This is, um, not going to be a rosy post.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the next 20 years or so…. and I do think there is a pretty significant likelihood of us seeing human civilization collapse in that time.
I know, I know, people have been predicting the End of Times ever since humans could communicate, but I don’t think it’s going to be a single event or apocalypse, instead, I think it’s going to be more of a death by 1000 cuts. Everything is going to increasingly get more and more expensive – both from resources getting harder to extract, and weather events damaging crops and cities.
On top of that, people will get sicker and sicker. Everyone’s immune systems have taken a beating the last few years, and then things like floods can dramatically increase mosquito-carried diseases.
The reason why I think it’s likely to happen in the next 20ish years is because of how much humans consume versus how much planet Earth is able to replenish itself.
Obviously different people in the world consume differently. Anyone with a private jet can consume more than thousands of people in Nigeria… but we only have one Earth and we’re all consuming way more than a sustainable amount of the Earth’s resources.
We all know that many extreme weather events have hit recently, and that we’re going to see a lot more in the very near future. Wheat is failing in America’s bread basket right now…
In many areas, particularly in the south western part of the US, farming just wasn’t possible until farmers were able to reliably tap into underground water tables. The problem is that it takes years and years for rainwater to filter down into those water tables… and industry and agriculture are running those tables dry.
Capitalism just doesn’t allow for sustainable extraction.
If you fish 20% of the fish out of the oceans, then the remaining 80% can replenish that 20% relatively quickly… allowing fishing to continue potentially indefinitely. If you fish 80%, then obviously it’ll take exponentially longer to replenish. If you fish 90%, and pollute the water, fill it with plastic, fill the air with green house gases (GHG) that increase the acidity of the ocean and trap heat in warming the water and dredge the ocean floor to grab all sea life and destroy the habitats of the fish you don’t catch, then you’ve obviously going to kill everything off completely.
Companies and countries are in constant competition with each other. The companies that can extract the most, the fastest, will create shareholder value and receive more investment dollars. The ones that don’t get rid of the executives until they can extract more faster, even if lots goes to waste. To ensure you get every last drop of profit you must over-extract.
This applies to everything… farm a single crop until the soil is eroded for maximum profits, extract all the fossil fuels you can get to, pump up all the ground water, slaughter as many farm animals as possible, do all of it all the time faster and faster for profits.
Earth Overshoot Day shows this pretty clearly. We’re currently using 1.75 Earths worth of resources in a year… the more you use, the longer it takes to replenish… and then add in more regular extreme weather events.
El Nino is here already. This means North and South America will get hotter and wetter, while Asia will get hotter and drier. This means droughts and fires for a huge portion of the world, and floods for another portion. This is a normal cycle, however, the Earth’s atmosphere now has more CO2 trapped in it than in the last 8 million years… and CO2 takes thousands of years to dissipate.
Ironically, our heavy, toxic air pollution that was poisoning our environment and ourselves was also blocking some of the heat hitting us. As we stop polluting, we’ll actually be allowing more of the sun’s heat to get to us. The air pollution particles produced from burning coal and gas cool the Earth by making clouds more reflective, bigger and longer-lasting.
Obviously I’m not condoning more toxic pollution, I just want to highlight the awful situation we’re all in.
So what’s the solution?
I guess firstly, we need to prepare ourselves mentally for the likely devastation in the decades to come. As the world heats up, and crops fail, lots of humans, animals and plants are going to die. We’re going to feel blow after blow… but we can’t give up, our family and friends depend on us.
Secondly, we need to prepare for a range of disasters. I don’t think becoming a “gold, guns, gas masks” prepper is going to be that useful. Loading up an isolated bunker might help you for weeks or months, but it might not withstand a flood, and you’re unlikely to get through a medical emergency on your lonesome.
I think the answer is spending the time now working on building up your community. Things are going to get more and more expensive as crops fails, rare earth metals get harder to extract, whole regions get destroyed by flood, war or storm.
Your community needs the ability to grow it’s own food, fix it’s own stuff and work together to support everyone in a crisis. Personally, I think each community will need workshops and foundries. Globally there are 47 years of oil reserves left, but gas for cars and fertilizer is going to get more expensive as shipping lanes are slowed by storms, trained personnel getting sick and rivers used for transport drying up.
Therefore a community will need to generate its own power and be able to survive as much as possible without imports.
I saw a tweet from someone who was preparing for collapse by building up a horse farm. I love that out of the box thinking but I do worry that horses might struggle in years long droughts compounded by hay crop failure. It’s definitely worth exploring and personally I think having bicycles that can be repaired might become really important to save costs.
Personally I’ll be exploring closed-system hydroponics that can grow veggies with a lot less water. Of course, a system like this isn’t going to survive a flood, but hopefully it’s not too hard to rebuild after that kind of weather event.
Again, I don’t think there is going to be an overnight apocalypse. I think things will just gradually get more and more expensive, and as people have less to spend, more people lose their jobs… and aren’t able to invest in the things that would save or make them money (like a garden, orchard, repair workshop or foundry).
The rare earth metals needed for batteries and electronics will become harder and harder to extract as we churn through the easier-to-get-to metals. I’ve seen conflicting reports on whether the Earth has enough rare earth elements to replace fossil fuel power generation or not. This study says there are plenty and this report says there isn’t even close to enough.
I think it’s important for the people and/or governments to hold corporations responsible for pollution, waste and unsustainable extraction. We also need to hold wealthy people accountable for the disproportionate resources they consume since they share the same planet with the rest of us.
Try to buy durable products, hopefully something that might be able to be repaired.
Set up plans for various disasters; fires, floods, storms, droughts, ice storms, hurricanes, cyclones, etc. Where would you go in an evacuation, what would you take? What would you need if you lose power for a week?
Buy physical books on gardening, foraging, wood working, metal working, etc. Help the community develop a seed bank.
I think a lot of people naturally assume their government will help them out in an emergency, and while that historically has been mostly true, we’re already seeing governments trying to dissuade people from building in flood zones and insurance companies unable to insure certain areas. As extreme weather events become more regular, insurance companies are going to have to get even more strict on what they pay out on to remain profitable.
I don’t think we can rely on our governments to bail us out in extreme weather situations, especially if they’re dealing with other issues in other areas. Communities will need to try and be as self-sufficient as possible. Christiania in Copenhagen and Catalan Integral Cooperative in Spain are great examples of these.
Obviously lots of people are already at capacity just surviving right now, the thought of taking on extra projects to protect for the future feels unfeasible. I don’t have any suggestions or solutions for that, I just know that being prepared will save lives. It’s entirely possible that we don’t suffer civilization collapse in the next few decades, no one can predict the future, but a lot of these suggestions would make your life better regardless. Getting to know your neighbours and developing a strong community isn’t a waste of effort. Learning how to repair things, forage, garden, etc will make your life better and at the very least make you a way more interesting and useful person. Embracing greener technologies will reduce your power bills.
What do you think? Do you have capacity to think about all this? Are you worried? Are you skeptical? I think I’m going to be blogging a lot more about potential solutions and things I’m looking at to potentially help me navigate the next few uncertain decades.
Thanks for reading!
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