Sunday, August 27, 2017

Fun ways to prepare for collapse

Though I’m very skeptical about a rapid, catastrophic collapse of civilization, I do think things will be changing over the rest of the century. Perhaps you have children, and you’d like to help them be positioned best for a shift over their lifetimes.

home canned food Library of Congress image

First of all, I think these shifts will probably be slow enough that they’ll have time to adjust on their own. But a few skills learned young can serve for a lifetime. You can easily imagine a forty-five year old kid of yours saying, “Yeah, we had hens for a couple of years when I was a kid. What was that Mom said...?”

Hunter-gatherer skills. Teach your kids or grandkids to fish, hunt, shoot a bow, throw a spear, or identify and collect edible plants of your region, or all of these.

Farming skills. If you have a farm, great. (And I’m jealous.) If not, have as big a farm as you can manage, even if that means ten potted plants on the patio, which is what I have right now. You’ll learn about your region, the insects that will be a problem, the growing season, the local soil and what it needs. Involving your children and grandchildren will help them learn how to grow their own food.

If you can have hens where you live, think about doing that for at least a year or two. A dairy cow a possibility? Cool, though few of us could do that. Again, just a couple of years of doing this with your kids can teach lessons that will last many years.
Home skills: The more cooking, woodworking, basic mechanicals, plumbing, food preserving that you can learn and teach, the better. Have angora rabbits and spin your own yarn, then knit or crochet it into clothing? Make the family's old t-shirts into braided rugs and jackets? You get a gold star from me! You say you brew your own beer? Wonderful! Know blacksmithing? Wow, that one's really impressive.

All of this can be fun. It’s not much extra effort than what you likely do already around home and yard, it’s far healthier of a family activity than staring at a game console or TV all the time, and you might meet your next dear friend by getting out and learning some of these skills.

I can imagine a future where we live an agrarian lifestyle again--or our descendants will--but if I'm wrong, you've had some fun, so you haven't even wasted time.

You can hoard supplies for the end time, but supplies can be stolen or go bad or be lost in a flood. Knowledge is yours forever. Hoard knowledge.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The lure of apocalyptic thinking

The truth is, after all that reading (see prior week's post) about how civilizations collapse (or contract and re-form in another way), I don’t really believe entirely in a quick apocalyptic crash like those I write about. Yes, I feel the draw of that sort of thinking. Who doesn’t? Most of us love exploring this idea, at least in the novels we read and the movies we watch. Some people take it even further and actually prepare for “the end times,” stockpiling food, ammunition, drugs, and gold.

really silly stuff
We are not as logical as we’d like to believe we are. We are not logical in the face of powerful animal emotions and drives that steer us more often than our complex thinking brains do.
Every generation--or quite large chunks of it--has thought it will be the last generation, that civilization is on the brink. That seems to be part and parcel of being a human being. It’s a form of egotism, say the experts, the unconscious belief that we are at the center of everything, that this, our lifetime, is the pivotal moment, that the world has never been going to hell in a handbasket faster and that the end is surely nigh.

And yet, what statistics show us is that the world has never been safer, not in the places most of my readers live. Safer how? From disease, from war, from roaming bands pillaging and raping. Over my lifetime the murder rate in my nation has dropped a lot.

The experts say, the psychology is: if the world is ending in my lifetime, then I’m pretty darned special, aren’t I? But if the world is safer now, if I’m just one of billions of people in a world that will continue without a hiccup when I die of some ignoble old-age disease, the same as tens of billions who came before me and billions more who will come after...then who am I? Sort of nobody. This kind of knowledge can set off an existential crisis.

This meshes with my experience and the cynical, skeptical view I've gained. I’ve lived through Y2K (the computers will all be so confused we won’t be able to eat, eeek! It’s the END), 2012, and Hale-Bopp hysteria and much more. I’m even old enough to have done the “duck and cover” drills for nuclear war (which, to be fair, seems remotely possible--I’ll allow you nuclear war as a semi-rational fear). When I was a kid and went somewhere like summer camp or a weekend rock music festival, and I met kids from other places, I realized everyone thought their own small town, no matter how truly inconsequential, would be high on the Russian’s list of targets for nuclear strikes. Sorry, people from (for example) Bloomington Indiana or Marion Illinois, but you were never ever on that list.

Even as a teenager, I saw that believing you were on that list elevated your sense of your own importance. If we were all right about being in the top 10 targets list in our goofy little Midwestern towns, then the Russians wouldn’t have had any bombs left for Washington DC or New York or bomber factories or missile silos. Surely they weren’t that stupid!

Most people who were rabid about Y2K or 2012 now would deny ever believing in it...much the way if you once got drunk at a wedding and made a fool of yourself, you push that out of your mind and might eventually come to deny that. (Perhaps we all need a wife to remind us of these moments. “Oh yes you did say that!” lol)

When we talk about the “collapse” of civilizations, or when scientists do, I often think we should use a different world. Collapse implies catastrophe. But when civilizations fall, they generally do something closer to “contract” (in drought-stricken deserts, as with the Anasazi, the people simply move, to literally greener pastures). Imperial Rome fell. It collapsed! We all know that. But, hey, you know, Rome is still there. You can go visit it, even! It’s in a place called Italy, and some of the people who live there are direct descendants of imperial Romans of 2000 years ago and even some of their buildings are still there. When Italy collapses as a nation--and it will, as all nations will--there will probably still be a Rome. It’s a good site to build a city, so it’ll probably still be a town after oil is long gone or after a pandemic hits or after climate change makes where I live uninhabitable.

If you’re interested in the psychology of end-time thinking, this article is interesting (written just after the world did not end in 2012): apocalypse psychology. A trip to google would get you a number more.

I’m not saying everything is hunky-dory and always will be. Read the last two month’s blog posts, and you’ll see how pessimistic I am. Oil will end. Potable water is going to be a real issue one day. The salinization of California's soil is likely going to create a worldwide food crisis before too long. Our electrical infrastructure (which I’ll write about in a future post) in the US and Canada is in bad shape and bizarrely enough, renewable energy sources are stressing it more than ever. So expect blackouts to increase until we get that sorted. And if you’re in a city, expect some rioting and looting during blackouts. Don’t go sightseeing when that happens because looters can be dangerous. Hunker down, conserve resources, don’t suffocate yourself with generator exhaust, and it will pass, the lights and fridge will come back on, the cleaning crews will be out sweeping up the broken glass, and all will be well again.

Even a big collapse, as with climate change or oil depletion, will not happen overnight. Adjustments will be made. People will move from Florida or Arizona, new technologies will ease the slide, and much of life in first world nations will be enjoyable as ever.

Longtime followers of my blog also know I say if you live in Oklahoma, be prepared for a tornado, in Toronto, for a bad ice storm, and in Florida, for a hurricane, in Japan...well, everything but tornadoes. You guys get the disasters in Japan! Those could happen, and while it is statistically unlikely you'd die from a weather event, you could be very uncomfortable for weeks because of it. Lightning is the biggest weather killer, and I'll bet that you have gone outside in a thunderstorm or gotten in the tub or shower. I know I have!

This post is my way of saying, though I am writing a novel series about a catastrophic end of oil scenario, I hope that you know it’s just fiction. Don’t let it push you over the edge into extremist thinking or behavior or for heaven's sake, make yourself sick over it. Look around you. Go for a walk in your own town. See? Everything is fine right now.

If you are worried for your children or grandchildren (even if they are not yet born), and what might happen to them thirty or fifty years down the road, I will talk about a couple of simple solutions to position them best for a contraction of civilization. I might be wrong in my suggestions, but they are largely fun suggestions, so you'll have lost nothing by trying one or two of them.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Oil Apocalypse: the Germ

Not just the germ for the Oil Apocalypse series of novels, but for my thinking about the collapse of civilization, sprouted decades ago, at university. There, I read various Club of Rome publications and Limits to Growth (which is entirely right in general, though people slam it for being wrong in a few specifics). Political science professors introduced to me to some fascinating principles that I absorbed. I didn’t think of this often as a young adult--I was busy getting laid and establishing a career like most people in their 20s--but it was percolating in the back of my mind. I wasn't yet a writer and didn't think people like me could be writers.

If you want to know more about Limits to Growth, an easy way to learn is to read this recent article.

I became interested in the topic of collapse--why and how civilizations fall--long before the Jared Diamond book on it. I should start with the 1988 book Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy, a seminal political science work that focuses largely on military power and how it first builds empires and then contributes to the collapse of them. I took some archeology courses in the 1990s and learned more about ancient civilizations that are naught but ruins now and why they may have ended. The Diamond book Collapse was released, and I read that. He speaks a lot of resource depletion due to overpopulation as a core cause of collapse. I’ve since read Joseph Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Societies, which talks about complexity of systems being the cause of collapse, a sort of weight that accumulates until it breaks a society into smaller, more manageable pieces. I’m currently working my way through mathematician Peter Turchin’s writing on the topic which analyzes the matter in a slightly different way. I suspect none has THE answer, but I suspect each has a piece of an answer to the question “what makes complex societies collapse?”

If you wander over to youtube, you’ll find interviews and lectures by all these men, or you can go read the Wikipedia pages on each of the mentioned books and get this gist.

If you’re not in the mood to read or listen to lectures, the most important thing to know is this: because of various causes, civilizations always collapse. It’s an inescapable rule, just like “you will die” is a rule. Whatever nation-state you inhabit is not immune to ending, as you are not immune to death. Wave your flag harder in response to this statement all you want, but it won’t stop the inevitable collapse. Rome’s empire fell. Alexander the Great conquered a huge swath of land but you’ll notice most of those conquered people don’t speak Greek any longer. Persia fell. The Mongols became something less than Genghis might have hoped. The sun sets pretty quickly on the British Empire nowadays. Collapse happens.

Often, collapse is more like "contraction." Rome fell, but you know, there is still a Rome in Italy, and some of the people there are descended from Imperial Romans.

Here's something to ponder: because we are in part a global society now, quite intertwined, trading goods across vast distances, is it more likely that if, say, the United States collapses will it take Canada, Australia, Britain, Japan, and Saudi Arabia with it? In the not-too-remote past, this was not so. Portugal used to be an empire of great power. When it collapsed from that position and because a much less powerful nation, it was good for the rest of Europe, not bad. It probably would be a real problem if that happened today--and not just because of the EU.

Another interesting question is: what does collapse look like in the modern age? Does it happen boom, overnight? Preppers obviously think so and most post-apocalyptic novels, including mine, cater to that belief/fear/desire. Or does it happen slowly, in a stair-step fashion, and in such a way that only a few people understand that they are living in the midst of a collapse as it occurs?

Part of the problem with how the human mind works is that we want simple answers and we think better when contemplating the short term. Trying to think about the collapse of vast civilizations, including how our own will collapse, takes a disinterested perspective, and a broad view.

While my other post-apocalyptic novels are about a specific triggering event, the Oil Apocalypse series depended on my inventing imaginary answers to these more complicated questions of how and how quickly collapse occurs. There is no way to write an exciting novel while including all of this information I’ve learned. I tried to hint at some of the complexities of the slow collapse leading up to the catastrophic event of the destruction of the Ras Tanura port in book 1 of my series, and I hope I was neither too subtle about that, nor too dull and academic. Spoiler alert: there's a second series planned for a long, long time after this series. That's because I think people will survive collapse, and I make this belief into fictional reality in series 2.

So in books 2-4 of the first series, and in the second series, I’ll let the slow collapse continue....

Sunday, August 6, 2017

I have good news about Oil Apocalypse!

Because my imagination and fingers have been working overtime the past six weeks, the third book will be ready much sooner than I'd planned. I still must coordinate with cover artist and proofreader for this surprise change, but if Book 2 drops into your Kindle on October 6, it's quite possible Book 3 will appear in late November, which is fully six weeks earlier than I had originally thought I could do it. Yay for all of us!

And those three books will comprise a sort of sub-series, a complete tale that comes to a resting point. After that, there will be a time gap (for the characters, not for me and you) and we'll come back to them in Book 4 several years later, when relationships, resources, and troubles will have changed.

I originally thought this first section would be one book, but that wasn't so. And then I thought it would be two books, but I got so many interesting ideas, I realized I couldn't fit them into a single volume. So three books it is for this sub-series.

There is every possibility that there will be six or seven books in the series. I know the final scenes of the series as clearly as if I witnessed them happening in real life, and I can tell that they aren't coming up in any book soon. So if you like the Oil Apocalypse series, this is good news indeed. It won't be a short series!

Next Sunday I'll return to my posts on the end of oil, the collapse of civilizations, and related matters.