment field shouldn’t mention the coming crash, in case it de-motivates or scares people. Having seen the situation deteriorate every year since I realised there was a serious problem (as a teenager), I’m now heartily sick of this position, for the following reasons:
- It doesn’t work – like I said, the situation gets worse every year.
- People should be scared – if you’re not, you haven’t understood what’s happening.
- It’s the equivalent of not telling children that it’s dangerous to play in traffic, in case it scares them.
- It’s the equivalent of using anti-slip decking paint on the Titanic, so that no-one slips and hurts themselves.
- It involves lying, if only by omission.
- It means treating people like children.
- The mainstream can’t be reached with an environmental message anyway. We can only reach the ‘early adopters’, who will pave the way for changes to occur that will force the mainstream to live sustainably, because there’s no other option.
This isn’t pessimistic; it’s realistic, and in terms of what we can do about it, this site is a source of optimism. We’re not treating our audience like children by pretending that everything’s OK, and we’re providing practical ways to face the coming crash with hope. On January 1st, we’ll post about our road map for preparing for the crash, in terms of lifestyle change for early adopters, and building a new economy via a mutually-controlled exchange system and a model for federating small organisations instead of building giant ones.
But first, I’d like to address some specific groups who I believe may be on the cusp of accepting that we can’t carry on as we are, and who may be almost ready to join the early adopters.
We’re of course not interested in debating whether climate change or biodiversity loss are real or dangerous. Life’s too short for that. We’re interested in giving scientifically-literate, concerned people things that they can do to mitigate, push back and survive, or allow their children and grandchildren to survive, the crash. This is our main audience, many of whom are already heavily involved in building sustainable / democratic institutions. Our message to them is one of co-ordination and federation.
There are those who believe that recycling, buying organic or switching lights off when we leave a room will solve the problem. They won’t – although we do endorse those things. They might also put their faith in political parties and regulation, without seeing where real power lies in today’s world. Multinational corporations and the people who control them have enough money invested in our political systems to ensure that no regulation or election will ever challenge their hold on power. This is obvious now to most people, but you can read more here. We hope we can persuade this group that system change is both necessary and possible.
There are also those who believe that a crash is coming, but that humans will have deserved the horrors it will bring, including possible extinction. We make a plea to those people that most humans are compassionate and honest, and would prefer to leave the world a better place than they found it. The fact that the charity sector is so large is testament to this. It’s our economic system, and the ruthless people who clamber to the top of it, that’s responsible for the coming crash, not most humans. Again, we hope that we can persuade many of these people that there are things that we can do to avoid extinction.
Then there are people who suggest that we do nothing about climate change and biodiversity loss, because they can’t see anything that we could possibly do; or who choose to believe that human ingenuity and new technology will save us (even though that’s exactly what caused the problem in the first place). This is true pessimism, true doom-mongering. To continue on this path of extraction, growth, techno-fixes, corruption and war is to condemn ourselves to extinction, or a world of scattered, battered and probably reluctant survivors. We’re not sure that we can reach the doom-mongers; but we live in hope.
Here’s a more in-depth look at the types of responses to the idea of a coming crash.
We’ll see you again on New Year’s day, with solutions rather than problems.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Mike Eaton December 30th, 2018
I look forward to New Years Day with increased interest indeed – reponses to all the doom mongers should prove very interesting, very interesting indeed! Let us hope that these solutions are both big and practical that many can take part in because if they are the small things that are being mooted at the moment, because those will either be ignored or will fail, miserably!
2John Harrison December 30th, 2018
There’s an old joke about a man jumping off the Empire State Building. As he passed the 30th floor, plummeting down, he was heard to say; “So far, so good!” That about sums the general attitude to the ecology up. A generation who think hitting the like or sad button solves world problems.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is little I can do to sort this out globally, so my efforts are now on improving what I can. 3 acres of Wales. My neighbours do the same, spending their pension on planting trees; off-grid systems and so on.
Do you remember the outrage and near panic when courgettes weren’t available in January due to unusually cold weather in Spain? Talk about first world problems! Wait until the manure really hits the fan.
Anyway – if we all give up then disaster is certain – so keep up the good work. Who knows, the horse might learn to sing yet.
3Mike Eaton December 30th, 2018
hoarsely no doubt John? We can but try, but is doing something small better than doing nothing at all – I think it is, so I believe do you – but (yeah I know the world is like an ashtray, full of little butts!) we need to get many others (everybody in fact) doing something – sadly (where be that button?) it needs to be global and for now it isn’t but at least we are slowly moving in the right direction, now lets get that avalance going! that too can happen . . . . . .
4John Harrison December 30th, 2018
Yes Mike, I do believe doing something is better than nothing. I suppose you don’t need to convince everyone, just enough to get the avalanche going. Asymmetric propaganda! I’m rather looking forward to Dave’s roadmap too. I do believe there are solutions that could work even now – but the problem is a bit like giving up smoking. Just one more ciggy before I take the plunge.
One concept we’ve embraced is ‘Enough’ – we’re fortunate in that we have more than enough financially so the excess financial resource can be used to improve our ecology. It’s a better legacy to leave than ‘he had a healthy bank account’ ? I know that might sound a bit smug, but the fact is that I’m near pension age and my state pension will be more than we spend now. We’re warm, well fed and have all we need.
5Malcolm Purvis December 30th, 2018
Interesting post, as usual. As others have said, the biggest danger we have to our planet is thinking that someone else will fix it. People often talk about the planet in ecological circles but of course the planet will survive with no trouble but we and many other species may not if we continue on our present path.
How marvellous that we have seen a young (15 year old) Swedish girl (Greta Thunberg) make an outstanding and remarkable presentation to the UN on climate change. Well worth googling for a look if you haven’t seen it already. So, we have hope of change!!
It is strange that we have had doom and gloom on the environment and climate change for more years than I care to mention, and yet ‘the crash’ that has been so widely predicted for all of that time has not come. Although I am very aware of the myriad of reasons why people deny there will be a crash it is possible it will never come, it seems that almost as long as there has been people communicating that ‘the end is nigh’ has been a common theme. It should also not go un-noticed that if we are taught to fear the future (by the media et al) that we do not concentrate on what is wrong right now so much, a very useful ploy?
Anyway, we have much to be grateful for and we are able to debate these things freely and openly. Long may it continue.
Happy New Year to all at low impact and have a fantastic 2019.
6John Harrison December 30th, 2018
Malcolm – I know what you mean about dire warnings that didn’t happen but we’ve applied a lot of technological band-aids. For example, the Green Revolution crops. So part of me says we’ll be OK but we’re heading to the edge of the world. Population heading for 10 billion, soil depletion, rape of the Amazon and climate change. All at the same time.
Once global food shortages start, we’ll be OK in the west. We’ll moan and pay more for imported foods or export less. The effect on the poor, already on the edge, will be far worse. Those people are likely to react violently – any society is just 3 meals away from revolution. Once conflict breaks out, production decreases and the problem becomes self-reinforcing.
I spent some time researching global threats to food supply – very depressing and I hope I’m wrong, but it really doesn’t look good. I’d bet good money there’s a contingency food rationing plan in some dusty corner of Whitehall.
7Malcolm Purvis December 31st, 2018
Yes there are plenty of doom and gloom stories around and there always has been. I would not for a minute say that we don’t have very serious issues to solve but we need to be ‘solution focused not problem focused’ if we are to stand a chance of averting crisis, and the science seems to say that there is a real chance of this. So, lets get to work!! Low impact are making a start with their initiates, we need to get on board and stop moaning, highlight the positives and bring about real change.
8John Harrison December 31st, 2018
Hi Malcolm – to embrace the solutions you need to accept there is a problem, but I accept your point. I’m looking forward to seeing what Dave proposes but in the meantime I’m planning on further environmental improvements here. At least I’m balancing out my footprint on the planet – or trying to. We’re having some success too – the number and species of birds locally is increasing since we started for example. Hopefully that means other creatures are becoming more abundant too.
Happy New Year!
9Mike Eaton January 1st, 2019
Good morning you all, just a wee comment before heading over to read Dave’s plans, which I’m sure will make for very interesting reading if somewhat contoversial one thing I do from reading some of his work on these forums is that they will certainly make sense – the problem of course is not so much that it makes sense to us but that others who do not feel as we do (i.e. that whilst it is a lot of doom and gloom at the moment it is fixable, as long as we and the world get on with it).
With the above in mind is it worth taking a leaf out of the so Called Preppers Book and start saving food etc. now? To be fair I have always kept some three months food and other supplies available, mainly due to the fact that I have spent most of my life at sea and you can’t “just pop around the corner” if you run out of something so you need to make sure you always have adequate of everything to last a fair amount of time. I’d be interested on your views on this. Thank you and a Happy New Year to you all both on here and in Low Impact themselves.
10John Harrison January 1st, 2019
Hi Mike – I thought long and hard about ‘prepping’ and my conclusion is that the worst case scenarios are not worth prepping for. Full scale nuclear exchange being the best example. Should society break down and we end up in Mad Max world, your food store will end up feeding an armed gang. However, for lesser disasters keeping a buffer in is going to buy time for other actions. I’ve spent time researching how Britain handled keeping the population fed in WW2 – Dig for Victory and so on. As you might know I’m the author of a few books on vegetable growing and storing food. Being able to provide your own and store it could be very useful if things get really tight. I’ve started writing a book on the subject, a sort of updated Dig for Victory. If nothing else it’s an interesting thought experiment and should the manure hit the fan it would be a useful long-term survival guide. Well, that’s the plan!
11Mike Eaton January 1st, 2019
Thanks John, – I’m inclined to agree in the full all out nuclear situatuin – if that happens I think the best bet would be to run into the nearest bomb and get out of it! Survival under those circumstances is just about impossible! But for lesser situations I believe it does make sense, not just in stock piling food etc. but also in gain knowledge to use once everything runs out (or gets stolen). The emphasis here I believe is doing things without the use of so called modern power – electrickery and internal combustion engines. As for the old style recipes using locally produced goods our tastes etc. have changed somewhat and whilst the food back in the early fifties was edible and you could live on it by heck it was pretty bland! But I look forward to you new book as and when you bring it out – it has promise. Now back to Dave’s latest blog, very interesting but extremely sensitive, may take a fair bit of time just reading it all – but it certainly gives me at least some hope!
12John Harrison January 1st, 2019
Bland is better than nothing, Mike. If you look at cookery books from the 1930s, they were quite adventurous. Garlic & olive oil were common ingredients. Come the war, it was survival rations. Imports of olive oil took shipping space that could be used for war materials. Remember rationing carried on into the 1950s and when it was lifted the country was still rebuilding. We ended the war effectively bankrupt. And we helped Europe get on its feet. As one of the 3 powers we had a moral responsibility to Germany which we helped feed and rebuild. Ironically they stopped rationing before we did!
By the time things were returning to ‘normal’ habits had changed. It was sinful to waste food even if you could afford to, as was drummed into me by my parents. Now we live in a society where you can get whatever you want when you want – and delivered to your door. Happily the breeders have worked miracles – for example, sweetcorn was a crop that could only be grown in the sunny south in a good summer. Now we’ve cultivars you’ve a fair chance with in Scotland.