Gardening in the Face of Collapse by Mark Bevis

Mark Bevis shared this comment in response to one of my posts here and, like he said, it turned into an essay, one worthy of sharing. (Most of the links are mine.)


I’ve been a regular of the “doomosphere” for a good few years now. I read Jem Bendell’s paper when it came out, and found it very much in line with my own thinking at the time. However, I’ve only just found Michael Dowd’s post-doom conversatons, and am enjoying them. The thought that if you’re in the doomosphere you’re only at the half-way point is enlightening to me.

I find myself agreeing with John’s responses to Mark above. The five stages of grief applied to climate change does work, and Mark appears to be at the bargaining stage. Although he does say he accepts that collapse is inevitable*, so there is some kind of acceptance going on. But it okay, you can switch between the five stages of grief–it’s not a linear one-way process. The recent Covid-19 outbreak of herd stupidity certainly reverted me back to the anger stage for a while!

My learning experience sounds very much similar to John’s, and I too garden in the face of collapse. That’s sounds so ridiculuously trite I’m not even going to attempt to explain it. It’s a process of being in the doomosphere, or as I call it, a walker in two worlds (taken from Sam Mitchell), the doomosphere and the matrix. It’s an outcome, and it’s my outcome and it brings me great joy and peace of mind. It is the no-till least work poly-culture One Straw Revolution type of gardening, but that’s another tale.

For those new to collapse, or still going through the bargaining phase, there is one fundamental thing I found: Until you can embrace your own mortality, experience your own death almost, you’ll find it incredibly difficult to accept the upcoming collapse. If you are numerically minded, the only two indices you need to know are EROEI (energy return on energy invested) and the Exponential Function. A greater teller for me was Sid Smith, who takes a mathmatician’s look at collapse.

For anyone to say collapse of global industrial civilisation won’t happen flies in the face of all maths and all history. All societies collapse, and all species go extinct. It happens all the time, the background rate of extinction before 1970 was 1-10 species a day. Now its 100-200. The shit storm this time is that the human project is completely planet wide, rather than just one county, country or continent; with pollution even in the deepest sea trenches, the highest mountains and the extreme poles. 

I am kinda disappointed with your colleague’s apparent bottom line that being a doomer is all about giving up. That being aware of the truth of the predicaments facing us brings you or anyone else to give up. Giving up is far from what we do. We do let go of as much crap as possible, and that, is a different kind of giving up. If that means ditching the TV, selling the car, stopping flying, and not reading MSM and their sponsors, all the “markers of success”, then yes, call it giving up. If it means not buying into green-washed activism, then yes, it’s giving up. Letting go of what’s not required is by far and away not giving up on life nor on humans. Vile species that we are, having slaughtered 60% of the wildlilfe since 1970, and polluted every nook and cranny on the planet.

I personally feel a lot better being aware of the reality of the contradictions of my existence–it’s far better than living the lie that capitalism actually works for everybody. Neo-liberalism is working as intended, enriching the extremely rich over an 18 months cycle with as little government interference as possible. But it’s not working for the 99% of humanity, nor for 100% of other life forms on the planet. And no amount of Green New Deal tinkering at the edges is gonna change that. 

Far from giving up, acceptance of the impending collapse allows you to then focus what little agency you have on what really matters. In my case, I spend the time working the local Incredible Edible network. Will it save the world? No. Will it save capitalism? No, it’s a threat to capitalism as we share the food out, hence it’ll likely be made illegal ‘ere the end. Will it feed me and the others once the supermarkets are empty? No. But it’s an example of what can be scaled up when the crises come, a prototype if you like of what’s possible. And for those that then want to take that example and upscale it, we’ll have the knowledge and support they’ll need. Does it increase my chance of surviving the collapse? Not really. Local thuggery could just come along and steal it all and starve to death a few weeks later than us. Or a manic council might bulldoze it to build houses as the lunatics running the asylum do more of the same (capitalism) in the expectation of getting a different result.

It’s taking Derek Jensen’s advice and find a local patch and defending it. It’s taking Carne Ross’ advice (The Accidental Anarchist) that rather than protesting and petitions (which you do up to a point) it’s far better to set up the alternatives you want to see. Even if it only two of you doing a community food growing project. You can’t tell people to join in. But once people see them working, they’ll join in of their own volition. And the systems you want to replace will simply slowly wither on the vine.

It’s setting up those alternative systems that is incredibly hard, as the existing system is set up to protect the landed aristocracy and big business, through planning laws, bylaws, regulations, taxes, tax reliefs, subsidies and their “old boy network”, social networking smears and so on. And that system has experience going back 200 years or more, with the Enclosure of the Commons back in the 1800s.

But that is energy worth expending. For as any historical study of empire shows, once collapse really starts, the centre focuses more power at it’s core, and the provinces at the boundaries of empire become neglected. As time goes on and the power of the centre gets weaker– the centre thrashes out more (Trump’s stormtroopers in Portland this week are an example of this) and issues more and more edicts, ordnances and rules, but as their EROEI declines they cannot then afford the enforcement, and the provinces get left more and more to their own devices.

And that applies at any level. If you’re Albania at the edge of Europe, or a disused parking lot sneakily guerrilla gardened at the edge of decaying ex-car factory town, now is the time to set up those alternative systems, quietly and unobtrusivley, carefully seeking allies both within and without the local power structures. Many will fail, some will be discovered and bulldozed into some corporate folly, a few will be imprisoned. But there is always another plot of land, another community project, another idea. As a part of the acceptance stage of the 5 stages of grief, is doing these things because they are the right thing to do, but also to not become emotionally attached to the outcome. So if your community project, your idea, or indeed someone else’s good idea, is bulldozed for a shopping mall or fracking rig, move on to the next plot or empty building, or whatever it happens to be. 

Damn, sorry, it’s turned into an essay!


Notes

*The evidence just keeps stacking up. Here’s another one just come out, a statistical analysis shows 10% chance of not suffering catastrophic collapse within 2-4 decades, by measuring rates of deforestation and population growth. Reported here.

Published by John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of *Another End of the World is Possible*, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post, PrayWithYourFeet.org, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com. John also facilitates climate grief support groups climate grief support groups affiliated with the Good Grief Network.

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