A lot of people – usually people who don’t actually know me – think I’m a pessimist. There are some things that even readers of this blog will know I believe in; things like inevitable catastrophic climate change, end of growth & having to come to terms with hard resource limits.
To tackle these issues, I call for – among other things – adaptation, resilience and antifragility (see footnote) because I think we’re way past the point of no return on many disasters; on climate change, remaining under +2C warming this century – or even under +4C or probably +6C – is wishful thinking, and hope alone is a very bad strategy. Yet, many expect some as yet undiscovered technology to save our collective asses. But that is hope as a strategy, or actually even worse because it lulls us to inaction while we wait for that technological saviour who in all likelihood will never come.
It’s a tragedy because that hypothetical future technology is unnecessary – or, rather, it’s only necessary if we are hell-bent on maintaining status quo on all fronts. Climate change was never a technological problem; from the moment we knew it was a problem, we knew how to solve it. And we could’ve. But we didn’t. And now it’s too late; it’s a predicament we have to deal with, not a problem we can solve.
Naturally these are not the kind of things most people enjoy hearing or even thinking about, hence the branding as a pessimist – at least I think that’s why.
I am, however, actually not a pessimist; rather, I am very optimistic by nature. You may or may not agree with even the broad strokes of my world view, and hence the basis of any actions I take; it became apparent in the previous post that a lot of people confuse “can do”, especially when combined with a “should do” with “will do”, as if the world operated in a long-term-logical manner.
But how did my view of things get to where it is today? A question I’m sure none of you particularly want an answer to, but one I will still partially answer – if for no other reasons, for my own records 🙂
The following are what I’d say are maybe the Top ten(ish) relatively recent books (in no particular order, and books because they’re the easiest resources to list here, not because they’d be the only ones) that have shaped my macro-level world view in these domains:
- Richard Heinberg: The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality
- Chris Martenson: The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future Of Our Economy, Energy, And Environment
- Andrew Zolli: Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back
- Richard Heinberg et al:The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises
- Fred Pearce: With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change
- John Michael Greer: The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a Post-Peak World
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
- Jared Diamond: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
- John Michael Greer: The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered
- Tim Jackson: Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet
- Rob Dietz: Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources
I have yet to see any of those convincingly debunked. However, understanding the macro trends and how things will roughly play out in the global scale and in the long term is one thing; attempting to weave that knowledge as a part of ones daily life and personal planning over shorter timeframes is a whole different ballgame, and I would say a much more difficult one. But it’s a necessary one; at least if you don’t want your kids asking why you didn’t do anything about it even though you very well knew what was going on.
I know I don’t. While there are relevant actions that can be taken with just the macro-level knowledge – like part of the reason why we’re in Australia is to provide at least two geographical options for us and our children, should either the North or the South go, so to say, south – there is more actual value in doing something that helps locally. Whether it is helping you as an individual, as a family, a community, business or even a country to prepare for the disruptions upon us and ahead of us, it’s work that should be done. Previously I’ve said I’ve “chosen” permaculture and the Transition movement, both of which are applicable at both the individual/family and community-levels, and I strive to bring business awareness & action onto these challenges and opportunities as well.
So what, exactly, should one do?
That is, of course, an impossible question to answer and not many have seriously attempted to tackle it because the answer is always “it depends“. Richard Heinberg is one of the few authors with a good macro-level grasp who has not shied away from providing some great points about about personal preparedness as well (see here). The entire Transition movement is also geared towards building resilience in communities. Permaculturalists everywhere are striving towards much of the same goals; these and other groups have networks and organizations in many areas, but it’s fair to say that in most localities they’re still far from mainstream. In Australia, we are lucky to have probably the most active permaculture networks in the world (check out the Melbourne branch here).
So after the macro trends were clear to me, I dug into resilience/’sustainable’ development with a smaller-scale view. Shelter and food form the basics of human life, so understanding how they can be accomplished in a more resilient and sustainable way was the natural next step. Many sources played a role here, including countless online sources – but let me again list my favorite books:
- Michael Mobbs: Sustainable House
- John Krigger et al: The Homeowners Handbook to Energy Efficiency
- Bruce Harley: Insulate and weatherize
- Myron E. Ferguson: Better Houses, Better Living
- Amy Johnston: What Your Contractor Can’t Tell You
- Commonwealth of Australia: Your Home: Australia’s Guide to Environmentally Sustainable Homes
- David Johnston et al: Green from the Ground Up: A Builders Guide
- Michael Boxwell: Solar Electricity Handbook
On Permaculture and agriculture:
- Bill Mollison: Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual
- David Holmgren: Permaculture: Prinicples and Pathways Beyond Sustainability
- Dave Jacke et al: Edible Forest Gardens
- Toby Hemenway: Gaia’s Garden
- Rachel Kaplan et al: Urban Homesteading
- Chris Stokes et al: Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change
- Albert Howard: Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture
- Masanobu Fukuoka: The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming
- Rob Hopkins: The Transition Companion
- Carleen Madigan: The Backyard Homestead
- Eliot Coleman: The Winter Harvest Handbook
- Niall Dunne: Healthy Soils for Sustainable Gardens
- Fabian Capomolla and Mat Pember: The Little Veggie Patch Co: How to grow food in small spaces
Other resilience-related books:
- Arthur T Bradley: Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family
- David Werner et al: Where There is No Doctor
- Carol Deppe: The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times
All these have been tremendously valuable and interesting in their own right. I will not review these here; I invite you to read others’ reviews on Amazon instead. Doubtless there are others I have missed and equally doubtless many more that would be valuable to read – and I will continue to read around these topics and keep myself up-to-date. But as I quite knowingly (hah) suffer from the knowing-doing gap, I have to draw the line of inaction and “more study required” somewhere – and for the most part this is where it will be drawn.
Now that I consider my groundwork to be mostly done, then what? We’ll find out how the plans develop and unfold. One good thing about collapse is that even if it happens quickly in a historical perspective, it doesn’t happen literally overnight in the day-to-day lives of people. So stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath 🙂
Footnote: many systems we have today have been made fragile in the name of efficiency. The opposite of fragile, however, is antifragile, not resilience as often thought. With that in mind, we should be driving the systems – as far as possible – towards being antifragile, not merely resilient. Antifragile things benefit from stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil (up to a point). However, becoming antifragile is not always straightforward or even possible, so I see significant value in resilient systems. This is even more so because many systems we have today are not even fragile (ie. break easily under stress), they are worse than that – they are brittle, ie. they break in an unelegant and sometimes disastrous fashion. In other words, they not only fail easily, but they don’t fail gracefully. Going straight from brittle to antifragile is a tall order for most things; resilience would improve things a lot.