Friday, 24 October 2014

Collapse and preparedness

Having taken care of the whole family, even the dog (?) through coughs that cling on for weeks and sap you of energy, it is now my turn. This means that I have a mountain of work backing up, the house is a mess, the garden and allotment untouched, minecraft is 'babysitting', dinner will be takeaway and.....I have had some time for reading :-)

Yesterday I read the latest post on The Archdruid Report. Don't be fooled by the light-hearted title 'A pink slip for the progress fairy', it is rather heavy, scary stuff, the kind that can make you feel depressed. If you have already read the likes of The Limits to Growth, then you are probably mentally/ emotionally prepared. Otherwise it may be a good one to skip.

To summarise, Mr Greer has studied history and proposes that all civilisations rise, then collapse slowly over the period of 100-300 years. The collapse isn't apocalyptic in the sense of a sudden catastrophic event ending everything. More that a succession of war, drought, disease, famine, flood and more war, interspersed with relatively peaceful periods, will define the downward slope, as it has for all previous civilisations.

It does look like we must be approaching the collapse stage, but Mr Greer is of the opinion that the Western civilisation started collapsing in 1914, with World War I, the Spanish flu pandemic, the Great Depression, World War II and the dissolution of the British Empire. The last 60 years in comparison have been a relatively stable period, where civilisation has been flourishing particularly well due to the exploitation of non-renewable energy resources. The second act is imminent though and could be triggered by a number of factors, such as an Ebola pandemic or financial crash.

The easy bit to predict is that our civilisation will decline, but predicting the details of how and when is impossible. So Mr Greer paints a fictional account of what the next 300 years might look like in his post, to better illustrate what he is talking about.

I have read Mr Greer's The Long Descent before, so was acquainted with his general collapse scenario, but had not read before his interpretation of the years 1914 - 1954. It sort of makes sense to me. Those years were hard times and the British Empire didn't survive in tact. I had the impression that we came through those years, but under a burden of war debt, scarred by bombing, with aging machinery and infrastructure, and it was an enormous struggle trying to build things back up again.

The BBC have a great population graphic for the UK, which shows the impact of the World Wars and Spanish flu on the population. I also find it amazing that the birth rate in 2011 is still lower than in 1911. The increase in UK population is a result of a lower death rate, meaning people are living longer. The average age of the population in 1911 was 25, whereas in 2011 it is 40. That means that half the population of the UK is 40 or over.

But if the years from 1914 to 1954 were the first stages of collapse then most people survived. It was really just a partial collapse. Things could have been a lot worse. In fact we learnt lessons about looking after each other, so the years following saw the birth of the National Health Service. Even during WWII lessons had been learnt from WWI, in that rationing was introduced quickly and changes were made to improve the prospects for the poorest during tough times. Looking after the health and basic needs of the poor are the reason we have such a low death rate now.

But here's the thing, most people weren't expecting any of it. We get on with our day-to-day lives and do the best we can. Some days are happy, some sad, but they end and the next day arrives. We aren't supposed to know what is around the corner, otherwise how do we find the courage to face it? What Mr Greer is really saying is that the death rate is going to increase somehow, because our civilisation is out of balance. It is a natural cycle of events beyond our control.

It does seem that many more people in the US are concerned about collapse and are being prepared and stockpiling. Whereas in the UK it seems we are oblivious to a possible collapse. Or maybe we see it, but are too conscious of social protocols and what other people think to act. Or else just more laid back about it - what will be, will be. Which is it do you think?

This brings me onto Wendy's recent posts on her blog Surviving the Suburbs. She has been talking about useful lists. Lists of things we should probably have at hand in order to be prepared for the worst. Now don't freak out at me, but weapons is one of the things on the list. This is normally the point where us Brits decide it is all extremist doomsday scenario stuff and switch to more polite conversation. The trouble is that almost everything else on these lists makes sense. It is handy to have a torch or headlamp in case of a blackout or even just blowing a fuse. And if you have a torch then spare batteries are helpful, especially if you don't use that torch very often. Common sense right?

And whilst I have this cough, the prospect of running out of loo roll or sugar, really doesn't appeal, because I would rather not have to shop this week if I can get away with it. Wouldn't it be nice to know that you had a small stockpile of some of the essential items stored away just in case? Last year there was a major water leak in my area around Christmas, which caused havoc for some families. It would be a good reason to keep at least a few gallons of water in the garage to tide you over. Does this seem extreme?

What about phone numbers? Do you know the numbers of your friends and family or will they all be lost if you damage your mobile? And do you keep spare cash at home, just in case you run out and need some desperately? And does your car always have at least half a tank of fuel, a blanket, first aid kit and bottle of water handy?

The thing is, you don't have to believe in a doomsday scenario, but labelling prepping as extremist and not even considering it, means that some of the practical stuff doesn't get discussed. Some people aren't prepared for even basic emergencies like the boiler breaking down, let alone a major power cut which is a real threat this winter.

It relates to the post a few weeks back about resilience. It may be frugal and efficient to only buy the items you need this week, but it is far more resilient if you have a cupboard full of tins, rice and pasta to fall back on when something unexpected happens. Even more resilient if you have some seeds and know how to make use of them.

How far do you go to be prepared?


  1. If you haven't seen it already, this thread over MSE may be of interest to you:

    We keep a store cupboard, we have diversified our financial assets, we have torches and water purification tablets. We have lots of DIY skills. Most of all, we are aware that the future isn't a March to the stars. I'm actually whittling down our possessions as much as possible. I don't think stuff is a way to security any more, beyond a store cupboard and the good quality goods we require day to day. Health, Skill and mental attitude are way more important I think.

    1. Thanks Pumpkin Life. MSE is such a valuable resource for so many things and that is a great thread with links to lots of good websites.

      You seem like you have made an effort to prepare. I'm interested, have you an emergency plan with family and friends and do they think along the same lines?

    2. We have a few friends that are also 'peak' aware and I go out of my way to encourage people to have a few weeks food on hand any time a natural opportunity arises - impending snow, floods, powercut warnings etc. Family know very little about it, they would think it was a waste of time and money.

      Ironically, most of it isn't 'prepping' to me - most of it is just having your life together and taking responsibility for your health, wealth and happiness. I will write a post about my thoughts on it in a week or so.