I’ve been accused of being a pessimist. Wrong. I often spoof a pessimist view, but at heart I’m really an optimist. Lately I had to lay this out in front of some people, and this is what I told them:
I always root for the pessimists. “Plan for the worst, hope for the best” is my motto. In all truth I’m very optimistic. Now let’s talk about what I’m optimistic *about*.
The number one thing to keep in mind is that nobody can get through this alone. If you’re not in a good community, with neighbours you can trust and support, change that right now. It’s almost too late. These things take time.
That’s more important than a secure job, a nice house, or good schools. All those other things will vanish like the dew after sunrise if things get bad enough. The social institutions are what we will argue most over, fight the hardest for, can afford the least (according to our government) and that will go away no matter what we do. The Canadian government keeps releasing little hints that the medical care system in this country is too expensive. Tommy Douglas must be spinning 3,000 revolutions per minute! In the US, where they’ve never had a good health care system, some states are floating a trial balloon: “Gee, wonder what would happen if we ended Medicare and Medicaid?” In some states, Medicare payments are almost two-thirds of the budget for senior care. If they go away, I don’t think seniors will be hanging around those nursing homes any more.
Can it happen? Sure. One bite at a time, slow but steady. The same way a tomcat eats a grindstone. Can you stop it? Maybe. Do you care enough to make stopping such abuse a priority? If you can’t stop it, can you live with it? It’s gut-check time.
Having good people closer than your keyboard is a good thing. They can help you teach the next generation what’s needful, they can help you feed yourself and find meaningful work. They’ll even help you build a house. But you have to help in return. Loners need not apply.
Thing two is to plan for resilience. We all know how much of a pain it is to have the power go off for a few hours. It’s inconvenient-to-life-threatening depending on season, climate, and whether you’re using any life support technology (CPAP machine, ventilator, etc.) In *every* part of your life you have to think about resilience.
If the corn doesn’t grow this year, then what? If the power company can’t supply power for any reason, then what? If I can’t afford propane but I can afford a good saw and a splitting maul, when should I start getting in enough wood to at least not freeze to death this winter? If some bottleneck holds up a shipment of insulin, what do I do then? If I lose my job what can I do to earn money? (And how can I reduce my debt while I still have money?) If we can’t get all those inexpensive clothes from Asia, how do I replace my shoes?
I don’t have all the answers. Some of the answers I have may be wrong. But I’ve worked real hard to learn skills that have gone out of fashion: metalworking, wood working, growing food and fibre, using hand tools. We have a root cellar. We have land. We have a network of neighbours. We’re gradually acquiring technology that reduces our need for externally-supplied power while raising our capacity to produce small grains and other food. We raise or produce a large percentage of what we need.
There’s still a lot of stuff we use that we have to buy. Fuel. Food we can’t make or grow. Ingredients for things we make. Fertilizer input. Equipment. Electrical power.
Some people asked me if I was planning to “move off the grid” — great question, but to me “off the grid” is one of those luxuries that only those with a lot of money and fortunate circumstances can have. Off-grid often means that while people can live in a place using only energy they harvest themselves, they tend to still rely on energy from elsewhere for transport, or growing food, or buying stuff at the store. Truly off-grid living is damn hard. Unless there’s a collapse
I don’t see many people doing it. Plenty of people will waste time and treasure chasing that dream, however.
In Kamloops, we don’t get enough sun in the winter on the average lot to harvest enough electrons to charge the house and car batteries both. Likewise we don’t have a reliable wind, and because we’re technically a desert we don’t have a lot of fast-running water that can be turned into small hydro. If you do, it is a jewel beyond price. Most of us have to use energyto get water, not the other way round.
People are also wasting a lot of time yakking about collapse. Should they arm up to repel the invasion? Bury their gold in the back yard? The way I look at it, there are two collapse scenarios: The quick collapse and the slow one. A slow collapse is what’s happening. We don’t have to discuss that. Infrastructure gradually crumbles. Potholes increase. Local water systems decay and people can’t afford to fix them. Services have occasional outages that get more frequent. Public transport gets spotty as costs and maintenance issues crop up. Prices rise slowly, but keep rising. People start ignoring the law in little ways: keep a couple hens for eggs in the backyard, squat-garden on an empty lot, put an illegal woodstove in the house so they can stay warm.
Quick collapse is easy to deal with: either you’re dead right away, or you raise your militia and shoot a few people and set up your little kingdom. You live until somebody takes you out. If you survive a year, you’ll likely survive longer because you’ve figured it out. It was a big shock but you’re over it. Not much to discuss there.
Slow collapse is like getting hit repeatedly with a pillow. This thing breaks, can’t find a replacement any more. *Piff* The power tends to go out a lot in the winter because nobody cuts back the trees. *Piff* and so on. The advantage of the slow collapse is that you can adjust at a slower pace. There’ll be things you just have to let go. You’ll decide every time whether it’s worth your time and effort to maintain a hobby, an interest, or a service you think you need. People have time to build their networks.
Is the collapse going to get worse? Good question. If you plan for “yes” and it doesn’t, then you win. If you plan for “yes” and it DOES, you win. If you plan for “no” and it doesn’t, then you win. If you plan for “no” and it DOES, you’re in trouble. There is a collapse. It’s going to be worse for some than others. Notice there is only one out of four possibilities in which you win by not planning for things to get worse.
I think it’s safe to say, as Chris Martenson does, “The next 20 years is not going to look anything like the last 20 years.” I’ll be pushin’ 70 then. Ask me what it was like when we get there.
`Oh!’ said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark. `Oh, it needn’t come to that!’ Alice hastily said, hoping to keep him from beginning. — Lewis Carroll, “Alice in Wonderland”
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