by Dmitry Orlov
Club Orlov (November 24 2015)
You have survived your first winter on the land. Congratulations! The worst part of the ordeal is quite possibly over. Gone are whatever addictions and expectations with which you arrived, be they internet access or coffee. Your new world consists of the few people around you, and a huge number of plants and animals. But it is a world that is indisputably yours to make the best of, and to pass along to your children and grandchildren.
In the beginning some elements of unnaturelike technology will persist. But as seasons wear on your newfound world will no longer include electricity or electronics, synthetic materials or fabrics, internal combustion engines (no more outboard engines, snowmobiles or chainsaws). Firearms, synthetic pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and much else will quietly fade from memory.
In place of gadgets there will be books: the riverboat that makes its rounds of shoreline settlements exactly once a year in midsummer carries a lending library, dropping off books one summer and picking them up the next. It also distributes a set of textbooks made available by the government: language and literature, mathematics, botany, biology, chemistry, physics, geography and geology. Some of the textbooks haven’t changed in many generations; after all, there has been very little new that would be useful to you. Others have needed an update or two; the geography textbook no longer lists countries such as Bangladesh, Kiribati or US states such as Louisiana and Florida, which won’t be around for much longer. Numerous failed states with morbid populations and undefended borders will be given scant mention.
In place of synthetic fabrics or cotton there will be cloth of flax and hemp (cotton goes away along with industrial chemistry, on which it depends for pesticides). Much use will be made of leather, wool and fur, the last of which already essential for your continued survival. In place of internal combustion engines there is muscle animal or human. Since pharmaceuticals are largely gone, everyone is busy picking and cultivating medicinal plants and practicing preventive therapies. A favourite for killing off viruses is a trip to the sauna followed by a roll in a snowbank or a dip in an ice hole.
Metals will be about the only relic of industrialism still in widespread use. There is no practical limit to the amount of mild steel scrap that will be available from industrial ruins enough to keep all the blacksmiths (of a much smaller and widely dispersed population) busy for thousands of generations. Copper will remain a favourite, since it can be cold-worked into any shape. Where metals will be scarce, skilled artisans will work them with stone tools.
This may seem like a harsh life, but all of the alternatives are worse. As the average global temperature rises by over seventeen degrees Celsius far in excess of the two degrees Celsius still bandied about by the politicians and their court scientists most of the inland areas further south will be made unlivable by summer heat waves with wet bulb temperatures in excess of thirty five degrees Celsius. Without air conditioning such temperatures are lethal, and summer heatwaves, accompanied by blackouts, will kill off entire cities. Coastal cities will perish for a different reason: ocean level will rise by at least thirty meters, putting them permanently under the waves. With the disappearance of mountain glaciers entire countries that depend on glacial melt for irrigation and there are many of them will starve. For populations used to living on the coasts and earning a living from the sea moving further inland will not help much because of all the nuclear power plants that will go underwater with their spent fuel pools still stocked, producing hundreds of new Fukushimas that will make the oceans too radioactive to fish. And as climate change continues and accelerates all of these problems will get worse and worse.
But then here you will be, near one of the major Eurasian or North American north-flowing rivers that empty into the Arctic Ocean Lena, Ob’, Yenisey or McKenzie. You are high enough above the quickly rising ocean level, and away from everything else including the still crowded major population centres that will be getting ready to go through an episode of mass extinction. If the summers get too hot or too dry, you can relocate further downstream, closer to the Arctic Circle, where it will be cooler and wetter. All the while, you can go on practicing your Naturelike Technology Suite, some of which has not changed much since the landscape you now occupy was first settled thousands of years ago. In the summer, the now ice-free, navigable Arctic Ocean will allow the surviving remnants of humanity to keep in touch.
But to make such a best-case scenario possible in a now guaranteed worst-case environment will take more than just relocation and successful adaptation. What has driven the planet to the edge of an environmental abyss is a culture, and the economic system it enables, which worships the blind pursuit of profit and growth at any cost. This culture, based on rapine and plunder, if allowed to persist, will drive the planet over the edge of the abyss even as it and the people trapped in it go extinct. Can it be stopped That is what we will look at next.