I recently spent 10 months in South of France looking for a plot of land while volunteering at various farms and homesteads. I love Ariege for its alternative vibes with 2nd and 3rd generation hippies, amazing food with fantastic ingredients and great wine. But also the land is still relatively cheap and it’s a humbling experience to have the magnificent Pyrenees mountain range so close. There’s so much to do from hiking, climbing and mushrooming to skiing, kayaking, fishing and hunting.
If we are to leave something for the 7th Generation though, we should be thinking hard about what the world will look like in 150 years time. Over on the Spanish side of the mountain range, rivers and wells have been drying up and people are fighting over water usage already. I’ve met many people who started in Spain and moved to France for this very reason. In parts of Spain, it’s been predicted that 15 year droughts will hit by 2100. Without water, the forces of desertification maybe too much, too soon, rendering large swathes of land uninhabitable. We may still have pockets higher up in the mountains where micro-climates create conditions that are favourable but what happens when 200 million refugees start migrating North? Some models predict upward of 1 billion displaced by 2050. Their first goal will be to reach the oasis in a sea of desert.
I often reflect on whether I am being an over paranoid prepper with a confirmation bias, or if I’ve managed to analyse the data logically and am setting myself a buffer for the edge circumstances on a bell curve of probabilities. Up until now, it’s always been the latter. But the probability is shifting quickly and it’s worth considering the worst case scenario of 5 to 6 degrees warming, AI singularity in the wrong hands, topsoil degradation, aquifer depletion, multiple pandemics and demographic collapses, all exacerbated by an unstable global order “lead by the least among us”. What would that world look like? What is my role in that world? It’s difficult to sustain hope when so many existential issues that we face requires species level collaboration unseen in history.
If I’m promoting an easier, more social, ethical, cheaper and healthier lifestyle based on the long term survival of the species, resilience against future catastrophes has to be considered properly. It’s up to you what you think is the limit of our capacity as a species but beware of history’s tendency to rhyme. Without the US global order and EU looking likely to disintegrate, the very foundations for cooperation and diplomatic dialogue is being broken down. I personally think the UK, with the English Channel as a natural mote, Wales with its oceans, hills and mountains as natural defenses, and near guarantee of rain ticks a lot of boxes. Water shortages in the UK is not that far away in the future too. New Zealand is another contender where a lot of silicon valley billionaires are buying up land for the same reasons but even further away from all the predicted calamities.
On a more positive note, Wales is stunningly beautiful with lots of outdoor activities to do, land is still cheap, there are so many people and communities that are doing interesting things. The Welsh Government is much more progressive with the One Planet Initiative, and scrapping subsidies to conventional farms in 2021 and applying it to regenerative ones. They even have the Well-being of Future Generations Act which I can get behind 100%. In addition, with the predicted warming (discounting the Greenland ice melt stopping the gulf stream), I suspect Wales will have a climate similar to South of France by 2050 if London is set to have the same as Barcelona.
The only issue is money. How do I sustain a living in a rural community? Internet based work is an option but I don’t have the skills or the drive to sit in front of a screen all day. Online shop selling items by mail order is an option that could work though. Low set up cost, high value, high margin, light weight items that have a good shelf life would be my choice. Preferably in fields where it is likely to boom for demand in the next 20 years. Considering the global demographic shift that is happening now, with mass retirement scheduled in 2 to 4 years, demand for mushrooms like Lion’s Mane, which triggers neurogenesis, has a serious upside potential. Wouldn’t you do anything possible to avoid Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases? Especially if it involved eating pills stuffed with some ordinary non-psychoactive mushroom that tastes like lobster? With cheaper imports from China laden with toxic heavy metals from air pollution, I suspect locally produced organic products will sell well.
If, however, UBI is enacted, and provided I have everything set up by then, it would be really cool if I could grow vegetables and fruits and provide it free of charge to the local community. And run free sustainability courses for kids. Ponder for a moment on the possibility of not having to work for basic necessities. Think of the enormous progress we could make if we can spend 100% of our time on meaningful things that do not require pay. Of course there’ll be some who’ll spend 100% of their time on meaningless things that require payment. But given the option, I think most will chose to do things that give them greater life satisfaction. I guess I still hold onto some hope for the human species. And I feel that this might possibly be the best resilience we have against future catastrophes lurking around the corner. If you believe in humanity, UBI might just create a culture of generosity, of true abundance, and it’s totally realisable with our current technology if we have the collective will.
To fast track the necessary changes until then, people who own a fair amount of economic capital and perhaps an extra house or two should seriously consider providing your spare homes and cash as a bursary to students. Provide a leg up for those studying conservation biology, cultural anthropology, geopolitics, engineering in renewable energy, 21st Century economics and all the others who are studying to make the world a better place. How about industrial farmers, dukes and oligarchs with large plots of land? Could they hand over some percentage of their hundreds, or in many cases hundreds of thousands of acres of land, to young, awakened generation trying to live more sustainably? Aren’t they a more worthy investment than to line our pockets with stuff we can’t take to our afterlife? Whatever that maybe.
To me, one possibility for a more positive future might involve a shift in our collective consciousness, from an individualistic capitalist dogma to one of seeing ourselves as a planetary collective totally reliant on the natural resources. To see each and every one of us as the direct descendants of our Mitochondrial Eve in East Africa, who in turn descended from the Kingdom of Fungi. It still amazes me the power of science in revealing such perspective changing facts. We are literally all related. But can we get this done in time? If psychedelic mushrooms become legalised, used as a medicine and more science regarding this topic is widely discussed and embedded in the society, perhaps. But are we ready for it? Check out my previous post on this subject.
Another interesting Gaian perspective worth considering is to see the effects of the virus as a hint from Earth. What’s happening in the US and Brazil could be a sign that nature does not approve of their model of doing things. Will China’s highly effective and deeply infringing counter Covid measures get taken on as the best method and imported world wide? Quite likely, but considering the virus originated in China, nature doesn’t approve of how the Chinese do it either. Highly stressed, unnatural systems like factory farms and wet markets are where these pathogens tend to emerge from.
So what does nature approve of? It’s a funny paradox that I’m thinking about this when burning reeds from a small flame thrower attached to a 50kg tank of propane. The reeds had become invasive and needed to be cut down to allow more bird life and diversity to enter the habitat but a razor sharp scythe or a strimmer will have probably done a better job quicker with less fuel. It was pretty fucking cool blowing flames though. Marvelously Mad Max.
Nature most definitely approves of strong national healthcare systems and healthy populations. More equal societies have done well, while in others, protests and riots are becoming increasingly common. Matriarchy, where female leaders are at the helm, have done incredibly well. Countries like Taiwan with high trust in their government for their transparency and ethics have moved quickly based on science and successfully contained the virus without going into lock downs. People who live rurally with a good community close by and growing their own food will come out of this far better off than those living in inner city high rises or basement flats. Nature certainly approves of less travel and shorter food miles. If we entertain the idea that perhaps Gaia is trying to slow our metabolic rate of consumption, it’s entirely possible that her eventual goal might be to create a world with less people who consume less things. Unless we figure out a way to live within the boundaries of nature.
So once again, I come rambling back full circle to the key question; how do we ‘live with nature’?
“For over 70 years economics has been fixated on GDP, or national output, as its primary measure of progress. That fixation has been used to justify extreme inequalities of income and wealth coupled with unprecedented destruction of the living world. For the twenty-first century a far bigger goal is needed: meeting the human rights of every person within the means of our life-giving planet.”
― Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist