This started out as a light hearted piece about the fascinating story of Ken Smith, who has lived as a hermit for nearly 40 years. But then, as I was writing it, things got really quite dark.
When we think about what living sustainably would look like, we are probably not going to find it at COP26.
Working with the planet, not against it
Everything we do in our “modern” world has an impact on the planet. The food we eat, the way we travel, the way we heat our homes. Everything involves extracting resources from the planet, but we currently extract more than the Earth can replenish. Our oil-based economy is built upon burning resources that were never meant to be found. Something has to give.
Every few years the UN convenes their “COP” climate change conference, talking about what things we could do, but won’t until after the assembled politicians have left office. As of 2021 we’re on the 26th of these conferences and their achievements to date you could write on a postage stamp with a permanent marker –you know, those chunky ones they use for writing on flipcharts.
We really are getting nowhere fast, but unfortunately the climate is still doing its thing and is on course to breeze past those 1.5 degree targets we’ve been setting. I suspect putting things off to 2050 might be why. As we know, we’ve just ‘made up’ that 2050 date without really consulting the planet, so it is happily melting Greenland, burning the west coast of the USA and much of Siberia to cinders here in 2021.
I suspect the problem might be capitalism. Here, I even have a graph:
Now, you can see that emissions started to climb around the 1850s, but things really started to get a little crazy around the 1950s in that post-war boom. We were getting into the swing of selling people junk they probably didn’t need right around then. Curiously the first ever Climate Change Conference was in 1995 (Berlin). I wonder if you can spot that on the graph.
No, of course you can’t. You can probably spot the near-vertical line between 2000 and 2010 though, when China got into the swing of making the junk we probably didn’t need on our behalf. Yes, we’re not making any progress and we haven’t since 1995. I’ve been following the odd snippet of news from COP26, but after hearing that active travel & public transport were somehow missing from the “transport” day I really lost interest.
It seems, in this Trade Expo for Greenwashers conference, that the solution to our problems is yet more capitalism. Of course, buying a £35,000 car, or a £15,000 heat pump is really going to sort everything out. I’d hate to burst your bubble, but it won’t.
Manufacturing anything inevitably has a carbon cost attached to it, especially electric cars:
We really do need to stop trying to fix the problems caused by capitalism with yet more capitalism. Its only answer to the problem is to sell you even more stuff. People rely on you buying more stuff to keep a roof over their own head, so if you stop, more people fall into poverty –not that being on the shop floor was ever particularly lucrative to begin with.
Sooner or later we’re going to have to ask people not to manufacture anything that isn’t essential for survival, or just hope that people voluntarily take themselves out of the rat race, like ol’ Ken here. The idea that we can get through this just by buying different disposable tat would be hilarious were it not being taken so seriously by world leaders.
Not everyone would agree that Ken’s isolated, reclusive lifestyle of foraging and fishing as well as collecting firewood and washing his clothes in an old bath outdoors is the ideal. And even less so at the age of 74.The man who has lived as a hermit for 40 years – BBC News
Ken has been living alone, off the grid on a loch in the wilds of Scotland. There he spends his days foraging, fishing and chopping wood for cooking. It is far removed from what we would consider normal these days, but he’s only using what he needs to survive. This, I’m afraid, is the baseline we need to aim for.
Across and within borders, people are displaced. Recent trends indicate more internal displacement due to climate-related disasters than conflict, where in fact, of the 30.6 million people displaced across 135 countries in 2017, 60 percent were as a direct result of disasters.The Problem — Climate Refugees
The life we may end up with may not look that different to the one Ken has been living. We will either adopt it willingly, or we’ll be forced into it when floods and fires remove us from our homes –when the last embers of late capitalism are finally extinguished and we join the millions of people already displaced by climate-related disasters.
Running this site these past six years has been eye-opening. I feel that I know far more about the world now than I did before, but unfortunately none of it is good. There’s a part of me that misses being naive to the impact I and other people on the same path of least resistance were having on the world, but now that I know, I can’t unsee it.
Some of us know what needs to be done, but no government would try to do it without risking being ejected at the next election. The future for many of us will be difficult, but no more difficult than the present those living in developing nations are experiencing today. People are happier to be told comforting lies that their way of life will carry on, but in a “greener” way, even if they know deep down that it is impossible.
We don’t know exactly what will happen, but we understand that, at the very least, disruption of the biosphere and climate is forcing us to change how we live, and may lead to global societal collapse. Deep Adaptation is a way of framing our current global situation that can help people to refocus on what’s important in life while our social order collapses under the weight of its own consumption, pollution, and inequality. We are finding new ways of being with ourselves and being together, no matter what happens.What is Deep Adaptation? – Deep Adaptation Forum