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Fully Wrapping Our Heads Around the Collapse Scenario

This article was written by Alex Steffen in January 2008. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.

Kim Stanley Robinson makes a point I made elsewhere, but much more clearly:

"It’s a failure of imagination to think that climate change is going to be an escape from jail – and it’s a failure in a couple of ways.
For one thing, modern civilization, with six billion people on the planet, lives on the tip of a gigantic complex of prosthetic devices – and all those devices have to work. The crash scenario that people think of, in this case, as an escape to freedom would actually be so damaging that it wouldn’t be fun. It wouldn’t be an adventure. It would merely be a struggle for food and security, and a permanent high risk of being robbed, beaten, or killed; your ability to feel confident about your own – and your family’s and your children’s – safety would be gone. People who fail to realize that… I’d say their imaginations haven’t fully gotten into this scenario."

The other half of this coin, of course, is that many of the things we need to do to avoid meltdown will also help us lead happier, more secure lives, both on local and national levels.

(Follow on: KSR also says, "As a result of these questions there came into being a big body of utopian design literature that’s now mostly obsolete and out of print, which had no notion that the Reagan-Thatcher counter-revolution was going to hit. Books like Progress As If Survival Mattered, Small Is Beautiful, Muddling Toward Frugality, The Integral Urban House, Design for the Real World, A Pattern Language, and so on. I had a whole shelf of those books. Their tech is now mostly obsolete, superseded by more sophisticated tech, but the ideas behind them, and the idea of appropriate technology and alternative design: that needs to come back big time." I actually think that he's really right here, that there's a tremendous untapped vein of inspiration in a lot of the 1970s thinking about sustainability, especially if the period costuming is stripped off and the tech is updated. )

(Which, going further, ties into something I've seen a lot of people musing about lately -- including Regine here on WC just today -- which is the future that was being promoted at the end of the 1970's, which was greener and fairer and far more sane than the Reagan/ Thatcher/ Kohl vision that destroyed it has turned out to be. Which raises a possibility for speculative fiction that would be a lot of fun: what if the Reagan "revolution" never happened -- what if the U.S. had taken the other road?))

The Collapse of Civilization: "It Wouldn’t Be An Adventure" is part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on October 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.

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