Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Contemplating the future

The end of the world is in again.  After the cold war failed to deliver a hot sequel and y2k landed with a wet flop instead of a bang, I thought the end of the world might fall out of fashion.  It is not so.  In the last few years, the rapture has become bigger than ever, the zombie apocalypse has become a national obsession, and peak oil and the singularity round out the list of popular end of the world scenarios.  Digging a little deeper we can look at global climate change and various local secession movements for equally grim situations.

And looking at the problems facing the US and the modern world there are ample grounds for pessimism.  The world's population of humans has never been larger, the climate has never been hotter (in human history) and most of the easily exploited fossil energy resources have been exploited right out of existence.

But the key thing to remember is that despite the wishes of an apocalyptic few, there are 7+ billion of us who have a vested interest in improving the status quo.  Survivalists and secessionists both labor under the same delusion, that the reason they aren't more successful is that more powerful forces are holding them down.  Survivalists, imagine a world in which their carefully hoarded AR-15 and pallet of ammo are worth more than a well-paying job [even more so than a supportive community of friends and family].  Preppers imagine roughly the same scenario only their power flows from a diesel generator or cache of canned food.  Secessionists imagine the only thing separating them from their own kingdom where they get to make the rules and taxes are merely an unpleasant memory is the boot-heel of the federal government.

But the answer to powerlessness in the face of government or corporate exploitation isn't building a separate microcosm of society.  If the civilization were to crumble tomorrow, by next week the people running what's left would not be the back to nature farmers, the paramilitary militias or the jack-of-all-trades preppers.  The people running the show will be the organizers, the business people, and the leaders, who pretty much are running the show already.  Organizing in the wake of disaster is what governments live for.  It's why the army corps of engineers gets to redesign the Mississippi river every decade or two.  Its why New Orleans isn't a ghost town.  Its why New Jersey and New York are rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy and why Florida is inhabitable at all.

Acute national disasters are the local's worst nightmare but the aspiring administrator's opportunity.  FEMA is pretty freaking good at what it does.  The National guard and the Red Cross do a bang up job at getting to where the action is, rescuing the distressed and giving them a hot meal, a place to poop and a place to sleep.  Even the government's belated and half-assed response to hurricane Katrina, saved far more people than it failed.  And insofar at it failed, it is rightly seen as a disgraceful lapse, rather than business as usual.

This is why, in the face of global climate change, and all of attendant food shortages, water shortages, plagues and brushfire wars of the coming century our best bet isn't to stockpile guns or canned food.  Our best bet is to meet our neighbors, and work together to build a more resilient civilization.  We need to build and remodel houses and multi-family residences that are liveable year round, where a power grid failure would be an annoyance not a catastrophe whether it happens in January or July.  We need neighborhoods where residents can build a real sense of community.  We need power and water not dependent of the price of ever more expensive carbon.

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