Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Doomers and Sowing the Seeds of Peace

There is an on-going theme in the Peak Oil and Climate Change communities — the difference of opinion between the doomers and the fixers. Increasingly, as the fixers realize the full scope of the challenge and watch in disbelief how little is being done, they eventually gravitate more towards the doomer position.

Hard-core doomers think in terms of die-off, and see the process as a violent struggle that will envelop the world in brutality. James Lovelock, for the climate doomers, believes humanity will devolve to a few struggling tribes in the very high latitudes. Matt Savinar, heir apparent to Mike Ruppert on the Peak Oil doomer side, sees wilderness bunkers stocked with food, water and ammo.

Soft-landers, such as myself, have a tough sell.

In an odd kind of way, Dmitry Orlov has helped me out with a new book, Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects. For those who have read Naomi Klein’s recent work, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, the collapse and aftermath of the Former Soviet Union will be familiar territory. Orlov came to the US as a teenager and traveled back to Russia during its special period of the late 1980s and early 1990s. He brings a wry, sardonic humor to his descriptions and predictions that helps the medicine go down.

Orlov wants to get us to ask fundamental questions of all aspects of our daily existence — food, housing, energy, transportation, communication, savings, medical — that betray an underlying sense of hope. His two central questions are “’Is it collapse-proof?’” and, if it is not, ‘What can I do to make it collapse-proof?’” He writes, “If, for a given thing, the answers turn out to be ‘No’ and ‘Nothing,’ then the very important follow-up question should be: ‘How can I live without it?’”

Learning to do without all “the stuff” opens the door to a much better life, whether we were to experience Peak Oil and Climate Change, or not (and who thinks “not” is very likely, now?)

Orlov scorns the archetype of the American Survivalist, holed up in the hills with a bomb shelter, tins of spam and an assortment of guns and ammo “with which to fight off neighbors from further downhill” in favor of a more pragmatic approach.

“It’s not a bad idea to own a few of everything you will need, but you should also invest in things you will be able to trade for things you will need. Think of consumer necessities that require high technology and have a long shelf life. Here are some suggestions to get you started: drugs (over-the-counter and prescription), razor blades, condoms. Toiletries, such as good soap, will be luxury items.”

To this short shopping list I would add seed. When the tractors run dry, we will once more become a world of small farmers. As everyone plows up their suburban yards and rushes to the store to buy seed for potatoes, onions, carrots and beans (a nice Irish stew, that), they may discover that the shelves have already been picked clean. That happened in Russia. So, put seed packets in a shoebox in your closet, and be sure to rotate through to keep them fresh. Although germination diminishes with time spent in storage, a few seeds always seem to get through. Oh, and something more mouse-proof than a shoebox might be a good idea.

There are many seed banks in the world today. Some are governmental or intergovernmental. Some are private or commercial. Seed Savers Exchange, started by Diane Ott and Kent Whealy in 1975, has gone viral. In 2008, the Global Crop Diversity Trust will spend $260 million to stock the backup’s backup, hoarding 4.5 million samples from other banks on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, in the Arctic Circle (78°13’ N, 15°33’ E). According to press accounts, there are only two reasons a seed would ever leave this vault: (1) to be replaced by a fresh sample or (2) to reseed a crop that’s been wiped off the earth. The Gates Foundation is the biggest donor, making a 2-to-1 grant with the Norwegian government.

Stored at the temperature of the earth on Spitsbergen, corn will store about 1125 years, wheat 1700, sorghum about 20,000.

Given what we now know about sudden astrophysical or geomorphic calamities that have ended epochs and begun new ones on our fragile planet, having a seed backup backup is a great idea. It would have been nice if we had a backup for the atmosphere or our energy future, but we didn’t, so what comes next will be very different, and unsettling.

It need not be brutal, however. As Robert Anson Wilson said, “the best antidote to stupidity is a strong counter-game.” We should be seeding peace, justice, pacifism, and non-violent conflict resolution the same way we plant a garden. This is not an impossible dream. Just in the way that Naomi Klein said the neo-con/neo-liberal think tanks (those who have the tanks do the thinking) laid their elaborate plans and natural or other disasters provided the opportunities, the peace and justice community has the ability to organize, inspire, and put forward its own plans when crisis strikes.

People get ready.




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