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.



§ 11 Responses to Rock Bottom

  • David Veale says:

    I’ve had the same thoughts regarding both the green new deal and the extreme measures necessary to provide a chance of continued human survival. It’s clear to me now that such measures can never be voluntary or imposed through government, but would have to come by default through major calamitous events. My best guess is a resource war becoming worldwide, which seems quite possible with US aggression around the world, particularly combined with China’s prowess throughout much of the developing world (Africa in particular). War, of course, comes with its own risks, especially in a world with 400 odd nuclear generating stations. Increasingly, I’m finding that I just need to take in all that’s good in the world, and enjoy each day as if it were among my last.

  • the virgin terry says:

    ‘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.’

    reminds me of something derrick jensen wrote, to this effect: industrial civilizationis turning a living planet into a dead pile of money.

    i think another side of this coin is widespread irrationality and ignorance. both among leaders and followers. those with enough intelligence, those who are rational and well informed, those who are wise, know full well that long term ecological and environmental concerns need to trump short term economic ones, to quote another notable ‘doomer’, guy mcpherson, ‘if u think the economy is more important than the environment, try counting your money while holding your breath’.

    ‘Maybe the best we have to hope for is total societal breakdown.’

    isn’t that implied by the name of this blog?! (dark chuckle)

    it’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts and observations, td0s i hope u can hang in there and keep them coming for many more years.

    while u have the time, perhaps u might appreciate this documentary i recently came across regarding the origins of christianity. i find it’s evidence and the argument it puts forth quite compelling, and it just goes to illuminate another angle of our predicament, and how very long it’s been going on. i’m referring to the practice of rulers conspiring to concoct elaborate lies and schemes to mislead, manipulate, and control the masses, for their own benefit, to our detriment.

    (sorry, u may have to click back to the beginning of this:)

  • steve says:

    Well, the transnational corporations are resisting loss of their business model, but I have to think that even if they were passive and compliant with whatever government driven decarbonizing initiative might be created, that we, the American consumer would not tolerate a reduction in our energy use and change to our way of living.

    We are the demand the energy oligarchs are supplying to, and we are every bit as much a part of the problem. We would most likely do a lot more than don yellow vests if the U.S. were to power down and the wells all started being shut in.

    Rational efforts to respond to our predicament will be local and small, as I think the political system will not be able to deliver a top down solution.

    So yeah, pray for calamity.

  • Poignant column. I don’t believe there is a “solution” to every problem. I think that we’ve gotten ourselves into a serious crisis as a function of our animal tendencies and an economic paradigm built on cheap energy. I suspect the “solution” will be chaotic and violent. France is an example of where we’re heading.

  • Michael Dowd says:

    This is fabulous!!

  • nadine says:

    I always look forward to your writings and enjoy reading them very much. Keep up the good work. Very best wishes to you and your family. Nadine, UK.

  • FreeGoddess says:

    I have always wondered why we can’t just organize a non-violent labour strike or tax strike. Simply withdraw the two things that every citizen has and can use as resistance. Derrick Jensen often says ‘what the hell happened to human beings? Every other species fights to the death to protect their young and defend against threats to their survival.’ I marvel that collectively we appear to have absolutely no true sense of urgency despite the threat to our children, even. The apathy is mind-boggling. The indoctrination into this omnicidal culture is complete.

  • Sissyfuss says:

    Day by day is how we got into this mess, and it’s how we’ll get ourselves out. Tomorrow I shall do something more to shrink my impact on our Mother. Namaste.

  • Ed Suominen says:

    I love your meditations on matters large and small. The next time I watch smoke from my own wood stove I will think of your invisible hand (thankfully not Adam Smith’s) pulling it skyward.

    Perhaps you’ll enjoy a meditation of my own, from happier times:

    As far as our climate predicament goes, I honestly don’t think any amount of PV solar, wind, and good intentions could possibly make a dent. There are just too many of us infecting the surface of this delicate orb, all demanding stuff that the sun and nature can’t possibly provide at the needed pace. We are running out of places to put our detritus, including the atmosphere that soaks up the carbon from our wood stoves and those of women cooking over fires in Africa. Even if we cut back on the foolish waste of our commutes and vacations, the damage is done. The looming monstrosity of numerous feedback loops has been unleashed.

    Wish I could be more positive, but I’m not. Stoic acceptance is the only reasonable response I can have anymore.

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