George Plumb: Adjusting to a collapsing civilization

Editor’s note: This commentary is by George Plumb of Washington, Vermont. He is a co-founder of Vermonters for a Sustainable Population which is now Better (not bigger) Vermont 

The Covid-19 pandemic affecting us here in Vermont and internationally is one more indicator that we are now dealing in a broader perspective with the collapse of the industrial/capitalistic/military economy. The other indicators are that we have catastrophic global heating, the “Sixth Great Extinction,” the rise of fascist/authoritarian governments around the world including the United States, millions of people suffering from poverty, giant corporations and billionaires controlling our democracy, and the destruction of much of our environment to support the life of a greatly overpopulated Earth.

Several authors have been predicting this collapse for years. These include “Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World” by Michael Ruppert in 2009, “The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From The Future” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in 2014, “Love in the Age of Ecological Apocalypse: Cultivating the Relationships We Need to Thrive” by Carolyn Baker in 2015, and most recently, “How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for Our Times” by Pablo Servigne and Ralph Stevens in 2020.

All the public focus now is on how we personally need to live to stem the spread of Covid-19 and, of course, that is vitally important. But we also need to acknowledge that this pandemic is a direct result of collapsing economic, environmental, and political systems. Environmental habitat destruction is likely to have led to the transmission of the disease from bats to humans. Economic greed and immorality led to the control of our political systems to benefit billionaires and giant corporations while weakening our systems to prevent and respond to this pandemic. And once this pandemic is over, scientific experts predict that there will be more coming.

The big question now is how do we react and adjust to a collapsing civilization? The answer is very simple in theory. We have to build resilient and self-supporting communities. We are so fortunate in Vermont that we can move in this direction. This will  include growing much of our own food, supporting each other in relatively small communities, having locally owned businesses and banks, functioning on as steady-state economy rather than a growth-forever economy, the expansion of food co-ops, generating our own renewable energy, choosing to “have one or maybe none,” and having vibrant health care systems that are not controlled by profit-making insurance companies.

It is going to be a challenging evolution but if we act with compassion and equanimity, we can do it. To quote professor Jem Bendell, author of “Deep Adaptation,” who wrote the foreword to the “How Everything Can Collapse Book,” “As such, climate chaos is an invitation to go deeper into self-reflection and learn about why we have participated in such destruction. From that inquiry we may find ways of living that avoid making matters worse. Bringing attention to the darkness around us, ahead of us and inside of us is essential if we are to then light candles of wisdom.” Bendell wrote this before the Covid-19 pandemic, which makes it even truer now.

Let’s begin to “light the candles of wisdom” to do all that we can to prevent the worst of the looming collapse.


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