Rock Bottom

December 7, 2018 § 11 Comments

Our little cabin is dark at seven in the morning when my wife leaves for work. Most of our windows are on the south facing wall, and what little light drifts in illuminates only the objects lining the periphery of our home. In the belly of the wood stove an orange fire is the only other source of light, and the only sound is the stove’s metallic ticking and clicking as its catalytic converter opens and closes. That, and the muted hum of the wind blowing through the trees and pressing against the house.

Snow has replaced rain, but has only been able to speckle the ground with a light, icy layer. Just above the distant tree line, a stark orange band of color silhouettes the tangled boughs before bleeding upwards into a dull yellow. Today we will have sun, which we need to charge our battery bank. Solar power at the coming of the winter solstice means careful use of power. Panels get covered in snow, sunlight is often diffuse, batteries underperform when cold, and of course, the days themselves are at their shortest.

The end of autumn is a time when I begin to slow down.   It Is the time of year when I give myself permission to relax a bit, to read books and sip tea during the day. Of course there are still chores, but most big projects around the homestead are put to rest. The garden sleeps, and so in a sense, I do as well. It is a much needed recharge, without which, I would probably slouch towards work come spring, and the years would pile on too heavily.

2018 is coming to an end, and globally it appears to have been the fourth warmest year since record keeping began back in 1850. The four warmest years have actually been the last four consecutive years, so take a bow humanity. What we are actually supposed to do about the impending calamity seems to be anyone’s best guess at this point.

In France, President Macron tried to implement a fuel tax as part of his strategy to wean the nation off of fossil fuels, but instead what he got was the worst rioting in decades as a multiple coalitions have come together in the streets to not only protest the increase gas prices, but to make demands for major social change. Monuments and museums are closed and soccer games are cancelled as the government commits thousands of police and security forces to the streets. Of course, the fuel tax was only the spark that lit a bomb of greater social unease, and the anger seems largely based on the notion that the country’s wealthy are being coddled while the middle class bears the brunt of austerity. Still, one can only wonder what would happen in the U.S. should the government attempt to curb fossil fuel use via a regressive tax.

On the one hand, the French people are culturally much more comfortable with striking and protesting, and the French legal system is much more lenient on those who participate in a tumult. US police are far more likely to kill civilians, too, and the US media very much distributes perceptions that fetishize police while demonizing anyone crazy enough to break from the regularly scheduled program of shopping, eating, and binging on Netflix and Xanax.

How exactly would the US go about reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, should it one day acknowledge officially that climate change is real and that it is a problem? A small number of politicians newly elected to congress despite the Democratic party’s best efforts are throwing their support behind a “green new deal.”

It basically amounts to a stimulus package that would finance the installation of solar panels and wind turbines, while promising a job to any American who wanted one across a variety of “green” industries.

I have to admit, that I am never very hopeful about such proposals, and even Naomi Klein – who has written a book seeking basically just this thing – has commented that the Democrat establishment “will probably squash [it],” and hell, even if by some miracle they didn’t, the Republican majority in the senate would have Jim Inhofe back up a dump truck full of snowballs with which to bury it.

However, one thing is certain; the government is always doing stuff. Even when you don’t want them to, there they are, making choices, spending money, and doing stuff. Short of a total revolution, politicians will keep ambling in to work and signing papers willy-nilly that send other people off to attend to tasks while someone else sees their company’s bank account receive a huge influx of cash. And if put to me, I have to say, I would rather that the stuff the government felt the need to do involved installing solar panels and wind turbines than say, making aircraft carriers and bunker busters.

I have often wondered what the hell I would do if I were the authoritarian leader of the US. If anything I decreed was immediately made policy, how would I tackle the impending doom of climate change, ecosystem loss, and mass extinction? Quietly, I have considered the details and ramifications of an immediate fuel rationing program, and a ten year draw dawn to zero gasoline and diesel use. I thought about a “Luddite new deal,” in which people would be given a basic income of sorts if they volunteered to move to rural communes where they would live in straw-bale houses and tend to orchards and weaving all day. I even wondered if a dual strategy of nationalizing industries while supporting cadres of rebels to attack their infrastructure would be beneficial.

Every time I have taken on this thought exercise, no matter how deep I allowed myself to wander into it, I have always come to the same basic conclusions. For one, there will always be massive resistance from those who profit from the destruction of the planet. There is one major reason that we face the problems that we do, and it is precisely that there is more money to be made in killing the Earth than in keeping it habitable.

Then I recognize that even a likable and benevolent leader trying to unmake the destruction of industrial society slowly, with a focus on social justice and equitable distribution of resources will be despised by those who refuse to acknowledge that the modern American way of living is harmful to others. Quickly, those who profit from ecocide would form an alliance with those who don’t believe in it, and we would have a situation akin to what is unfolding right now in France.

But maybe that is what it takes. Maybe the best we have to hope for is total societal breakdown. Maybe the organized, thought out attempts at degrowth and industrial wind down that would see to a remapping of modern social geography and new old ways of meeting people’s needs can only come in the aftermath of utter calamity. After all, addicts usually have to weather a storm of shakes, chills, anger, vomiting, or worse, depending on which chemical habit they are trying to remap their brain chemistry from demanding. Perhaps the neural network of our society cannot break from its petroleum dependency without first experiencing a period of violent rupture.

Maybe a better world is only possible after this one has been brought to its knees.

Maybe we need to hit rock bottom.

Sliding my feet into my winter boots, I crunch out into the cold, sunny morning and make my way to the clearing around the side of my house. Here, two wooden frames facing slightly different directions each have three solar panels fixed to them. With my gloved hand I gently brush the snow from the smooth black glass. Thin wisps of woodsmoke are yanked from the silver chimney atop the house like a long stream of tissue being pulled by a faraway hand. I size up my little place in the world, and despite my pleasure with how far along the little homestead is, I cannot help but see projects upon projects that need attention.

But not now. Winter is coming.

 

 

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