Fifiteen years ago, going vegan was a radical political move. Ten years ago, shouting about how climate change was a massive risk for humanity, and that nothing was going to be done to stop it, would get you ostracised as a doomer. Five years ago, when I bought the barracks, I was clearly off my rocker. Outré extreme.
In the last week, I have spent the better part of three days being filmed for one of the most inoffensive TV shows in Germany.
I am officially no longer radical. Or, worse, I am mainstream, acceptable radical.
The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction tweeted today:
Early warning for all.
Global heating, anthropogenic climate change, the climate catastrophe - call it what you will, everyone has heard about it, very few have thought much about what it means.
In another tweet, which I forgot to save, I read a headline which went something like “philosophers call for more politicians to think about climate disasters”. Which sounds a bit like “famous singer calls for music lessons in schools” or “lottery winner advises everyone to play the lottery”. Yes, philosophers extolling the virtues of thinking is not a surprise. Despite that, they are right, of course. It seems that some people are shouting, and some people are ignoring, but there is precious little thinking happening. By which I mean imagining.
In the case of the complete breakdown of society, forewarned is absolutely not forearmed. But having some sort of idea about what is going to happen might go some way to helping the human in the street to deal with it. If we all think together, who knows, we might even come up with a plan.
But, calling for something means the absence of a thing, which means that it’s probably not happening. My take on the matter is very much that we can’t expect anything to happen either. Not from the politicians. There is no conspiracy theory, but it is pretty obvious that the rich and the powerful would probably rather like to stay that way, and that means continuing to think along the same lines as now.
Tomorrow will NOT be much like today.
For more a decade now, I have been talking of the worst effects of collapse. For nearly 4 years, I have been putting myself through this ascetic bullshit of Barracks and Hardship in order to be able to talk with authenticity on the matter, but very much also to give myself the consistency of thought and action that lets me actually imagine different worlds.
It’s easier to think outside of the box if you climb out of the box and have a look around.
So from here, outside of the box of society, I have put myself in a position to think allegorically. Hyperbolically. To think of visually interesting metaphors for the collapse of society which I have been predicting for years, and now would really rather SHOUT THE FUCK ABOUT. Because it nears, my friends. It should be visible to just about everyone kinda soon.
Until recently, unfortunately, the best I have ever been able to come up with was “we’ll be fighting each other in the streets for rat meat”.
The problem with this is that it sound too hyperbolic. Too much swerving towards the "visually interesting", and therefore too easily to be interpreted. And that is a problem precisely because i do mean it literally.
I believe that some people will only start to take any notice of climate collapse when they find themselves actually fighting their neighbours in the actual street for the meat of a dead rat. To eat for their supper. Anything that happens before that can be cleared up with some positive thinking and
I mean the complete collapse of everything that goes into the creation of a functioning society. To imagine this is basically impossible. Not because I lack the visual imagery, because there is no way in which it is possible to express something that has literally no parallel in anything that you have so far in your life experienced.
Telling this story is particularly difficult. I am going to try to have two shots at it. One for feeling and one for “future facts” we shall call them. First, with feelings.
Here is a story.
I apologise for it sounding a bit HP Lovecraft. I wasn’t expecting that either.
In 1989, or was it 1990?, I am spectacularly bad in my own chronology, I went to Beijing. I won the trip on a TV Quiz programme for teenagers. The one where naughty schoolchildren asked "Bob" if they "could have a Pee, please?".
Everything about the experience was magical, ethereal, unique. In 1989, really relatively few Europeans had been to China. The borders were well and truly closed and the only way in was via Hong Kong.
The capitalist west had so far not been welcomed into the People’s Republic, and there was no sign of the American cultural hegemony and European markets that now dominate every billboard and commercial space in every corner in the world. There was no sign of a McDonalds, no adverts for Levis Blue Jeans, not a single German luxury car to be seen on the roads.
I saw virtually no cars, in fact. Katie Melua's nine million bicycles were very much in evidence. The six lane motorway surrounding three sides of Tiananmen Square rang with bells and squeaks of push-bikes in their tens of thousands.
It was clear that, despite us looking absolutely nothing alike at all, Glynn, my schoolfriend and quizzing partner, could not be told apart. We are similarly tall, similarly blondish, though I would definitely have been called strawberry at that time. The ginger of my chidhood was already greying! Young children ran up to touch the two over-tall pink-skinned, blue eyed 17-year-old boys they found amongst them. Their parents, far from being cross, were visibly every bit as intrigued, and satisfied themselves by taking our photos. You could strongly suspect that they would have rather have been children, and free to run up and touch us themselves.
I didn’t understand a single spoken word I heard, I didn’t recognise a single road-sign or advertising hoarding. There was nothing in a shop that I recognised - every bit of packaging was in unfamiliar colours for shop items - greens and reds and golds proliferating. Every sight, sound, and smell was unfamiliar to me.
There were few other Europeans there, and I don’t think I saw one ever outside of the hotel.
This is the most out-of-my-element I have ever been, and it was a wonderful experience. Surrounded by architecture which obeyed none of the rules I knew from home, we dined dozens of courses without recognising a single mouthful, saw operatic performances which were sung and costumed by rules of aesthetic I had never considered. Who would have thought that opera, music, food, buildings, could be so beautiful, could impress so much simply by their otherness?
It really felt, to a relatively inexperienced boy from Birmingham, UK, as if by some unknown, but luminescent species had inhabited the other side of the world, and evolved in parallel with us. There was no sense which was not overwhelmed by the strange beauty.
The collapse of society under the pressure of climate collapse is going to feel a bit like this. Everything changes. Nothing you know now will be visible in anything which exists in the future. It will be as radically other as a 17 year old boy lost and amazed in locked-down pre-internet China. With the exception that the unknown hand of design which planned and constructed the new reality it is not brilliant and it is not beautiful. It has no interest in amazing and delighting. It is malevolent, dark, and it is close upon your shoulders.
It despises the existence of every human being.
It means us all ill.
It wishes our lives to be hard, and it hates us all.
But specifically you.