It’s not too late, but it’s over: how COP26 changes everything

And so the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow has drawn to a close. Time for another break from my present blog cycle for a few thoughts on the implications.

Prior to the meeting the eco-philosopher Rupert Read wrote that he was hoping for a bad outcome because then “we citizens of the world will finally know the truth: that it’s up to us now. Us the people.”

This comment was met with some bewilderment or even anger among climate activists and technocrats. But I knew what he meant, and I agreed. The worst outcome would be if there were some apparently big breakthroughs that prompted unwary journalists and other opinion formers into thinking real movement had occurred and that the powers that be were on the case, only for it to turn out to be just more ‘blah blah blah’ to coin the phrase used by many of the activists at the meeting.

Well, there was certainly a lot of blah blah blah, and few commentators seems to be hailing the outcome as remotely equal to the crisis. Some are opting for a ‘glass half full narrative’ that courts the dangerous middle ground I mentioned (at least we’re now ‘phasing down’ coal and have ‘pledges’ on methane and deforestation etc). But with Bill McKibben, a somewhat more mainstream climate activist than Read, writing “It’s a fairy tale that world governments will fix our climate crisis. It’s up to us” I think it would be fair to say Read got his wish. Professor Kevin Anderson was blunter, saying that at COP26 “world leaders collectively chose to sign a death warrant”.

I’m with Read et al in thinking that governments won’t solve this and it’s up to us. But there’s a problem. What exactly should ‘we’ do? I spent a day in Glasgow at COP26, listening to some understandably angry and emotional youth activists exclaiming that it was they and not the politicos cloistered inside the Blue Zone who were the real leaders, but saying little about what their leadership entailed and how it was going to sort out the climate crisis. In the evening, I went on an Extinction Rebellion march intended to raise a rumpus outside a building where world leaders were allegedly dining, but in the end the police corralled us down a side street far out of earshot of any leaders, where we stood singing a familiar XR song:

People got the power

Tell me can you hear us

Getting stronger by the hour

Power! People! People! Power!

But the most abiding image for me of the event was the cold steel entry grille to the Blue Zone, which was as close as this particular person got to any power, ie. not very. I gather that many of those in possession of the appropriate authorizations to get beyond it didn’t feel much different.

Well, it’s easy to be cynical. The fact is, theoretically it’s not too late to avert average global warming in excess of 1.5oC above preindustrial levels – although it almost is – and there are lots of politicians, scientists, civil servants, academics, activists and others working hard to secure that outcome. Every molecule of greenhouse gas that humanity doesn’t put into the atmosphere brightens the future, so I salute their efforts.

All the same, I don’t think their efforts will be equal to the task, because there’s a large human impediment to it in the structures of political-economic power, for which all the steel grilles, police officers and elaborate entry authorizations in Glasgow stand as a metaphor. Some call it capitalism, or we could speak instead of growthism, developmentalism, various other isms or more generally the idea of ‘progress’ that I discuss particularly between pages 53 and 88 of my book. This article about India’s pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2070 does quite a good job of examining whether this is a real breakthrough or blah blah blah, but the article’s unspoken assumption that, for the land of Gandhi as for everywhere else, there’s only one path to ‘development’ involving increased energy use, industrialization, urbanization and so forth pretty much gives the game away. Without a different political-economic model to that, it certainly is too late.

But too late for what? Too late to preserve the existing global political economy, certainly. But since this ill serves most people and most other organisms globally, that’s not in itself a bad thing. Perhaps the real problem is that none of the alternatives – like the small-scale neo-agrarianism I advocate – have any real mass traction.

In the face of that reality, a lot of people retreat to familiar forms of modernist politics and find vindication for the flavour they prefer in the COP26 outcome. On the left, there’s a lot of talk assimilating climate change to working-class struggles for justice and against capitalism. A historical problem for the left here is that not many working-class struggles for justice have really been fundamentally anti-capitalist, and the ones that have been have rarely lasted long. While some on the left downplay the likely effects of climate change and preserve top billing for the politics of labour, others invoke climate change as a kind of revolutionary prime mover to kickstart the stalled communist transition. To me, it seems likely that climate change will be a revolutionary prime mover, but the nature of prime movers is that they don’t usually deliver to order on the programmes of older political traditions.

Anatol Lieven neatly satirises this kind of thing in invoking Naomi Klein’s book about climate change, This Changes Everything. He writes that he’s fully in agreement with the title, but “The problem is that among the things it has not in fact changed is Klein’s own ideological priorities, which remain almost exactly what they would have been if climate change did not exist”1.

I’d argue this also applies often enough to those on the left who are switching their allegiance from the industrial working class to indigenous peoples as the subset of oppressed humanity most likely to bring about revolutionary renewal, thereby preserving their conviction that such a world-transforming subset of people actually exists. This idea is getting wider traction because many indigenous people are bearing the brunt of climate breakdown, are often skilled through long cultural practice at political resistance, are in the forefront of further capitalist extractivism, and may have a thing or two to teach about non-capitalist lifeways.

All of this is true, but I’m not convinced it gives sufficient leverage to generate a climate-proofed postcapitalist politics. One left-wing critic of mine wrote that my book says nothing about ‘indigeneity’ – kind of true inasmuch as I don’t use that deeply problematic term in it, but kind of untrue inasmuch as the whole drift of the book is against claims to authentic political or other identities of the kind that ‘indigeneity’ involves. I consider these politically disastrous, especially for humanity’s climate-challenged future.

This is especially true since much the most successful claims to indigeneity in the modern world have been nationalist ones along the lines that the government of a defined area serves the needs of a geographically and often ethnically exclusive people. Anatol Lieven, who I mentioned above, argues that because of this very success effective action on climate change must be built around nationalism via notions of consistent identity, individual sacrifice, and historical persistence. While he satirises the left for its vision of a “nice, ideologically positive apocalypse inhabited by diverse but mutually respectful populations” he rather hoists himself on his own petard by calling for “intelligent, far-sighted” versions of nationalism, and not “stupid, short-sighted” ones2. Yeah right, that’s really what you’re gonna get if you invoke the animal spirits of the nation…

You can see how this might pan out in some of British prime minister Boris Johnson’s pronouncements and actions around COP26. On the one hand, he warned of “shortages…movements, contests for water, for food, huge movements of peoples. Those are things that are going to be politically very, very difficult to control”. Meanwhile, his government is trying to figure out how to flout various international laws to turn back from British shores the currently rather small number of boats carrying undocumented migrants, suggesting what kind of reception those huge movements of people in the future are likely to get (but I think he’s right that, ultimately, these movements are going to be politically difficult to control, which has interesting implications). Despite claiming that, regarding climate change, we’re currently “5-1 down at half time”, Johnson also believes we can “build back greener, without so much as a hair shirt in sight” with such things as zero-emission planes allowing us – or at least some of us – to “fly guilt-free” in the future. All in all, less national sacrifice and more nationalist fantasy.

Without a persuasive mass climate politics from either left, right or middle, it’s easy to succumb to despair, as I did for a brief period recently. As I see it, going through a period of despair is better than clinging to false optimism or the boilerplate solutionism of modernist politics. But after the despair the approach I now favour is for people just to do something that they feel called to do. In my case, I think that’s going to be helping build up the human, plant and animal community on my little farm, pushing a distributist land reform politics where I can, carrying on with some writing, and probably calling time on my fledgling career as an environmental protestor.

My wife, whose career in the latter regard has been considerably more distinguished than mine, has come to a similar conclusion, more or less. While she was away blocking motorways and parliaments with Insulate Britain, I followed the news avidly and got myself pretty riled up when I felt the targeting or messaging of the group was wrong. I’ve had some interesting conversations about this with her. She takes the view that we cannot know the efficacy of our actions. There’s a case sometimes for getting over our individual selves and opinions and participating within a wider movement, even when we consider it flawed … and there’s also a case sometimes for not doing that. Either way, she’s increasingly lost interest in the opinion-mongering of those who think they know what should be done or what people should think, including her own. Indeed, there’s quite a bit of blah blah blah beyond the Blue Zone too, which can be problematic in its own way. And if you want my opinion, I think she has a point.

Some conclusions, then. It’s not too late, but it’s over. The global political impasse over climate change does suggest that it’s now down to “us, the people” to address the problem. None of ‘us’ really knows how to do that, but maybe it doesn’t matter. We will do it in a myriad piecemeal ways. Some of those ways, as per Boris Johnson’s remarks, will probably be ugly. I hope that other, prettier ways will supersede them. A fond hope? Probably, but the “nice, ideologically positive apocalypse” that Lieven scorns may not everywhere be quite as far-fetched as he supposes, and I will try to explain why in upcoming posts. So my plan for meeting the climate apocalypse is to keep thinking, keep writing, keep farming and keep being hopeful (but not ‘optimistic’) as best I can. What’s yours?

Notes

  1. Anatol Lieven. 2020. Climate Change and the Nation State, p.120.
  2. Ibid. pp.xvi & xxv.

35 thoughts on “It’s not too late, but it’s over: how COP26 changes everything

  1. My plan:

    – continue growing as much food as I can for my household, and work with the household to find a more secure way of doing so
    – continue refusing to drive a car, and largely living my life on a walkable/cycle-able scale
    – continue learning basic small-scale practical skills, and teaching them to others
    – continue being involved in a spiritual community that cares about what is happening

    I was talking with someone the other day who was critical of Insulate Britain for their traffic-stopping antics, and I asked him what he suggest people do instead to bring about the political changes necessary to prevent climate apocalypse. He thought COP26 was more the sort of solution that should happen: a “global conversation” about what to do. I pointed out that it’s been happening for (at least) 26 years and things are still getting worse, so obviously that wasn’t working, and asked him if he had any other suggestions. He didn’t.

    It seems to me that the suggestions and examples provided by people who are trying to take practical action are more helpful.

  2. My plan is the same as yours (albeit with considerably less writing) and one of my hopes is for immediate economic collapse so a more habitable climate and biologically diverse environment can be saved for the thousands of human generations to come.

    Some people might think “immediate economic collapse” is too dramatic and unnecessary. I urge them to contemplate the meaning of “overshoot”. To quote Wikipedia, “In environmental science, the concept of overshoot means demand in excess of regeneration. … It can apply to animal populations and people.” The evidence that humanity is very far into overshoot is overwhelming (and has been for decades).

    The end result of overshoot is population dieback: “without pressure from predators or other limiting factors, … “opportunistic” species reproduce rapidly, consume food sources to depletion, and then experience a population crash due chiefly to starvation” (but also including population reduction by predators). Since humans have only each other and microbes as natural predators, our population crash will likely also involve deaths from war and disease.

    So, starvation, war and disease will be the distressing and inevitable litany of fatal experiences for the vast majority of people at some point in the future. Those are very serious prospects and any plan must take them seriously. My plan certainly does. I hope to save as many people as I can, starting, but not ending, with my family.

    PS. I must reiterate the importance of planning for provision of care for, and dealing with, refugees in any small farm plan. They will be coming.

    PPS. If your plan and your life don’t survive the onslaught of events to come, take comfort in the fact that a small farm, with fertile soil, water to drink, wood for cooking and shelter from the elements will almost certainly save the lives of several people, all without causing very much harm to the natural world. What better legacy could anyone leave?

  3. War and pestilence- Well, I think all four horsemen will be saddling up, and as with all things, impacts will be unevenly distributed.

    The real challenge before us is the fact that biological systems seem to follow the maximum power principle. It’s almost like our human behaviors are more than just genetics or the primitive cultural patterns of a young species, they are driven by ineluctable thermodynamic laws.

    As fossil fuels approach net zero return, the overshoot will quickly reverse, and a new stable balance between humans and the ecosystem will result, though climate change and our other pollutants are wild cards on when that might be.

    I’m in agreement with Joe that a quicker collapse is to be hoped for. Stop digging the hole, so to speak.

    As both Kathryn and Joe imply, no solutions will be coming from above, so look to your immediate surroundings and do what you can. Group efforts will likely be most effective if small and local. Chris’ efforts to advocate and try to bring awareness to others of an alternative food production and livelihood framework is still useful.

    We can hope that with his writing, maybe a few more “lifeboat” communities or areas can begin sprouting ( to mix metaphors) through his efforts.

    One more thing- In general, even most environmentalists are in denial of the tough choices ahead of us, especially in the wealthy developed world. The approaching low energy world is the real challenge, not climate change.

    My take is less optimistic now, and has been refined a bit in the subsequent yeas, but the central point remains:
    http://viridviews.blogspot.com/2008/12/i-write-brief-articles-for-newsletter.html

    • Spot on post, and from 2008 no less.

      On the other hand, Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Societies was from 1988, Catton’s Overshoot was published in 1981 and Limits to Growth was almost fifty years ago in 1972. Climate danger warnings have been too numerous to count. We can’t say we weren’t warned.

      The fact that warning after warning has been basically ignored and, for example, that relatively easily avoided existential danger from nuclear weapons and nuclear waste has been tolerated for decades leads me to believe that pursuing global or even national solutions is fruitless. Maybe it’s just the maximum power principle overwhelming all human reason, but something is catastrophically wrong with us. See it and weep.

  4. I think I agree Chris. My response like yours may be to Keep thinking, sharing, farming. Keeping it small local and manageable.
    I dont believe those ‘in charge’ could reform this system even if they tried, which they won’t, maybe can’t.
    In any case seems to me that anything the ‘system’, whatever you want to call it, might come up with in repose will be simplistic, over reaching, have many unintended consequences and likely cause more problems than it ever solves. Exploitation, pollution, ecocide, genocide, domination, extraction, collapse. They aren’t glitches in this system they are the system – it only ends one way.

    So localisation seems the only way forward for me. Which really means stopping worrying about whats out there and trying to learn whats under our feet, trying to look after it, and really really trying to stop bringing stuff in from elsewhere. Disengage.
    Whether that’s farming inputs, energy inputs, irrelevant and faddy farming practices invented in other climates and regions, whatever. Just stop.
    Stop, look down and realise that the only way forward is to let go of this culture, these modes of thought that push us towards grand solutions. Learn from the land we work and encourage others to do the same.

    Think local, act local, be careful, be kind, try to think long term.

  5. Here is the problem that mainstream tried to solve:
    Increase energy production, grow populations, grow the economy, build massive amounts of energy guzzling infrastructure and pay off debt all while trying to reduce greenhouse gasses and budget deficits…. Ha!

    This is the problem:
    It is the ideology of growth and the absurd pursuit of it that is the problem.

    Economic growth which, requires surplus energy, is over. E.R.O.E.I.
    Debts and pensions will not be paid. This is why economists who, are trained idiots, others and their overlord leaches were desperate for growth.
    We are in ecological overshoot using sustainable resources faster than they can replace themselves.
    Even if, all fossil fuel emissions stopped today which, they won’t, temperatures will continue to increase for about 40 years taking us further past already exceeded climate tipping points.
    Renewable energy does not return the energy invested and is a con.
    Population reduction is the only viable solution, smarter people than you know this and are taking matters into their own hands. We are witnessing evolution in action. Who better to take out first other than the gullible and stupid.
    Large populations were only ever needed in order to create large armies and are now longer needed. Robots and artificial intelligence which, can out think us all will make most of us obsolete and disposable.

    I say yes. It’s pretty much over and many thanks to all the dumb arses who have done nothing all these years to prevent it.

    This is what we should have done, I have been saying so for decades and so what if few billionaires went broke:

    1: Forget economics. It is “fatally” flawed. It has polluted the planet, poisoned us all, does not factor physics nor the environment and is what has got us into this mess in the first place.
    2: Implement national and encourage international population reduction strategies otherwise, one way or another, nature will drag us back to sustainable levels and it won’t be pretty.
    3: Properly manage our finite resources which, are currently being pillaged.
    4: Reduce consumption using quotas and not with unfair taxation. We can not shop our way to sustainability and we can not borrow our way to prosperity.
    5: Plant lots and lots of trees. Massive scale reforestation will help the climate, rainfall and be a valuable renewable resource for future generations.
    6: Restore the liberties and freedoms stolen from us by corporate serving politicians.

    My hope is that those in control have miscalculated and that those at the bottom of the economic heap who, have a stronger sense of community will be the those left standing and produce a simpler and more sustainable society.
    The depleted resources will never again be available to build another 21st century.

    Cheers.
    H

  6. Chris, just to say I continue to get a lot from your writing on this blog, despite my intentions to comment never quite coming to fruition. On the themes in your current post, I’ve come to similar conclusions about what I’m going to do. I plug away in the local paper, maybe doing some kind of “good”. And, yes, growing and cycling, but then largely failing to win my own family over to a giving up some of the comforts of modern life. Which at least forces some humility on you and moderates your public utterances to be aware of where most people are.

    I found this book, The Shadow of Unfairness: A Plebeian Theory of Liberal Democracy by Jeffrey Edward Green, helpful in developing an awareness of my two-faced politics. I’ve still a commitment to thinking, discussing and advocating a politics that focuses on the existing nation state and what can be won there, but I’ve realised it’s not rational (or healthy) to care too much. So I’m trying to exist that little more every year outside of the money economy and fostering local connections with land and people. This, in my mind, is looking the other way. I still want national politics and institutions to be more fair, democratic and equitable against forces that would have it otherwise, but I’m also half out the door looking to a future where the power of our current states are less. Hence, I am self-consciously two-faced, inconsistent, contradictory. And I think this is often how peasants, plebeians, the working class, have been down through history as they try to maintain some sanity and autonomy. I still think mass sentiment and action on occasion can influence what the capitalist state does (and we have a Labour government in New Zealand which is qualitatively different from a Tory government in the UK), but I simply cannot sustain – as I did for some time – an activist opposition to the state and its power. Through history more people have walked away from states and centralised power than have toppled it. On that, a book which I’m currently reading is The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graebar and David Wengrow. I haven’t finished it, so haven’t got to the conclusion, but I do recommend. It makes a strong case for human agency and creativity in the face of various determinisms. It’s a hopeful and enlightening book that has common ground with your own writing and thinking. Though probably some differences as well. Maybe interesting for you to read and to share your thoughts.

    • Kia ora Vaughan (and Chris)

      thanks for both your thoughts, and for your reading recommendations, Vaughan. I hope to buy Graeber and Wengrow today. May I also very, VERY strongly recommend Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta (2019) and Carbon Democracy by Timothy Mitchell (2011) as the two books I have read in the past two years which explain more than any others why ‘civilisation’ was not a great idea in the first place, and what true sustainability would look like (Yunkaporta) and why politics of all kinds seems to be stalled, with absolutely no ‘power to the people’, as Chris documented from Glasgow (Mitchell).

      And yes – on our 1 ha in the country my partner and I grow veges and fruit for our household, and to share with neighbours and friends, and a habitat of suitable native and exotic plants (aka flower borders, shrubberies, a wood and a forest) for humans and all other species which need it (even more) to thrive. There is very little each individual can have control over, but doing this much brings me joy, as well as being part of what Yunkaporta calls our custodial human responsibilities.

  7. Bravo, Chris!

    I think you are exactly right – it’s over.
    As for it being too late, or not – well, here we are. We have no time but the present, and it is just stupid to give up, whether it is too late or not.

    This: “…people just to do something that they feel called to do.”

    It is the only way. I believe we can only lead by example. The only other alternatives are propaganda and brute force – which thankfully most of us cannot muster even if we wanted to.

    But If you build such an attractive life for yourself and your friends & family, then word spreads.

    So I’m happy that you are “…being hopeful (but not ‘optimistic’)”

    I’m with Hanno too: “Think local, act local, be careful, be kind, try to think long term.”

    Still, I shudder to imagine what will happen to reverse the expansion of places like Sao Paolo and Lagos. Didn’t most of those people who ended up in the vast slums of the world come from some kind of small farming life?

    Then there is the Southern Californian metroplex. More attractive maybe, and certainly more destructive than a third world slum, but also much more susceptible to disastrous collapse.

    It is clear that tending our gardens is the only option, but this is hard to watch…

    Thanks

  8. Interesting read as ever Chris. I might switch things around and say its ‘too late but its not over’. Like you I’ve been on a long journey with my understanding of and reaction to climate change. I’ve watched tons of lectures from climate scientists on aspects of the science, watched lectures about how we might respond, about renewable energy, degrowth, market solutions, responses to capitalism, monetary reform, indigenous knowledge, ecosystem restoration and on and on and on – blah blah blah.

    Now it seems that all this, while necessary, was really about my desire to feel in control, to feel that I had some agency and I see that writ large in both the work of the delegates at things like COP and in the protests outside. It all amounts to a belief that 1) we’re in control and 2) if only we could find the right response all would be well. But now I think we’re really not in control – the forces that are moving are bigger than us and I don’t just mean the retreating grounding lines of west antarctic glaciers or the change in the albedo of the Earth, or the slowing of the AMOC etc etc etc. I also mean the deep drivers of our politics. I don’t think people like Mr Johnson or Trump are doing more than surfing forces (which are non rational and barely felt at the level of the individual) that were already moving within human systems and those movements, just like the climate crisis, are the unforseen consequence of prior actions (which were themselves posited as solutions to some percieved problem). So I think its too late because these forces are in motion, the climate is moving and we’ve no idea what unforseen consequences our attempts to stop it might have. And those attempts will be shaped by those forces, largely beyond our control, that are pushing and pulling within human society. I think its not over because those forces will play out in their own time and in their own ways.

    Nate Hagens describes/models the human economy as a super-organism – what organism wills itself out of existence?

    If we really have so little control then it seems to me our best bet, as you say, is to do what we feel called to do regardless of how small and insignificant it seems. Personally I still have a fantasy about humanity as a hyper-keystone species but the cultural shift for that to happen at scale…. and what would be the unforseen consequence of trying to achieve such a cultural shift on such a scale. But on a personal scale – even a window box is an opportunity to increase the capacity of a place to support an increasing diversity of life.

    I recently reread Dune. In it I came across this “Its a law of ecology…. The struggle between life forms is the struggle for the free energy in a system”. It seems to me that we’ve used fossil energy to massively distort the global and local ecosystems and at some point there must be a rebalancing. I fear that’s going to be pretty harsh as one of the ways we’ve distorted ecosystems is by simplifying them so there’s actually less energy held within the systems we ultimately depend on. Maybe the collapse in human sperm counts will save us from famine and war – who knows.

    I have two young children and at times I’m terrified for them and for what their future might hold – I suspect a return of war in Europe at some point, possibly some sort of neo-feudal politics where land ownership confers power etc etc. I think the current system will collapse into something simpler but possibly not in a ‘Small is Beautiful’ sort of way.

    Just found a spider in my fridge – life is resilient!

  9. I just think that it’s too late, anyway, for anyone to hope the governments will solve this, or the companies should do whatever. That point in time was maybe 30 years ago.

    We have now come to a point in time where we can only manage if the government does its thing about climate change and all the other crises you mention in your book, the companies do their things about it, and each and everyone of us has to do what they can as well. There’s no time for fingerpointing anymore, there’s only little time left so WE ALL HAVE TO HELP AND CHANGE OUR WAYS.

  10. Hey Chris!

    First time reader, completely agree with everything you’ve written. The only certifiable solution that seems to guarantee peace of mind and a net-positive effect is local action and neo-agrarianism.

    I have some thoughts on a course of action that is less guaranteed to succeed but that could potentially raise the public awareness necessary to affect more widespread change. You seem incredibly well informed on this subject and I would greatly appreciate your opinion should you ever have the time.

    Regards,

    Fergus

  11. Thanks for the comments, and a warm welcome to various first-time commenters here.

    There’s much to agree with in all of the comments, and – depressing though the subject matter of them is – it’s refreshing to see people grappling with the enormity of where we’re at, rather than rehearsing the usual ‘glass half full’ scenarios, something that I’ve struggled with as I’ve tried to present my thinking to the wider world. I’d like to respond to everyone, but for time and brevity I’m just going to pick out a few headline points.

    As Joe notes, refugees will be moving from the less to the more favourable areas, probably in large numbers. I don’t think either of the standard positions of present-day politics – ‘pull up the drawbridge!’ and ‘refugees welcome!’ – are alive to how this will play and the changes it will cause. I hope to write some more about this in due course.

    Thanks Vaughan for your interesting point on ‘two-facedness’, or perhaps one might invoke from a different context ‘double consciousness’. I’m currently reading the Graeber & Wengrow book too, where of course that idea plays well. Graeber’s previous work has strongly influenced me, and I’m enjoying this latest albeit with a number of reservations that I plan to air here soon.

    Thanks also for the other book recommendations. Christine, ‘Sand Talk’ is in my To Read tray, but I will try to take a look at some of the others that you and others have recommended.

    Interesting thoughts on control and the lack of it in relation to wider forces, Bruce – this was a course I tried to plot in my book, although perhaps not always with complete success. Another theme to return to when we get to discussing Part IV. And glad you found a spider in your fridge. Was it tasty, or is that the wrong question?

    Thanks for commenting Fergus. I’d be interested of course in your thoughts. I prioritize responding to comments posted publicly on this blog, but feel free to share your ideas further.

    And thanks to everyone else for commenting – all duly noted!

  12. The problem with FLOP 26 is thinking that the same system that caused the problem will be able to solve it. I honestly don’t think that they can imagine a world without all the money and creature comforts that fossil fuels and endless growth brings them.

    And if they can imagine a different world, they don’t want to do it. Political ‘leaders’ won’t be reelected if they propose a program that seriously reduces consumption. Mindless consumers won’t because they would be inconvenienced (even in small ways).

    We can have a sustainable future, just not at the levels of consumption that we have now. Keep working on your own projects. Practice growing and preserving your own food. Save seeds from plants that do the best in the worst weather. Build resilient networks. Try to have some fun.

  13. Thanks Chris,
    Been there, done that – speaking of environmental activism including direct actions and civil obedience against cars, nuclear power, pesticides etc..
    Been there, done that – trying to use market forces for the better (not that I really believed in it, but I saw it as a kind of reformist agenda) by developing organic agriculture markets in Sweden and later in many other markets. Working as a consultant to assist poor farmers in developing countries export organic produce to rich countries, establishing standards and certification systems.
    Been there, done that – participating in international summits for environment and climate, including Joburg 2002, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in the 1990s and many others. Trying to influence both governments, international organisations and business through consultancies.

    Been there, still doing: more or less the same as you: farming, writing, debating giving lectures, consultancies. I dont exclude the occassional demonstration or rally and can still think of some strategic direct actions. Main focus is to liberate myself and others as much as possible from capitalism – yes I still think capitalism is the best description of the paradigm and system ruling us today. Call a spade a spade and capitalism capitalism. In my view it is important to promote resistance to capitalism as a system rather than to its many proxies, “consumerism”, “globalisation” or whatever.

    Ocassionally I try to engage myself in the development of the local community, which I consider essential. But admittedly I have had enough of organizations and communities and just want to go on with my own stuff….

  14. Chris’s plans, including his unmentioned plans for basing a new community at his farm, show how he is leading by example.

    My ‘plan’ for facing humanity’s predicaments continues to be ‘do what I can’ (which is noticeably diminishing as my energy levels are eroded by the passing years, a humbling trend). Of course, doing what I can includes not doing some things (in order to reduce the negative impacts I cause). The lower-impact options tend to require more time and can look like self-deprivation, but as several commenters already pointed out, fun and joy can result.

    Chris wrote about planning to “keep being hopeful,” and I wonder about the implications of that. Is it akin to making plans to be happy? Is there another plan if things ever seem hopeless?

    Lately, I’m not so hopeful, but I’m also not a ‘doomer’ beyond accepting that we all doomed to a death which could happen at any time. I think I’m more (present-oriented) cheerful and joyful than (future-oriented) hopeful. My joyfulness seems to coexist with my ongoing mourning and increasing acceptance of losses, on personal and planetary scales. However, I know I won’t be so cheerful if I’m not getting enough to eat, or if my health has a major downturn.

    I don’t believe I can force hopefulness or happiness onto myself, but I can be open to noticing the countless wonders and beauties of life, which can lead to chronic joy, despite the ‘deprivations.’

    • Steve I love the idea of ‘chronic joy’ coming from being open to the wonders and beauties of life – that seems like something I can aspire to.

      You also mentioned not doing things – I think this is wise – so much of the time humanity wants to be ‘doing’ something, to be triumphing over some adversity, to be feeling powerful. I suspect that’s a large part of how we got into our present predicaments and why people like Bill Gates & Elon Musk will push for the deployment of geoengineering as a solution to those predicaments.

  15. To briefly chime with Gunnar, Steve L, Hanno and many others… I find it helpful to ponder age-old wisdom, aphorisms, bon mots, colloquialisms and suchlike, largely in order not to lose myself in a web of words, when thinking about the world as I go about my day. On Monday it was Lao Tzu’s
    ‘Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity,’
    And for today,
    ‘The ego tells us to hide behind actions; the true self tells us to simply chill out and accept what is.’ (Charlie Ambler)
    I get them from a site called deeshan.com (The Meditation Tip. Daily Wisdom). Rumi coined some great ones:)
    Of course, you can take exception to any aspect of such sayings – that’s part of the joy of rolling them around in the grey matter. Stepping back from my work seldom brings about serenity, for example. Nevertheless, I find such thoughts help keep me grounded.
    Hanno’s use of the word ‘disengage’ stuck with me. It does seem to play a part in diluting ‘the system’/capitalism – as far as it’s possible and for what it’s worth – on the personal, day to day level.
    I’ve been wondering if that side of human nature that is competitive and rivalrous could be harnessed along the lines of ‘disengage’. When I worked a salaried position, I came up with a payday game amongst my close colleagues called ‘Who can spend the least this month’. We’d keep a basic tally each day – unnecessary coffees, necessary bills etc. I won one, lost a few. Looking back, for myself I was partly attempting to step back from the common cycle of ‘work, sleep, eat, death’, to forge meaning in a way of life less hamster-wheel shaped. Decades later, I read things like ‘The Victorians used, on average, around 20 litres of water a day’ and think, ‘Hey, I think I can beat that!’ It seems my competitive drive is a sharp reverse away from consumption and especially anything resembling craven accumulation (tendencies I still have to be alert to). But rather than see a low-impact life as a road to ruinous self-deprivation (a common response), on the contrary I feel I am simply making something of myself. Indeed, my vibration may be getting stronger (could just be last night’s chickpeas, though). But enough of this web of words! I’ll finish by paraphrasing a sage:
    Do your work, then step back, and read Small Farm Future. The only path to… (I’ll let you fill in the blank).
    Be good!
    PS Christine, thanks for the Sand Talk mention. The, er, bookcase may have to accumulate another book.

  16. Thanks for all the suggestions and plans. You’re all welcome to join my post-apocalyptic small farm community – provided you let me write its political manifesto 🙂

    Perhaps its motto could be ‘Do your work with chronic joy, then step back and read A Small Farm Future’?

    To add to the suggestions, here’s a few from Saurav Roy – a brief but much missed resident of the farm community here at Vallis Veg: https://twitter.com/sauravvroy/status/1460637340641247244

  17. Hi Chris,
    I wrote ‘Splitting the difference with somewhat perennial grains’, which you cited here: https://smallfarmfuture.org.uk/?page_id=714
    My plan for post-COP26, which I encourage you to peruse: Continue to explore a non-governmental, yet non-individualistic, approach to stopping the climate crisis. As I see it, each of us has done what we are able and willing to do individually, as well as governmentally, to address the climate crisis.What, you may ask, is a non-governmental, AND non-individualistic approach to climate action?
    Consider, if you will, USA cities in the 1870s. Frequent massive fires devastated American cities regularly then, every decade or so. It got so bad that fire insurance companies struggled. Even re-insurance companies, or ‘underwriters’ noticed. These re-insurance companies insure insurance companies, and had to pay when insurance companies of the day were overwhelmed.
    Then, after the World Fair of 1883 in Chicago, Engineer Henry Merrill, hired earlier by prominent underwriters to oversee the troubled Hall of Electricity at the World Fair, proposed Underwriters Laboratories. (This was the later name, not the first name for what is now known as UL.com). Underwriters Laboratories began to scientifically test, certify and label fire-safe appliances, as well as other goods and services. As far as I know, the prominent underwriters all insisted that their insurers, to receive underwriter insurance coverage, in turn restrict their coverage only to insurance clients exclusively using UL-listed appliances, etc. In other words, discovery of a non-UL-listed appliance at a fire site could revoke payment of insurance coverage.
    This turned the tide of city-wide fires in USA, and electricity became a household convenience, instead of merely a World Fair novelty. How does this relate to our collapsing climate?
    Who has both means and motive to protect our climate, and the awareness? COP26 shows that governments do not. Many have the motive; and face suffering or death. Few have the means. Of those with the means, who has the palpable motive, but lack merely the awareness?
    The insurance industry had means and motive in 1883 to fix fire danger; With Merrill bringing the awareness that they no longer had to merely suffer insurance losses, but could avoid them, the underwriters had means, motive and awareness, and US cities were transformed.
    Today, fossil fuel companies have the means, but not the motive. Government appears not to have the means. The re-insurance industry worldwide has the means, with about $27 trillion in assets. They also have the motive – they stand to lose much of this when climate-related claims come in. It would be cheaper to avoid the climate crisis than to suffer it, according to the 2006 Stern Review, and as confirmed by the Drawdown Review of 2020. Let’s bring them the awareness. With means, motive and awareness, much can be accomplished.

      • Are there likely to be many ClimateSafe businesses, Brian? How is Holbrook Travel offsetting? I can’t think of many companies that would fit the mold, even those trying their best only really seem to be limiting the damage they are unavoidably involved in. I hope your venture has a valuable part to play, but have to admit it’s not staring me in the face. How is it being received?

    • The climate crisis has already hit ( but no one noticed )
      Duram wheat , not enough to bother to count from this year’s U.S. crop , no grapefruit from TX ( last year’s frost killed the trees ) food prices up 7 to 20 % .
      France / German wine crop decimated by frost , same with UK potatoes .
      China importing everything it can lay it’s hands on .telling its population to stockpile food . ( mostly flood damage)
      Russia putting a 70 euro per ton export tax on grain , early snow ( watch for riots in the mid East and more refugees .)
      Russian oil tanker ships frozen in by ice in the arctic ,
      The crisis is upon us !

    • 27 trillion PAPER assets .
      Slavery good on paper but there’s a catch where’s the value ? It’s only valuable when someone wants it , a 2000 foot house in Dallas is worth $200,000 the same house in Chicago is worth $5 ( I know a guy who bought one for $5 , cut it in half and moved it 600 miles south , gave the plot to the city , $8000 to move it , cheap house )
      Corporate price over earnings used to be 3 , tessla is over 100 so you would have to hold a tessla share 100 years to get your money back buying the share in the first place , farm land has been mentioned here in this board , again price over earnings means maybe your grand children will see a profit .
      Asset prices are in a bubble , 27 trillion can become 27 million very easily when no one wants to buy .

  18. I’m working my way through
    The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity.
    David Gaeber & David We grow.

    Really enjoying it. Gives me hope. Graeber had always come across as an eternal optimist.

    People will figure it out. My nearest and dearest may not be among them though. Just feel that things are going to get “messy”.

    I do marvel at the time I live in though. A real blip in Humanities journey. One that has not happened before and will never happen again. I feel lucky to have experienced this time. Our ancestors and descendents could not/will not believe the times we are living through. I can talk to someone on the other side of the world on a device I can hold in the palm of my hand. Truly magical,/ amazing.

    Had a power cut for 20mins here yesterday. Was s sobering glimpse of things to come.

    • I feel lucky to have experienced this time.

      Some times are worse than others, and the difference is accentuated by rapid change in relative circumstances, but my experience over the past 73 years is that satisfaction with life has little to do with a culture’s technological sophistication.

      One of the most amazing things about experiencing a radically different culture in depth, as I was able to do during a Peace Corps stint in the early 1970’s, was my gradual realization that everyone around me was perfectly ordinary.

      Despite the difference in affluence, language, technologies of daily life, diet and many other factors that at first seemed very strange and mysterious, I came to understand that everyone had the same kinds of motivations, emotional highs and lows, neighborly relations, and range of religious interest as people had back in the suburban US. Despite being a very different culture, their emotional lives were virtually identical to mine, and the ratio of assholes to good guys was about the same, too. It doesn’t take too long after the shock of a sudden change to a very different life for that life to become normal life.

      When our high-energy, high technology civilization fades away from lack of energy, destroys itself in violence or is crushed by nature, there won’t be a single thing about it that anyone will miss after it’s gone. They won’t remember the modern world much, if at all, and will be far too distracted by daily life to be concerned with anything in the distant past. They will be just like humans have always been for hundreds of thousands of years, perfectly ordinary people with routine and mostly satisfying lives.

      Modernity came at us suddenly (thanks to fossil fuels) and won’t last much longer. The short term is going to be rough, but it’s comforting to know that modernity’s passing will mean nothing in the long term. Thousands of generations coming after us will do just fine without it.

      • I recently re-read Earth Abides
        by George R Stewart.

        A tale of survival after a global pandemic.

        Well worth a read. He makes some good observations. The generations born after the “fall” will only know the world they are born into and will adapt. They won’t miss any of the stuff we take for granted as the won’t have ever experienced it.

        Joe.
        I agree with what you say, but this has been an amazing time!!!!!. (A time that will probably never be repeated as all the fossil fuels will be gone.)
        I have flown through the air, breathed underwater, crossed continents and oceans. The tech we have access to is truly amazing/magical. The stuff of legend and mythology. I’ve had access to good education, healthcare and a global diet. Experienced other cultures and have not lived in fear or superstition and have avoided war. How lucky am I !!!???

  19. Thanks for the further comments. I’m also reading ‘The Dawn of Everything’ – along with everyone else, it seems! If anyone here is interested in a review of it from me I might write one, but will otherwise be drawing on a few aspects of the book in forthcoming posts. If you’re too busy to read its 500++ pages, Joe’s last comment above works pretty well as a summary. And I’m with Joe on all that, though I understand where John is coming from. No doubt as with people from many times and places, I feel lucky in some ways, and in others not so much.

    Regarding Brian’s insurance point, it’s an interesting idea, though I’m not sure the industry in itself has the power to effect the necessary change within BAU parameters. It seems likely various risks within and beyond agriculture that are currently often insured will escalate beyond the point where that works. The results could be interesting … and perhaps in some instances quite positive.

    • Chis.

      It’s early days with reading “The Dawn of Everything” but would be interested in reading your review if you can find the time to write one.

  20. There are already a lot of enthusiastic and well-informed people here in New England supporting the causes of small farms and organic farming, so I don’t think I have anything to add in that department.

    I have begun making small contributions to land acquisition funds and a local organization that teaches all sorts of traditional skills such as growing and processing grain and flax, as well as weaving. I am not going to grow grain or flax in my shady, sandy back yard and decided that the wisest course is to contribute to people who actually know what they’re doing.

    As a fiber enthusiast I can’t help noticing that local fiber production is far behind local food production, and by ”behind” I mean non-existent. There are some impressive flax projects on the (US) west coast, so I am trying to learn more about who is doing what and whether anyone in my region is planning to follow suit.

    By the way I always appreciate that Chris includes fiber along with food in local self-provisioning.

    I have significantly downshifted my own lifestyle, mostly out of economic necessity although it is also the right thing to do. Lately I’ve been seeing articles to the effect that we’ve all been tricked into making sustainable lifestyle choices by the fossil fuel industry, but that’s no reason not to keep doing it.

  21. What to do?

    Good question.

    My thoughts have gone on a long journey in the last year. Cop 26 ended as I expected. Lots of hot air and blah, blah, blah. I’ve come to realise that there isn’t a political solution to what’s coming. I’ve totally “zoned out” with engaging with domestic party politics. It seems so trivial. They are all talking about the wrong stuff. No political Messiah is going to come and save us, I now realise.

    So what should I do?

    I can’t change the future course of events by any of my actions, any more so than an Aztec priest could prevent a volcano erupting by cutting someone’s heart out.

    What’s going to happen is going to happen regardless of anything I do.

    “Prepping” seems to me to be a waste of time. Stockpiling for what? I’m going to be swept along/away by events even if I have a few months worth of supplies.

    Buy some land and start living how we will all have to live after the “fall”? My partner and kids have no interest in that. (Not sure I have either, when it comes to it) I’m not sure that land ownership is going to mean very much if the power of the State fails to inforce claims on land anyway. Which I think it won’t be able to do. 65,000,000 hungry people (UK) all looking for a way to stay alive.

    I’ve decided that rather than worry about the future and trying to second guess what is going to happen, I am going to live in the present and appreciate this time. As I’ve said in previous posts, I feel so lucky to witness this time. (I know others are not having the same experience, but there is very little I can do to change that)
    This is the pinnacle of human technological achievement. No time before and no time to come will ever match it.
    I’m going to appreciate the benefits I experience through this technology. Every time I have a hot shower, use my phone, drive my van, watch moving pictures on my TV, listen to the radio, take pain killers, fly in the air (perhaps never again), take a train, check the weather on the internet…….etc…..etc…..etc I am going to stop and marvel at it all. I’ve always just taken it all as a given. That it’s always been like it and always will be. But it’s been only for a fleeting moment in all of human history and I am lucky enough to witness it.

    I’m not going to go consumption crazy and have one big blowout, but neither am I going to live in a cave. I will have a coffee and enjoy it bitter taste, but only once in a while. Keep it as a treat to appreciate how special it is.

    And of course, keep checking in on all the interesting thoughts on this and other blogs.

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