Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Calamity in the UK

A question arose in my mind earlier when I was reading the summary of a new report with the catchy title "Sustainability and place: How emerging mega-trends of the 21st century will affect humans and nature at the landscape level". This report basically takes a stab at where, and where is not, likely to be a good place to live ... in the US. It's an interesting read for doomsters, and it takes account of factors such as sea level rise, drought and social unrest.

I'd love to see a similar study done for Europe. As long-time readers will know, it's something of a hobby of mine to hazard guesses about which places are going to be hit harder than others. My own guess is that the UK—a country I have voluntarily chosen to move back to after 13 years away—is going to be hit pretty hard. This is, after all, the country where the news headlines on the eve of the biggest East-West confrontation of the century featured the shocking news that Prince Harry was seen twerking at a wedding in Memphis 'surrounded by southern belles'.

How are people going to react to news that could be said to have a more relevant bearing on them? Such as 'Britain to run out of petrol next Wednesday' or 'Fires and lynchings in City of London rage for a fourth night'.

I certainly don't want to be around any of the giant conurbations stuffed to the gunwales with disaffected, radicalised, unemployed youths when the food trucks stop rolling, the sewage systems back up and the taps run dry. I know that the current government is trying to avoid such a scenario by welcoming anyone with money into the country so that they can help inflate a number of bubbles for people to look at and pretend they are wealthy, but I'm not at all sure that such a strategy can last forever. Bear in mind that there are about 65 million people living here (in the early days of the British empire, that figure was five million, which explains all the stately homes), and the whole shebang is funded on exponentially growing debt—something that neither the right or the left will admit to. All this is going on while the political/financial elites are selling off everything that isn't nailed down and robbing future generations of a stable future.

What's more, it's hard not to notice that a lot of people hate each other. I mean REALLY hate. All you have to do is show a picture of UKIP leader Nigel Farage or Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson to an audience of liberals and you'll spark off a Two Minutes Hate. By the same token, show a picture of a wind turbine or a badger to an audience of right-wingers and you'd better get your umbrella out or face being drenched with bile. Have we always been like this?

And then there's the self-hate thing. Does any other nation hate itself as much as the English do? Just read the comments below any politics/finance/society article in the Guardian or Telegraph or any of the other usual suspects and you'll see what I mean. If 'we' are not wailing about how everything is being ruined, then we are wailing about everyone else ruining everything for us. Perhaps it just comes with the territory.

Luckily I live about as far away from all this as possible without falling into the sea, and all the fuss about the Prince Harries and Jeremy Clarksons seem a long, long way from here. I'm not a nationalist, a royalist, a jihadist or any other ist and I'm pretty comfortable being a white bloke, even though I have occasionally been told that this is something to be ashamed of. Furthermore, and happily for me, I live in Cornwall, whose people were only last week granted National Minority status, causing much jubilation among Cornish folk and much non-plussed 'so whats?' from resident emmets. This is seen by some as a first step towards a regional assembly, followed by autonomy and eventual nationhood (Cornwall being one of the Celtic nations, the others being Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Brittany).

"But that can't be so!" wailed a good many English, who look down on their Cornish cousins. "Don't you know that Cornwall is dirt poor and can only survive by having us buy up all their quaint cottages for holiday homes?" they say.

Yep, it's true. To an extent. Cornwall is officially one of the poorest places in the whole of Europe (ranking alongside Lithuania), with London being the wealthiest. But it hasn't always been that way—go back to the Bronze Age and this was one of the richest areas to be found anywhere. The source of those riches arose from tin, which was traded with the Greeks to make bronze for their weapons. Furthermore, the land was enriched by the application of seaweed something that is not in short supply here—making it quite a fertile bit of land. Could it be that way again? It's mild climate makes it the best place for growing things ... not least hemp, which was a prime product back in the days when it was legal. What about those mines that tunnel everywhere underneath the land? They are unprofitable in the age of oil, but what about after the age of oil? And the shipping possibilities? There is already one sail-powered cargo boat operating between Cornwall and the Caribbean - there may be more in years to come. It's intriguing to think of what could be.

Anyway, getting back to that report, one of the conclusions was that if you want to avoid the worst effects of the collapse into scarcity-industrialism the best thing you can do is move to somewhere that is already used to missing out on the technologically obsessed turbo charged capitalist euphoria that is so fashionable these days. These areas tend to have rich land that has yet to be concreted over, and the locals are already expert in getting by with whatever resources they have to hand because they've been led to fend for themselves. Indeed most of the people I count as friends these days have good honest dirt under their fingernails, brew their own cider and probably don't even know what a twerking prince looks like. So pick your area wisely.


On a positive note, I'm happy to say that I've spent the last three weeks wallowing in stories of genocide, viewing films of villages being bombed and seeing images of children with their limbs blown off—all so that you don't have to. The result is a chapter about the US Secret War In Laos for Dmitry Orlov's forthcoming book entitled Communities that Abide. The book will be released in June and is available for pre-order by following this link - and there is a limited print run so get your order in now before it sells out!


  1. Good luck keeping the water out of any of those mines without fossil fuel energy! There is at least a potential geothermal resource left over from the heat source that produced those mineral veins 250 million years ago.

    1. That's a good point! Nevertheless, maybe some of the mines that aren't prone to inundation can provide some employment ... and I hadn't considered their geothermic potential.

  2. Galicia doesn´t qualify as a Celtic nation for linguistic reasons, but it´s a first cousin. It´s traditionally a poor, forgotten corner of Spain, separated by mountains and difficult to get to, plenty of rainfall, a tradition of small family farms, lots of coastline if you want to bug out quickly, or a border with Portugal should you prefer to walk. The PTB are all whinging about declining/aging population, which looks to me like a good thing - fewer bodies to dispose of and mouths to feed.

    I think someone should set up a sail based trading route around the Celtic Sea. We´ll chip in red wine and olive oil in return for whisky and cheddar?

    1. I have friends in Galicia - it seems like an ideal kind of place to exit the mainstream to me. Up the west coast of Europe used to be a major trading route. That's why the people of Ireland and Spain are related so closely by genetics (according to the book 'Blood of the Isles' which analysed an awful lot of DNA in the British isles). Sounds like something that should be resurrected!

  3. The Two Minutes of Hate is something I had not thought to apply to US cable "news". It's an interesting lens to look through. Thanks for the reminder. Orwell was prescient to an uncanny degree. Not buying a TV after my divorce has been a great gift.

    On the report you link to, I am suspicious of Pimentel and fellow doomers. It strikes me as a little too in accord with Christian eschatology. Yes, hard times are coming, but the future is far more multivariant than we can guess. I'm no Pollyanna but nobody really knows what will happen. Along that line, I question the report's dissing the Seattle area. The city isn't that large, the climate is moderate, and much of King county (where Seattle is) is agricultural land. The city encourages gardens and you can already have chickens and goats inside the city limits. People here are more tuned in to what lies in store, and I like to believe that bodes better for the future.

    Poverty and riches look to be reversed in the near future. Funny, that Jesus guy had something to say about that, if memory serves....

    Thanks for the great blog.


    1. Hi Derek. I agree - it is too hard to predict the future with any accuracy. I do think that 'greater suburbia' will be transformed into collections of villages and much will have to revert back to farm land.

      Furthermore, I think some people get it into their head that City (X) is doomed - and you can't dislodge that thought no matter what. Perhaps they went there once and met a rude taxi driver or something ...

  4. " the best thing you can do is move to somewhere that is already used to missing out on the technologically obsessed turbo charged capitalist euphoria that is so fashionable these days."
    Good advice if you can find such a place and the people who live there are willing to take you in as a member of their community. In any case, I suspect that the key to prospering in a collapsing society is to have the right mind set and to be part of a community or network that will remain intact as the mainstream society devolves. I think that living in a good place is a helpful but not a sufficient strategy. Part of surviving may be a willingness to move during or after collapse even if you moved to a place you thought would be isolated from collapse.
    Rather than finding the right plot of land, it may be more helpful to be part of what Orlov calls a community that abides. I am thinking of the history of the Mormons. They had to move numerous times to escape persecution. At one time they moved to Beaver Island, an island in Lake Michigan which even today is a remote place. Even there they were not safe. The locals brought all sorts of false accusations against them and managed to expel them from their land. The whole point of the exercise was to grab the land that the Mormons had settled on. The Mormons continued to move west and eventually ended up in parts of Utah, Nevada and Arizona, essentially desert country not previously claimed, territory that was generally regarded as undesirable for agriculture.
    I think that when the Mormons originally organized in the eastern US they expected to prosper in place. They moved repeatedly to escape persecution. They were not nomadic herders. They moved because they had to not because they wanted to. Their ultimate goal was always to find a place where they could farm in peace. It just took them a number of tries and a number of years to find such places. I think the story of the Mormons might be instructive for those of us who hope to be prepared for the collapse of our industrialized society.

    1. "Their ultimate goal was always to find a place where they could farm in peace. It just took them a number of tries and a number of years to find such places."

      I suspect that'll be most people's goals in the future!

      And yes, I agree that having the right mindset is very important. Having the right mindset and living in the 'right' place is probably the best strategy on offer.

  5. A comment re ordering "Communities That Abide" - which I'd love to do - it states "shipping within the US only" which is a bit of a pain for the rest of us!

    1. Yes - hopefully that will be corrected - I will mention it. Otherwise, it will be available as an e-book.


I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.