Business-as-usual porn – or, We need to talk about collapse

I think we need to talk openly and calmly about the possibility of societal or civilizational collapse arising from humanity’s present predicaments. And that’s mostly what I want to pursue in this post – not so much what the likelihood or the underlying mechanisms of collapse might be, but the idea that it would be useful if, as a society, we could talk about it.

Maybe that’s happening in one sense. The noises offstage from scientists, multilateral agencies, social critics and political activists about the possibility of collapse are getting louder1. Inevitably, so is the pushback from those arguing that this is so much overheated rhetoric, and everything’s just fine2. My sense is that there’s far greater empirical weight behind the former than the latter position, but it’s the latter one that seems to dominate public discourse. There’s precious little public and media attention to the rather big news that the way we live may soon be ending. Indeed, people who say such things are generally relegated from serious debate, and sometimes accused of peddling ‘collapse porn’ with their mawkish tales of impending doom3. It’s a curious phrase. Inasmuch as pornography presents people with something that they guiltily want to see, but in unrealistic and idealized ways that hide the reality of the relationships involved and erode their integrity, perhaps we should rather be talking about ‘business as usual porn’.

I’m not too sure why business as usual porn is so widespread, but I think possibly it’s because of an unfortunate fusion between two aspects of modern life. First, a sense that the vast technological reach of contemporary societies armours us against the malign contingencies of the world, and second an elaborate and urbanized division of labour that denies most people even the remotest capacity to care for themselves in the face of those contingencies. The result at best is a cheerful fatalism – “there’s nothing I can do about it, so I might as well enjoy myself” – and at worst a kind of Stockholm syndrome in which we celebrate our armoured urbanism, latch onto every sign of its vitality and dismiss any counternarrative out of hand.

In his lovely book about foraging and hunting peoples, Hugh Brody describes a very different situation among the Inuit hunters with whom he lived4. Every journey across the ice was rimed with potential danger, which was freely acknowledged. The Inuit were well aware of the malign contingencies of the world over which they had little ultimate control – a situation that made them neither fearful, nor selfish, nor angry, nor sad, but in some sense alive within a culture that had to deal with it. And they had many skills for dealing with what came their way, as hunters, builders, navigators, craftspeople and so on. My sense is that they didn’t spend much time debating whether they were optimistic or pessimistic about their uncertain future, nor in honouring leaders who cheekily mocked ‘project fear’ and lambasted ‘doomsters and gloomsters’. Instead, they carefully assessed the dangers ahead that they perceived, prepared themselves as best they could to mitigate them, but were open to the inscrutable workings of uncontrollable contingency.

My feeling is that we could do with channelling a bit of that mentality in our now-challenged world. Perhaps one of the differences between our predicaments today and those of the Inuit is that our problems are fundamentally collective. Often, in non-modern foraging or farming societies centralization and bureaucratization has been a risk-pooling venture by people with other options up their sleeve (I’m borrowing here from archaeologist of premodern societal collapse, Joseph Tainter5). When the going gets rough for the state superstructure, people readily abandon it and pursue a more dispersed and self-reliant life – perhaps something akin to the kind of life lived by the Inuit hunters described by Brody. One of the problems we face today is that, for most of us, it’s not so easy to walk away and lead a more self-reliant life. We lack the space, the skills and the political warrant to do so. These are all genuinely difficult problems, but perhaps as big a problem is that we also lack the cultural language to do so. We’ve become so wedded to urbanism, economic growth, high tech (or, in fact, high energy) solutionism and narratives of historical progress that a turn to self-reliance seems undesirable, impossible, laughable – what someone I was debating with recently called a ‘neopeasant fantasy’.

I guess I’ll continue that debate, wearily. It seems to be a thing I do. And I haven’t given up on it entirely – if I can help break down the resistance to an alternative cultural narrative in a few minds, then I guess that’s something. But I want to imagine myself metaphorically out on the ice with Inuit hunters as Hugh Brody was, with no food, no game in evidence, and many days journey from safety, with only a tired dog team, my knowledge of the terrain, my hunting skills and my fortitude in my favour.

Of course, in reality I’m not out on the ice but on a small farm near the edge of a small town in a small country that’s thoroughly imbued with the culture of global capitalism. I can try to imagine a cultural awakening fit for my time and place, but to write it down on the page will make it thinner and more fugitive than it needs to be in practice. The words I’d write on the page would probably include things like autonomy, self-reliance, community, land, skill, care, craft, work, health, nature, play, creation, love and argument. You can write those words for most cultures. But I think they’ll soon mean different things in our culture than they do now. The trick is going to be building out quickly from the place where we now are, creating culture in practice, but letting go of a lot that we now take for granted, or insist upon. We need to build a new culture that’s calmly open and alive to the possibilities and dangers of the present and the journey ahead, not angrily insistent upon the virtues of the path that took us to where we now stand.

So I don’t think it’s worth spending too much time debating on paper (or online) the detailed shape and content of that new culture. I think it’s better to shape it in practice, by doing what we can as peacemakers, storytellers, educators, healers or agents of the practical arts to breathe local life into it. But I do think it’s worth spending time debating the political and historical circumstances in which that shaping can take off and propagate. And that’s why the inability to countenance collapse in mainstream discussion, our obsession with business as usual porn, is frustrating. Because we need to talk about collapse. I’m not saying that everybody needs to agree it’s inevitably going to happen. But I think it would be good if there was wider acceptance in mainstream discussions that, on the basis of the evidence before us, it’s a reasonable possibility to reckon with. In fact, if our culture were able to countenance this and take it in its stride, I’d probably downgrade my estimation of its likelihood.

I’d liken my position to a tourist on a river rowboat, supping at the bar and enjoying the scenery as we float along. There’s a distant roar, and on the horizon I see a smudge of spray. The current has started running faster and grown sinuous. Coming up quickly on the far bank there’s a placid creek.

“Gosh, seems like there’s quite a waterfall ahead,” I say to my fellow passengers.

One of them cups her ear.

“Nah, can’t hear anything,” she says.

“I really don’t think so,” another replies, “The captain wouldn’t put us into that kind of peril.”

“Don’t be such a killjoy,” says a third. “Carpe diem is my motto. I’m enjoying my drink. We all die in the end anyway.”

“We’ll be fine,” says another. “Somebody’s soon going to figure out how to make some wings and fit them to the boat. If there’s a waterfall, we’ll just fly over it.”

“All the same”, I say, “if we all get down onto the deck quickly and help the oarsmen we might just be able to row into that creek – then we’re sure to be in safer waters.”

“Are you serious?” says another passenger. “I didn’t pay for this holiday just to go back to doing a load of backbreaking work.”

But, privately unsettled by my words, the passengers seek reassurance. “Don’t worry. I know his sort of alarmist very well”, says Captain Shellenberger, nodding in my direction, “and I’d like to apologise on his behalf. Just look how beautiful the river is right here. And it’s even better up ahead. Now, who wants another drink?”

I’m not really down with Ted Kaczynski’s ship of fools, but despite the captain’s words I’m pretty sure we’re in for a rude awakening. Unfortunately, with everyone on board so deeply into their business as usual porn there’s not much I can do about it. And what I don’t know as the curtain of spray approaches is whether we’re just going to bump down and lurch uncomfortably around in the rapids for a while, or whether we’re going to fly over a precipice and be dashed on the rocks hundreds of feet below.

A reviewer of John Michael Greer’s latest offering writes that many people today succumb to an “odd fallacy” that collapse will be fast, when we know from past social collapses that they’re usually slow. In this view, intimations of fast collapse are another version of business as usual porn, because they suggest there’s nothing to be done. We’re screwed – might as well just have another drink.

I understand the concept of slow collapse. Charlemagne was crowned emperor of Rome in 800AD, long after anything that truly resembled the Roman empire had ceased to exist, and Byzantines were still calling themselves ‘Romans’ around that time. I daresay people might still be calling themselves ‘American’ or ‘English’ in centuries hence. But Charlemagne and the Byzantines didn’t have to contend with rapid global temperature and sea level rises whose expected upper bounds are at the kind of levels we know caused mass extinctions in the geological past – slow extinctions no doubt, as measured by human years, but also not ones enmeshed in the fragile interdependencies of complex civilization. Even then, it’s worth considering what collapse might look like as it happens – not necessarily a Mad Max world of anarchic violence, maybe a slow unravelling of political order and economic wellbeing of the kind that already seems underway. And even if future climate disruptions prove only modest, there are numerous other political, economic and biophysical crises looming that suggest change to business as usual is imminent, however much the status quo gratifies some of us.

When I wrote something similar a few years back, one of the captain’s crew responded along the lines that “you can almost hear Smaje wringing his hands with his fears about the future”. But I’m not frightened. We need to jettison these dualities of optimism and pessimism, hope and fear. Optimism to hang onto a world where half the population live in rank poverty? No thanks. I think we need to cultivate something of the insouciance about a rapid change of circumstances of the Inuit, or of those premodern citizenries described by Tainter, who shrugged and walked away.

So where I think I need to be is out on the ice, my belly empty and my eyes open, attentive for prey. By that I don’t mean that personally I’m fully prepped up for the contingencies of a Mad Max world, nor that my hands are unsullied by any traffic with the capitalist present. I mean that I want to be outside the tent, surveying the terrain, not inside it telling tall tales about the rich hunting grounds we’re sure to find just as soon as we step outside.

To return to my other metaphor, I think there’s a good chance that when the boat slips over the edge, it’s going to be worse than just bumpy. To me, that’s not an inducement to have another drink, but one to quit the bar, get down on the deck and start rowing. To do that, though, we first need to kick the porn habit and start talking, properly, about collapse.

References

  1. E.g. https://voiceofaction.org/collapse-of-civilisation-is-the-most-likely-outcome-top-climate-scientists/; https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/8xwygg/the-collapse-of-civilisation-may-have-already-begun; https://gar.undrr.org/sites/default/files/chapter/2019-06/chapter_2.pdf; http://lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf; This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook, Penguin, 2019; David Wallace-Wells The Uninhabitable Earth, Penguin, 2019.
  2. E.g. Michael Shellenberger Apocalypse Never, Harper 2020.
  3. E.g. Leigh Phillips Austerity Ecology and the Collapse Porn Addicts, Zero, 2015.
  4. Hugh Brody The Other Side of Eden: Hunters, Farmers and the Shaping of the World. North Point, 2000.
  5. Joseph Tainter. The Collapse of Complex Societies, Cambridge University Press, 1988.

62 thoughts on “Business-as-usual porn – or, We need to talk about collapse

  1. Chris,

    Well put

    All but the youngest SF readers will remember the collapse of The Soviet Union, something we thought unthinkable but one day it just wasnt there.

    What is fairly clear is that there are a lot of business’s and more importantly types of business’s that are not going to survive Covid 19 – hospitality being the obvious one, then there is the money they owe not only to suppliers but the banks (Pizza Express owes how much!) which in turn will threaten the stability of the banks.

    There is the ‘financialisation’ of the economy, and all the claims that places on the real economy – look at 2007/8

    In short it isnt pretty

    • I was born in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapsed… The globalised American Empire is the only reality I have ever known.

      I guess the Soviet Union’s case is a good example of “slow collapse”.

      • Hello Chris and Joshua
        Sorry gone off on a bit of a tangent

        As Ernest Hemmingway stated about bankruptcy, at first its slow, and then very quick at the end. Sticking with Russia, it had two collapses in the 20th century, the earlier in 1917. In the nineteenth century several Czars had been reformers with the intention of catching up with the West, but they could only go so far without rejecting the ideological foundations of the Czarist state. With the religious conservative Czar Nicholas II all reformed stopped and stagnation ensued. The stresses of a lost war (Russia Japan 1904/5) a failed revolution (1905/6) and the huge losses and costs of WW1 gutted the Czarist state’s ability to do anything, and the last of it disappeared between the Kerensky coup in March 1917 and the Communist coup in October.

        So what to look out for in a Hemmingway style collapse? A long period of time in which it is very difficult for the elites to reform anything in a positive manner (several decades). A series of crisis that are debilitating but not deadly, but whittle away the capacity for society to act, finishing with a sustained crisis in which the levers of rapidly power evaporate and the current state and economic system collapses (a handful of years). Much the same process occurred with the collapse of Soviet communism.

        Well we have had the first two, and are in a potential sustained crisis now, so could be in for the rapid phase next, or it could just be another debilitating crisis to add to all the rest whittling away at the foundations of our society.
        But what we do know is that the house is very rickety at the moment, and it would be a good idea to psychologically plan that we will be living in another place soon.

        As for reform? Well you already know the answer. Any reform that could save our current societies from the intersecting crisis we face would so change them that the reforms will be seen as an extreme threat by the current elites (of liberal left and right) and would be blocked while they have power. Hence all the calling out of anybody and everybody as extremists these days (doomer or otherwise). I sense panic is setting in.
        Regards Philip

  2. I mean that I want to be outside the tent, surveying the terrain,
    get down on the deck and start rowing

    Metaphor conflict, perhaps? Hard to do both at the same time.

    Anyway, I’ll vote for the former. Persuading passengers on the good ship Business-As-Usual to drop their drinks and help save each other is a waste of time.

    Getting outside the tent and surveying the terrain can be done family by family, so it doesn’t require persuading a lot of other people. Sure it would be nice to have a posse to do the surveying with, but most of us doing the surveying are too spread out to collect into a cohesive group. When circumstances really start to become desperate, surveyors may find each other, or help their local neighbors take a crash course in group survival and surveying.

    Those of us old enough to remember the first real harbingers of collapse, the threat of massive nuclear war during the Cold War (still with us and nobody doing anything about it) and the energy crises of the 1970’s (still with us and nobody doing much at all about it), and who also remember the widespread sentiment to get “back to the land” and become reasonably self-sufficient, will be sympathetic to your desire to start a real conversation within the larger society about existential risk. I mean, it just seems like common sense. Unfortunately, the events of the succeeding decades since the 70’s and the obvious failure of the larger society to take seriously the constant drumbeat of warnings about possible pandemics, indicate a real conversation is probably impossible. Look at the US; existential risk is tearing across the country right now and our “leaders” still don’t want to talk about it.

    I think our best bet is to ignore business-as-usual and talk about what our surveying reveals with others who are already either well outside the tent or who have at least opened up the flap and are about to venture outside. And even if we don’t ever get together, it’s nice to be able to communicate with at least a few people who show some respect for the virtue of extreme prudence in a world of increasingly extreme risk.

    It’s also good to know that small farms are probably the best foundation for engaging in extreme prudence, something that my careful and lifelong “terrain survey” has confirmed. “Back to the land” was good advice in the 70’s and it’s still good advice today. I just wish more people would get going.

  3. Hi Chris,
    I think this is a really important subject, and that you are heading in a good and useful direction with it.

    Also, I appreciate how difficult it is to even broach the topic in a way that doesn’t devolve into the various entrenched defences for whatever opinion about the future.

    I had a few more or less random thoughts:

    I like your last paragraph. Get down to the galley with the oarsmen! They are not confused about how to get practical things done. They may not agree with your world view or your goals, but they know how to operate the machines, and if you can convince them of the waterfall, they will want to avoid it.
    The convincing is the hard part, of course.

    Jumping overboard is an option too, but chancy.

    Most of what I see among my friends is neither optimism or pessimism for the future, but a concentrated focus on the present. Most of them are nervous, but overwhelmed with the daily business of getting by.

    As I have said, I am convinced that our collapse is inevitable, if unscheduled, but even so, it is hard to get out and do the obvious things to be ready. My life is comfortable as it is now. I am not a prepper.

    However, if the power went out and the city went bankrupt (or whatever) it would be nice to have something handy for a water supply. The Kansas River is 4 blocks from my house, how hard could that be? But it seems I’d rather build giant cargo bikes and pedal-powered threshing machines. Oh well. At least I know some of my neighbors, and some of us have a clue what would be necessary when the time comes.

    Also, I think one of the main reasons this conversation is really important is because we don’t know what will happen or what we will need to do, but if we are talking to each other now, we will be ready to focus our efforts when we need to.

    The foraging fantasy is a powerful one. I’ve read that one of the signal differences between them and us is that they see the world in terms of abundance, where we see scarcity. Except that the abundance has been used up. As you say, there is nowhere to walk off to. It may still almost be possible to live like the Inuit in 1700, but I’d much rather live like the Tainu in the Bahamas in 1300. That is simply not an option. And even (especially) in the case of the Inuit, you’d need a whole community to go along with you. Convince them to give up their snowmobiles and outboard motors.

    On a much smaller scale, how about neighborhood clubs that talked about what was really important to them, then found ways to provide those things for themselves? The only stipulation being that they had to do it without using any money. I continue to believe that money is the marker for all that is unsustainable, and will sooner or later disappear.

    I am hoping that our quarantine experiences are helping us all see what is truly important. What troubles me though, is that we cannot freely get close, hand-to-hand, with all our friends and neighbors and nearby strangers. I think this is the human place to start, but we can’t do it under the plague, and I am not seeing a solution for that any time soon. Maybe that pent-up desire will become a major motivating force.

    Thanks.

  4. “…angrily insistent upon the virtues of the path that took us to where we now stand.”

    This made me think of the “sunk cost fallacy.” Business-as-usualism seems to fall into the realm of behavioral economics, which “studies the effects of psychological, cognitive, emotional, cultural and social factors on the decisions of individuals and institutions…” (Wikipedia)

    I’m not really endorsing this (or any) field of economics, but it does seem to cover some of the psychological aspects, biases, fallacies, and irrationalities of Business-as-usualism.

    Below are some quotes from
    https://www.behavioraleconomics.com/resources/mini-encyclopedia-of-be/

    Sunk cost fallacy
    Individuals commit the sunk cost fallacy when they continue a behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources (time, money or effort). This fallacy, which is related to loss aversion and status quo bias, can also be viewed as bias resulting from an ongoing commitment.

    Status quo bias
    Status quo bias is evident when people prefer things to stay the same by doing nothing (see also inertia) or by sticking with a decision made previously. This may happen even when only small transition costs are involved and the importance of the decision is great.

    While status quo bias is frequently considered to be irrational, sticking to choices that worked in the past is often a safe and less difficult decision due to informational and cognitive limitations (see bounded rationality). For example, status quo bias is more likely when there is choice overload or high uncertainty and deliberation costs.

    • Due (owing?) to the insane monetisation of this, that and pretty much everything – e.g. why must the hourly radio news bulletin end with a Dow Jones / FTSE report? – behavioural economics may have some interesting observations on the pervasive financialised culture many of us put up with.
      On a brighter note, in the small village I seldom leave, the most recent incomers (two separate families) both have the right kind of ‘forward to the land’ drive/ethic. Motivations may differ slightly, but the direction is basically the same, to self-provision for kith and kin (a hard nut to crack in itself) while hoping the ripples benefit the community. One of the most heartening aspects is seeing the young children happily involved with all of the aspects of a low-carbon life. Joe remarked on here many moons ago that self provisioning needs young backs. I agree, and I think I may have already met a few. I still have four new families yet to bump in to, but I hope it snowballs while I keep doing my bit.

    • I guess “path dependency” is another way of describing what you call “sunk cost fallacy”, or the fallacy is a special case of path dependency. Path dependency is of course not always a fallacy, it is quite normal and natural to follow the path we taken earlier. It is mostly a good thing to renovate the house instead of building a new one or to sort out the disagreement with your partner instead of leaving him/her. But path dependency, on alla levels from personal relations to civilizations can also be deeply problematic….

    • The last sentence of that paper is the most relevant to the current topic.

      “A design of these [lifeboats] has to begin as soon as possible at international, national and local levels, even though those recognizing the need for them are astonishingly few right now.”

      Recognizing the need is hampered by the scant “public and media attention to the rather big news that the way we live may soon be ending,” as Chris puts it.

      • Well, Chris is doing his part to increase awareness. Maybe the impact of the pandemic will open people’s eyes a little, or at least make them more receptive to a bit of prudent preparation.

        Yet, lifeboat design at the local level is hard enough to pull off; I can’t even imagine how to tackle the national and international aspects of design. It may not even be possible to achieve.

        I live in an rural island county with a population of about 200,000. Our county is lucky; I can imagine how it could readily prepare to keep itself in food, water and a modicum of electricity (needed for water especially) without any imports, but doing so would require a fair bit of advanced preparation.

        I really should start making inquiries as to whether anyone in local government has investigated this topic at all. There should already be detailed plans at county Civil Defense offices, but I doubt there are.

        • An interesting link. It does repeat the possible fallacy mentioned by Greer, of a ‘rapid simplification’ of collapse, but as Marshall McLuhan once asked, “do you think my whole fallacy is wrong?”.

          • I doubt that anyone, including Greer, really knows how fast a civilization like ours will collapse. He does have a lot of evidence for a relatively gradual collapse, but much of it relates to civilizations from long ago.

            I think there are three kinds of things that can cause collapse – natural disaster and two kinds of overshoot. Natural disasters that could collapse world civilization are fairly infrequent but are still going to happen sooner or later. A big coronal mass ejection is a prime example (a recent issue of the Economist focuses on the topic of collapse in general including CME in particular).

            But the two kinds of overshoot are likely to become dangerous very soon. Resource overshoot is the classical version from biology, when a species over-consumes its food supply. Complexity overshoot is when a society’s complexity overshoots its managerial resources (per Tainter). Nuclear war is the most extreme example of the consequences of a failure to manage the complexity of multiple states with nuclear arsenals. To me, any kind of war is evidence of management failure. Climate change is another significant managerial failure. Other kinds of management failure might involve the financial system. It’s hard to believe that changes in values stored in computer memories could affect the physical world, but the 2008 financial crisis is only one example that it can happen.

            I think that complexity overshooting managerial capacity is overly minimized by Greer. He is aware of it, but seems to think that there is enough redundancy, as an emergent property of the global market economy and in global civilization in general, that any simplification process can be arrested before complete collapse happens. He may be right, but since no one has seen civilizations as complex as ours collapse before, it is all conjecture.

            I may overestimate the value of prudence, but when potential world-wide human catastrophe is involved, I think it is prudent to rely on the precautionary principle. If we don’t know if collapse can be arrested and smoothed out over many centuries, assume that it can’t and prepare accordingly.

        • “I really should start making inquiries as to whether anyone in local government has investigated this topic at all. There should already be detailed plans at county Civil Defense offices, but I doubt there are.”

          I’ve thought about doing that, then decided against. Ours considered the anti-fracking movement as a possible threat, which was an immediate red flag.

          I’ve since come to the conclusion, and the pendemonium to get back to “normal” by the vast majority has reinforced this, is that the few of us that are collapse aware should lie low, be unseen, but gradually find like-minded people and psychologically prepare for the collapse. Rather then bringing yourself to the attention of authorities. There’s corporations that would I am sure like a list of names of people who grow their own food, so they can lock us up as they ban it in favour of the processed piosonuous muck that you have to buy with your ration cards. If you follow how fascism works, anyone even vaguely outside the mainstream of the thought police are going to end up in concentration camps or psychiatric wards (they’ll call them something else) or a firing squad.
          So, no, I don’t recommend contacting county council emergency response teams or similar.

          So it’s not about prepping as such with bunkers, minefields and machine guns, but getting into the mindset of learning and doing skills that you might think useful post-collapse. Whether it’s growing food, planting trees, making or using hand tools, doing art by hand, etc. It might be all you do is scout out your province – where is the local fresh water supply? How many acres does it have that we can seize and convert to food growing quickly? Sources of timber? Where are the Community centres that can be used as emergency shelters, and so on.

          And it’s quite easy to find like-minded people. Brits, love talking about the weather. So if someone says, oh its hot today, you say, “yes, did you see it was 38*C in the Arctic this week?” Now if they are collapse aware, you’ll immediately end up having an hour long conversation, and you’ve find a like minded person, and both feel better for it. If they are not collapse aware, you’ll see the momentary confusion on their face as their brain tries to cross-reference such a high temperature with ice, then the neo-liberal mask will slip back into place and they’ll drone on about their holiday to Spain next month. That’s another one for the stewpot, and don’t count them in your post-collapse scenario.

          By the way
          It’s official, we’re at 1.5*C warming. Paul Beckwith citing James Hansen:
          https://youtu.be/dVv9jkgGQEE (if you can’t watch the whole video, watch from c12.30-13.30 minutes)
          Chart at 12.30 shows 1.2*C above 1880 baseline. Paul explains to get to a more accurate 1750 baseline we add 0.3*C for warming between 1750 and 1880. Hence now at 1.5*C.

          The chart actually shows 1.3*C above 1880 baseline for the 12 months average to June 2020, but that obviously may go down slightly by the end of the year. But that means we are currently at 1.6*C above 1750 baseline.

  5. We are allready in colapse ,a slow one , 50 million americans unemployed , Levis reporting a 80% drop in sales , car sales collapsing , meat price tripling if you can find any , long lines at food banks , rents not being paid , no parts for tractors , and sales of guns/ ammunition breaking all records .
    Rioters threatening to come to rural areas and kill livestock / set fire to crops burn farms and kill us if we stop them .
    We are allready there , shuting down the cops and allowing chaos in cities billions of dollars worth of damages and no money to fix it , shootings and death rates way out of control , read JH kunstler’s the long emergency or his blog , or Selco who lived thru the balkan war .
    Thats what is happening , get ready for a new world where your standard of living with luck will be 10% of what it is now .

  6. Rioters threatening to come to rural areas and kill livestock / set fire to crops burn farms and kill us if we stop them .

    Why?

  7. Talking about collapse- I’ve been listening and thinking about it for over ten years now. As I think all readers here know, one of the preeminent places for discussing collapse in a methodical, clear eyed way for years was the Archdruid Report. JM Greer has turned in an odd direction lately, but his past essays are thought provoking and still useful.

    There are of course, plenty of prepper and doomporn sites to get down to the gritty, growing food, increasing self reliance, etc.. , but JMG was helpful in trying to see the big picture.

    This SFF blog is useful as it tries to explore possible governance and social structures that center around local self reliance and growing food sustainably. (At least that is how I view it).

    My thoughts-
    To riff on the trite phrase “think globally, act locally”, We need to recognize the global threats, but accept that there will be no useful response from our system, and we need to take steps on a personal and very local level to prepare for the potential less palatable scenarios.

    Another way to say this is that at some point, one stops working the bilge pumps, and heads for the life boat and self preservation, the ship is going down.

    For me the useful thinking effort is to try determine what event or signal(s) will tell us it’s time to go to the lifeboat? ( or at least think through the shortest route). This is stymied by the poor journalism of our time, and all the vested interests that think the current system can continue, so obscure and obfuscate. How will a global event impact my locality? Global capitalism results in some very complex interactions and ripple effects.

    It’s all the more complicated because most of us are working, busy, with limited ability to take large steps or investments, so awareness of our likely impending disruption can be rather stressful.

    Everyone will need to do what they can, there is no single recipe. My pattern for the last decade has to take it one step at a time, adding one more skill/supply/investment each year. At this point, it feels like it’s time to up the tempo, but the point is, do something, and then do one more thing. Trying to do everything at once will overwhelm.

    One of JMG’s repeated points was that the collapse won’t just be long, it will not be smooth. There will be jolts and partial crashes, and then periods of some stability. It sure feels like we at the start of a strong jolt, but I don’t think the warlords zooming around on technicals are quite here yet.

    Oh, and the collapse, like the future, won’t be evenly distributed. Consideration of a geographical move is appropriate. Somewhere with decent soil and rainfall if possible.

    • the collapse won’t just be long, it will not be smooth

      which is why I don’t think things will “collapse”, instead they will “crumble”.

      (though from sufficiently far in the future the two things look similar)

      • hmmmm crumble
        depends what you mean and how it hits , out here machinery is standing because the parts to fix them are in a container somewhere on a chinese dock , I need a new freezer 16 cubic feet ish , none to be had in 200 miles of here , waiting again for a container from china , even stupid things like 3/4 inch water pipe three diffrent stores to get what i needed , stuff you never thought about in short supply , this is not affecting the mainstream yet , its just a taste of what is to come !

        • Crumble – a taste of things to come. It’s maybe unfortunate that crumble is fine English dessert, bit of a signature dish in some households.
          Maybe the decay of the complex systems we’ve created is an expression of a natural senescence, inevitable, necessary, poignant, and compelling.

  8. Thanks for the comments.

    Well, indeed all metaphors are more or less nonsense. But as I see it, down on the deck with the oarsmen or out on the ice with the Inuit are pretty much the same thing – cultures that emphasize working both with and against the contingencies of the wider world at the level of personal labour. The oarsmen were intended as a metaphor for the labour done by the working people of the world to which many of us on the tourist deck are oblivious.

    Jumping overboard is of course another option. The high-labour, high-risk strategy of the individual prepper, perhaps.

    The concept of ‘collapse’ is itself another metaphor, and it’s good to subject it to some critical scrutiny. Crumbling, eroding etc are worth exploring. I very much like Simon’s metaphors of ‘forward to the land to self-provision for kith and kin while hoping the ripples benefit the community’. That would make a good strapline for my book. Though maybe it’s even better to jettison the movement metaphors of ‘forwards’ and ‘backwards’.

    I agree with the emphasis placed in some of the comments on talking, building, and connecting, preferably locally. Though online is good while it lasts … and after that, well thank goodness for John Boxall… Money is an interesting one, on which I need to reflect and perhaps write some more. Money as a medium of local exchange, versus money as accumulating capital – how to stop the former turning into the latter. I do address this a little in my book.

    Yes also to sunk costs and status quo bias, despite the warning signs that some above are pointing to. Maybe behavioural psychologists can supply some answers concerning our inability countenance to collapse or crumbling… Daniel Kahnemann’s book ‘Thinking Fast & Slow’ is to the point, I think. Maybe Ruben might weigh in here, if he’s reading and so inclined?

    Also yes to Steve C on geographical movement, soil and rainfall which segues nicely into my next post, and to some of the concerns in the book. This is a big and difficult issue. The challenge is to turn the mass population movements to come into positive opportunities, and not into problems.

  9. Great post. I wholeheartedly agree with the essentials, and I laughed out loud at Captain Shellenberger’s cameo. ‘Stop debating, start doing.’ I’m therefore uncomfortably aware of the irony of continuing with this comment.

    My small objection relates to business-as-usual as pornography, largely because I don’t think business-as-usual is acting as much of a fantasy for anyone at the moment. This post put me in mind of Geoffrey Gorer’s argument about the ‘pornography of death’. Gorer suggested that the decline in infant mortality in the West prompted people to cultivate an increasing prudery around the processes of natural death, becoming more and more repelled by the physicality and emotional heft of it. The flip-side of this was a greater pre-occupation with violent death in private fantasies, epitomised for him by what he called the ‘horror comic’ (this was the 1950s).

    In our present case, it seems to me that we are dealing with an increasing prudishness around the idea of social breakdown, largely among the people who have most to lose. I think that’s what’s intended here by the idea of business-as-usual porn, but I would argue that the pornography is actually violent collapse, not business-as-usual – ‘collapse porn’ is the right label, if often wrongly applied by those who use it. For example, just think of the infamous red faces of the Question Time audience members who demanded Jeremy Corbyn commit to nuclear annihilation rather than criticise the current geo-political order just a little bit.

    So it may look like these people want business-as-usual, but that gives them too much credit because it suggests that the danger lies in their continued passivity. In contrast, many of these people may end up willing to be actively destructive to preserve their own sense of order. After all, you’ll find a lot of climate-denialists among the people who gave us Brexit and Trump. In other words, I think it probable that a significant fraction of your passengers are likely to be found below trying to punch a hole below the waterline in order to ‘protect’ the boat from those who won’t shut up about waterfalls.

    I think the paper that Joe linked to is a very good example of collapse porn, mobilising ‘human nature’ to ensure that we’re all doomed, truly a counsel of despair. I much prefer Chris’s hopeful approach to the fact of impending change.

    • I agree that “we are dealing with an increasing prudishness around the idea of social breakdown, largely among the people who have most to lose,” although it apparently goes beyond prudishness. Deep down, people generally know they are going to meet death eventually, even though they might not act like it. The same can’t be said regarding collapse.

      Business-as-usual seems to be a form of collective delusion that is continually fed by the self-perpetuating government and media. “The people who have the most to lose” expect and insist that they will not end up like the half of humanity who are already living without toilet paper and adequate sanitation, trying to get by on less than the purchasing equivalent of five pounds per day.

      About half of the humans alive today are already living in conditions that we could associate with a collapse, and this has been going on for a long time, even while our systems were supposedly functioning in times of prosperity. I’d venture a guess that business-as-usual is not what this half of humanity is typically hoping for.

      • Yes, I agree. Collapse porn is most alluring to those for whom civilisational breakdown actually means a drastic change in circumstances.

        Essentially, what business-as-usual describes is the social, political and economic privileges that some enjoy. But I don’t think it’s a delusion – it’s a very real set of power relations, of enforced superiorities. My point is that those who want to maintain it are increasingly unlikely to do so by pretending that nothing’s wrong and sailing blindly onwards – instead we see increasingly draconian and authoritarian attempts to keep others in their place.

        The pornography analogy is a good one I think, but only if the pornographic fantasy is recognised to be civilisational collapse (whatever the specific vision that might entail). Pornography is sometimes referred to as a ‘guilty pleasure’ as if it’s like an extra glass of wine on a Sunday evening. In fact the guilt is very real, a fundamental sense of wrongness regarding one’s attraction to the pornographic fantasy, and promotes a strong urge to discipline, directed at both oneself and, more damagingly, at the surrounding world.

        • As a “collapse porn” reader, I’m having a hard time comprehending your analysis of the psychology involved.

          You say that you expect (fear) that people invested in business as usual will be willing to use more and more violence to maintain their privilege. This would imply that those people must be repulsed by the concept of collapse and don’t feel any guilt about what they might do to keep their status.

          Yet people who are attracted to the vision of business as usual collapsing feel guilty about it and are likely to damage the “surrounding world” out of a compulsion toward self discipline?

          So, who is the most dangerous, those who are ‘morbidly’ attracted to the crumbling of their privilege or those who will do anything to maintain it?

          Personally, I feel no guilt whatsoever about being attracted to a world that has no modern civilization. The only guilt I feel is from continuing to participate in the one we have. And I am immensely saddened by the trauma that will be caused by its passing even though its demise is inevitable. People in the global south, who have always lived without its comforts and privileges, will suffer too, but not nearly as much as those who see their support systems disappear around them and find themselves starving to death.

          It may be that “collapse porn” is an attractive fantasy for some, just like others are attracted to the fantasy of celebrity porn or wealthy-businessman porn, but to me it is less a fantasy than a grim analysis of the way the world really is. Business as usual is the real fantasy (but it can only be pornographic for those who aren’t already immersed in it).

          Reading and thinking about the nuts and bolts of collapse has the same allure as reading an auto repair manual while riding in a shuddering and smoking vehicle, but without any prospect of fixing the car, only the ‘reward’ of knowing when and where it is going to veer off the road, all while hoping to survive crash and being able to walk how ever far is required to find help. And somehow I should not only feel guilty about reading the manual and lacing up my walking shoes but at the “damage” I’ll be doing to the car?

          • This has sort of spiralled away a bit, but I want to reply to Joe.

            First, I don’t think reading about the present perils of the world is the same as reading collapse porn, and I’ve a great deal of respect for those with a pragmatic perspective on the world who prepare themselves for tough times ahead.

            My point was narrower than that, and applies to those with most to lose. Chris’s idea that pornography is an interesting way of understanding the way some of these people behave really struck me.

            The psychology as I see it is basically this: people privileged enough to avoid some of the more unpleasant elements of life will tend to repress the existence of those unpleasantries in their own minds – they avoid seeing them, even when they’re in front of their noses. Repression like that is hard work, and can result in private fantasies about that which they have repressed. That’s Geoffrey Gorer’s Definition of pornography – it’s pretty old, and I’m sure there’s far more sophisticated thinking out there, but it made a certain kind of sense to me.

            In the cases that Chris describes, the denialists are publicly prudish about the perils that face their privileged ways of life, and make great efforts to avoid acknowledging them. But we might suspect that this effort feeds pornographic fantasies of collapse that are largely private but can be glimpsed at moments of stress. Indeed, I think this is quite a productive way of thinking about the kind of hysteria that often accompanies right-wing reaction to more progressive attempts to confront the problems in our society and the threats they supposedly pose to social order.

            Perhaps I tied myself in knots a bit talking about guilt. But there’s a point there I think. The implications of pornography can be profound. The strength of feeling that motivates continuous attempts to repress these problems comes from a kind of guilt at the way pornographic fantasies keep rising up unbidden through the psyche. This is not in any way to be confused with guilt at helping to create broader social problems in the first place.

            Chris’s previous post contains a useful example. He notes that Shellenberger was apparently prompted to speak out – to reinforce the prudery around climate ‘alarmism’ – when everything ‘went crazy’ last year, and Chris links this to emerging social movements like XR, and now BLM, which threaten to take down privilege. These people are primed to see craziness and disaster in anything that threatens their privilege – a hint, I think, of the collapse porn fantasies that haunt them, and that they have to try to stamp out.

        • I still agree with Chris calling it business-as-usual porn. It appeals to an underlying desire for the continuation of comfort and convenience. I’d assume that most people in an affluent society are somewhat addicted to comfort and convenience, with psychological withdrawal symptoms being possible if the doses are cut back or curtailed.

          Business-as-usual porn has no appeal to those who aren’t deluded about endless growth on a finite planet. What’s called “collapse porn” seems to be sincere attempts to sound the alarm and plan accordingly, motivated by a rational desire for long-term survival, which involves giving up some present-day comforts and conveniences (an unlikely basis for fantasies).

          • Can we start again with similes, please? 🙂
            I like the way Chris flips arguments/accusations on their head as the resulting posts are more revealing, thought provoking and helpful than the oftentimes hackneyed jibes that spurred them on. But if ‘porn’ misses the mark in pigeonholing doomsterism, then it might not be too constructive slinging it back from whence it came. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting post. I’m won over by Joe’s argument for prudence even as I hesitate to follow in his footsteps (doublethink, doubleact?). My personal trajectory – and I hope this doesn’t come across as virtue signalling – seems to be not prudence exactly but sheer frugality, hence I was tickled to see the mentions of toilet paper cropping up (according to Mike Berners-Lee’s guesstimation in ‘How Bad are Bananas – the carbon footprint of everything’, North American wiping habits account for 75kg estimated CO2 emissions per annum per capita, or three-quarters of a percent of a 10-tonne(!) CO2 lifestyle); a typical African comes in at around 500g CO2e. Something to consider as we look to a supposedly zero-carbon future. Oh to live like noble animals again. To create not consume. From near addiction to nigh on non-use. I have faith most folk could make this transition with some grace but, while apparent ease is all, will only do so when push comes to shove, and that’s been the nub for decades.

      • There is a huge ammount of Normalcy Bias , people expect thingst o go on normaly , when they dont they make excuses and expect in time things WILL go back to normal , as I see it it depends on wether you realy expect things to go back to normal or believe in ” doom porn ” those like me who err on the side of doom porn prepare for problems they see down the road , i have allways had three monts of toilet paper thats my normal , belts bulbs and oil for the machines , instead or running off to the store today and fi ding the cupboard bare , In some states they have mandated masks and guess what there’s a shortage , they say used cars have increased in price because people wont ride public transport .
        what was normal last november is not normal now and wont be next november ,.
        Farmers imho are the best at doom porn , they have no normal , weather , bugs and the vaguries if the market make them flexable in their thinking , China has just bought two million tonnes of corn , that will help the price but not for those that did not plant because of the lockdown and crap spring weather . Peoples normalcy bias is changing , not yet to doom porn but when hamburger now costs as much as porterhouse stake did last christmass they are seeing the writing on the wall , as for comunity ours is getting armed as russling cattle is begining to take a hold , we watch for unusual / unknown vehicles , cattle haulers / owners stay in contact with eachother , loading a animal and dissapearing into the backstreets of DFW is comparitavly easy , quick slaughter and sold door to door . we hope that aint the new normal but its certainly doom porn if you owned the cattle

        • Good points.

          I think farmers have always been more attuned to the real world, with all the natural variables they have to deal with, than salarymen working in a cubicle in an office tower or from a cubicle in their suburban home. And preparing for an uncertain future comes naturally to those who have seen their farm gear break down just when they need it the most.

          I think its also true that farmers, who produce food, one of the most intrinsically valuable things people can own, are constantly on the defense against predators, either animal or human, who want to steal some of their production. Though it was long ago on a different homestead, I well remember the grim satisfaction of shooting a coyote who had been killing my goats, one by one, for weeks.

          A farmer is close enough to the real world, the natural world, that he can see the pros and cons of every aspect of nature (as well as the pros and cons of dealing with other people in the world of the marketplace). I can admire the beauty and much of the behavior of the wild and feral animals that now surround and pass through my little farm, but they can also be infuriating when they destroy my crops. Perhaps I’m even more addicted to farm porn than collapse porn, but it’s not an addiction I want to cure.

          • Yes, agreed that I’ve been overdoing the “porn” meme. I’ll stop now.

            It seems like “porn” has just become a term for something that other people like, but which you find very unappealing.

  10. Good post. I guess we need to explore not only how fast or slow a “collapse” might be, but also what will collapse? I think complexity is the first victim, for reasons stated by other here and earlier. While complexity is still increasing in some parts of society we already see some parts going for less complexity, at least measured in division of labor, extension of markets and trade (I believe the rate of division of labor and the reach of the market economy are intrinsically linked to each other). Global trade as share of GDP has declined mostly since early 2000, ie.e. already before the financial crisis 2008.
    Energy supply is of course another candidate as well as critical infrastructures such as electric grid, roads and railroads. Interestingly enough the Western countries built masses of railroads 150 years ago, but today just 500 km of new track is such a massive cost that it very hard to build. Even the electric grid is hard to maintain and at least in my part of the world, the cost for the grid is much higher than for the electrons that it supply. The same goes for water, sewage and roads. I gather all this infrastructure is a reflection of “complexity”.

    • Yup complexity will be the bear that eats us , not thay long ago there were no computers on farm vehicles , then the fools put them on , no worse environment for delicate electronics than bouncing around in all weathers outside could be imagined .
      I know of a $268,000 combine that is wating for a $15 switch thats in china , nothing else will fit , the farmer cleaned up a 1979 version ,
      dumped in his junk lot cussed it a lot pulled out some hair and finaly harvested 1000 + acres with it , he is having ac fitted on it and the other piece of green shit is going to the auction when they open up .

  11. OK, ‘Porn’, informal – television programmes, magazines, books, etc. that are regarded as emphasizing the sensuous or sensational aspects of a non-sexual subject and stimulating a compulsive interest in their audience.
    Sensationalism I can see, though it still seems sloppy to me, more word salad than word porn.

  12. Interesting further discussion. I find Andrew’s point about business-as-usual porn as collapse porn illuminating, and certainly applicable to someone like Mike Shellenberger. Though the pushback against discussions of collapse as porn is part of wider attempts to keep it out of the Overton window of acceptable discussion, which have been quite successful – many people are not so much in denial as blissfully unaware of the direction our political economy is taking us.

    Still, there’s a danger of over-thinking these metaphors. As Simon suggests, mainly I just wanted to flip the ‘porn’ concept from its routine application to discussions of collapse and apply it to supposedly pragmatic business as usual thinking.

    The position of the farmer at the interface of the uncontrollable worlds of natural and human action is indeed what can give them an authentic positioning and why making farming a widespread occupation seems to me of utmost importance.

    I also find Gunnar’s discussion of path dependence helpful. Indeed, it usually makes sense to renovate the house – unless landslips leave it teetering on the edge of a cliff. The problem is that it’s harder to see the cliffs that human society teeters on, especially when the likes of Mr Shellenberger are loudly instructing us to look at the beautiful view out of the back window.

    It’s been suggested to me that an attempt to define collapse and identify its precipitating mechanisms may be useful, so perhaps I’ll try to do that in my next post.

    • Great discussion. A wee note that sailing is also at the interface of human and natural forces and can teach good ways to think. We don’t just need more farmers, we also need more sailors. For practical as well as more cultural reasons: sailors can move farmers’ products.

      • True, but I’d recommend proceeding with caution. Having more sailors was how we started getting into this mess in the first place…

        Talking of sailors, I’ve just started reading Ian Urbina’s ‘The Outlaw Ocean’, which looks like it might be quite an eye-opener.

        • I’d like to suggest aiming for more gardeners rather than more farmers – the history of the fertile crescent, of the Mediterranean, Australia etc suggests that farmers may not always have made a particularly good fist of their position on the interface between natural and human realms. I think it’s a question of scale – I’m sure at least some farmers in East Anglia would see what you do Chris as more akin to gardening than their idea of farming – but ‘Large Garden Future’ just isn’t a catchy title

        • I guess I’m personally biased, having crossed the Atlantic several times on my parents’ small sailboat and treasuring the memories and thinking patterns I acquired during those relatively brief episodes in my childhood and young adulthood.

          The “Outlaw Ocean” of criminality and exploitation your book describes is not exactly the ocean that I experienced. And yet, maybe it is. When we lived on the boat, we lived a bit like gypsies (albeit with less discrimination), apart from the places we visited, following different laws and rules.
          [This blog gives a view into the subculture we were part of: https://www.yachtmollymawk.com/. Note the post about XR from March]

          I’m not sure I would blame the sailors for colonialism, probably more their masters. But maybe you’re right, thinking back to the phoenicians, the polynesians and the vikings – as famous seafaring cultures – they were all expansionist to some extent.

          In my call for more sailors, I was more referring to JMG’s post entitled “Captain Erikson’s Equation”: https://www.resilience.org/stories/2014-03-27/captain-erikson-s-equation/

  13. Maybe somewhat of a rehash of several comments, but I think the thing that Inuit, farmers, third world people have in common is that they are not insulated from real world risk and dangers, and so are more able to acknowledge threats, in fact have to in order to survive.

    These are examples of humans reacting to immediate dangers, but so much of first world nations are so removed from these kinds of risks, that discussion is not felt to be needed. And most of the trends leading us toward collapse are not immediate, in your face things, so even folks who have had to deal with existential risk aren’t hearing alarm bells.

    The saying that all politics is local has a certain truth that could also apply to environmentalism, and so until large swaths are impacted by some aspect of collapse, I don’t think that conversation will get off the ground in a way that results in action.

    And even if that happens, what can be said? Picking the least bad path will not be a simple thing, and expedient, off the cuff actions will most likely happen in a localized, organic way if the time line is fast paced and unpredictable. Discussion of response to imminent collapse should I think proceed from the personal to the immediately local first, and only then hope to contribute to some wider strategies.

    One more point on the nonconversation of collapse- The media, both traditional and new social media outlets, are simply about making money, (for corporate oligarchy) and much content is solely there because it grabs eyeballs, not from some duty to inform.

    • George Marshall’s book ‘Don’t even think about it – how our brains are wired to ignore climate change’ has some relevance here. I seem to remember it was one of the books of the year for The Land magazine back in about 2014. Some blurb:
      Most of us recognize that climate change is real, and yet we do nothing to stop it. What is this psychological mechanism that allows us to know something is true but act as if it is not? … Marshall argues that the answers do not lie in the things that make us different and drive us apart, but rather in what we all share: how our human brains are wired-our evolutionary origins, our perceptions of threats, our cognitive blindspots, our love of storytelling, our fear of death, and our deepest instincts to defend our family and tribe. Once we understand what excites, threatens, and motivates us, we can rethink and reimagine climate change, for it is not an impossible problem… Silence and inaction are the most persuasive of narratives, so we need to change the story.

  14. ‘Don’t even think about it – how our brains are wired to ignore climate change’
    Yet all over the world there are stone circles / monuments set up to show when the seasons change and the land becomes ready for farming , before that wood and as far as we know the watching of migrant birds fortelling spring and fall .
    when the climate changed in prehistory we simply moved or we would not be here , the mesipotamians built dams and irrigation canals , the same in south america , we still use aquaducts built by the romans to water their new cities and the areas around them , this was a huge manpower cost but it was done to attempt to stave off changing climate / pipulation growth .
    Today we are stuck , there is nowhere to go that aint allready populated , todays investment in infrastructure makes the cost of moving prohivitave , Go back to the dust bowl years millions of acres were just abandoned the loss was just a wooden shack and a’few farm impliments , abandoned land was sold on the town hall steps and some auctions never got a bid , land prices fell to dollars per square mile instead of per acre, local infrastructure collapsed counties employed virtualy no one , schools closed , my county had one part time sherrif , one school with one teacher that catered for all kids from five to fifteen , everything else closed , no county services at all and near a quarter of a million acres of unsold land on its books earning no taxes .
    Local taxes are the biggest cost to owning property here , profits are dropping so are land values , our leaders are trying to find new ways of raising revenue that is only hastening its colapse instead of finding ways to cut costs ( normalcy bias ) , there is no way to move no where to go to , walking away today will break the banking sector and everything else that depends on banks .
    In two weeks the unemployment stimulus dries up yet states refuse to unlock the economy , catch 22 , 40 + million unemployed with no income means disaster , who knows what happens next .
    The world is about to change , in out nearest collige town there were over 40 restaraunts employing lots of collige kids working their way thru collige , all but Mc D are closed , most will not reopen , first problem , the kids are going home , some have unemployed parents , going home , leaving empty places , those working for the collige are looking at being unemployed as campuses close ,rental prices have dropped from $1000 per month to $600 , second , local taxes tank adding to the problem , catch 22 . Covid has speeded up the problem that has been kicked down the road for fourty years , incompetent management worldwide has made the problem worse , centeralisation especialy of food production / distribution will mean hunger , farmers have no market for produce , you are eating the stores from last year , wheat grown this year is sitting on farms or on rail cars sitting on sidings waiting for someone to want it , millers working with reduced staff or closed down dont want it , same with produce veg ploughed under as the processors are closed ( mc d are serving burgers with no leuttice tomatoes are coming in from mexico ) i have cattle i cant sell , centeralisation is our accilies heel , and will be just as the arrow in Accilies ‘ s heel , fatal .

  15. Who will care for the nuclear power plants for the next X centuries? Answer, nobody will, nobody will be able to as they will need to look out for their own families. What does this mean? So-called spent fuel has to be kept cool. This requires power. Where will that power come from? There’s generators on site, probably diesel powered with large tanks of fuel. That might last a year or two. Then what? Answer, fu*k it, I’m going home is what. And the spent fuel rods will slowly get hotter and hotter until Fukushima all over again. By the way, there’s around 450 nuclear power plants out there. No, there’s no hope. This is it for civilization and humans. Earth is going to go back to nearly all unicellular organisms. She will be fine. She’s done this five times before at least. Give her a few million years, a blip, and there will be a fine new set of multicellular organisms running around again because life abhors a vacuum.

    • Fukashima was a fast breeder style plant it burned plutonium thats why its so nasty , they also have others but numbers i dont know , spent fuil is a real problem , the only answer is a verrrrry deep hole but i think we are past the point of no return .

  16. Certainly not looking to blame sailors for colonialism or capitalism. I am, however, looking to put some limits around long-distance trade…

    Agreed on the important distinction between agriculture and horticulture. My discussion of this in my forthcoming book got curtailed to the point of disappearance during the editing phase, but it’s there implicitly. I still prefer to talk about ‘farming’ in the sense that I want to break down the distinction between gardening and farming.

    Prospects for dealing with high level nuclear waste long term are indeed another tricky problem to add to a long list. I’m not yet convinced that the result of this story will be extinction for all but unicellular organisms … but I’d be interested if anyone could point me to a good analysis of the threat.

    Thanks as always for everyone’s engagement!

    • Yes, interesting interview. There are many aspects of Lovelock’s thinking that I question, but there’s no doubt he has a lively and original mind.

      As to that other guy, if his book even approaches 1% of Lovelock’s impact he’ll count himself blessed. So too if he lives to 101 and still goes for daily 3 mile walks.

      Not sure about thorium, though – still no thorium reactors actually in operation, right?

      • On the Chelsea Green front… any talk of a book promotion tour? Travel now is still suspect, but one might wonder how the book’s promotion should be tackled.

  17. If thorium reactors worked someone would have built one ,the USA is not the only tech capable country , China or the old USSR would have them running and be selling them all over the world , China is not owned by ” big oil ” they pay thru the nose for energy , cheap energy is the holy grail and will be fabulously profitable if someone invents it .

      • If he’s not changed his tune, Lovelock’s advocacy for nuclear (in the various Gaia books at least) stemmed from a desire to ease the transition to a much lower energy future, not to prolong Business As Usual and hasten Gaia’s demise.
        If thorium or even lots of small modular reactors were up and running and somehow even benign, I’d expect an overriding tendency to carry on regardless… A man of religion on the radio a while back related how he’d frequently asked other people of faith which of the ten commandments they’d keep if there could be only one. The most popular answer by far was ‘keep the Sabbath holy’. I thought the ramifications of that were interesting, not least to land workers: not to work the animals, to pause from earthly toil, no merchandising, to feel thankful one is not a slave, to have time to be neighbourly, and so on, one day in every seven (the number seven also crops up in the advised seventh-year fallow too). ie the antithesis of BAU, not the machinations so much as the mysteries… But as it’s now Monday I must accelerate to terminal velocity once more.

  18. Thanks for the further comments. I’m in the throes of proof reading among other things at the moment but will reappear soon.

  19. Sorry I haven’t read all the comments, so someone could easily have already made this point. Writers of fiction can sometimes create a picture of social collapse that’s more meaningful than the one painted by dry academia. I’ve found Lionel Shriver’s novel “The Mandibles” and Russell T Davies TV drama “Years and Years” very convincing. And I’m 70 and been living with premonitions of what we used to call “the breakdown of western civilisation” for years!

  20. From the delightfully abstruse to the mundane, has anyone else besides me been having trouble procuring canning jars?

    We make a good deal of our cash income from canned goods, notably fruit preserves in 250ml canning jars. We typically get ten to thirty dozen at a shot. We give our customers 50₵ for returns, but only have about a 5% return rate.

    I’ve now called or visited every likely source on our wee island, as well as all the likely sources in the nearby city of ~200,000 people. At least three national chain stores have none, and further report that they have been back-ordered, and they don’t know when they’ll be getting more. Shamazon promises to deliver them for about 2.5 times as much as we normally pay, but Bezos doesn’t really need any more of our money, if indeed he can deliver more than a “Sorry, this item is backordered” message.

    I thought this was a local phenomenon, and then this morning on CBC, I heard someone interviewed who was complaining about the same thing on a larger island (Prince Edward Island) on the opposite side of the continent.

    So, it appears that either 1) there is some vast conspiracy to keep people dependent on the industrial food system, or 2) these CoViD-19 times have convinced people to at least get a start on their own food sovereignty!

    As a corollary, this past spring was our best ever for sales of both seeds and plant starts.

    Occam’s Razor seems to indicate that collapse is entering the mainstream via a perception of food insecurity. What do you think is behind the disappearance of the lowly 250ml canning jar?

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