6 min read

Checking the Thermometer: Civil Strife, Government Contempt, and Climate Change

I'm worried. Despite the existence of this newsletter, I'm not normally actively worried about things–that's what preparation is for. I am worried about the vast chasm in realities that exist between camps of Americans. I'm worried about the extremely unstable and ever-increasingly-unstable state of our natural world. I'm worried about the open contempt this country's government has for its people, and how much of that contempt is being packaged as the government having done its job. I'm worried that these dangers are mounting faster than we realize–a problem that arises once every six months or so, really. The pandemic has done a lot to shock people into awareness, but as we enter its third calendar year, I think many of us have become inculcated to a certain amount of dysfunction. We need to look around ourselves before we become frog-boiled to threats we may have forgotten about.

The Shades of Gray Between a Functioning Government and Civil War

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that civil wars today don't look like what most Americans hold in their mind's eye. It's important to remember, too, that civil war doesn't need to be declared for the country to devolve into a shambling mess. There are enough events in our recent history–magnified by the pandemic–that show just how threadbare or non-existent government responses have been. The winter storm in Texas comes to mind as a particularly egregious example of a lack of government intervention. And we really don't need to look at anything but what's around us right now, as we've been told by the Biden administration to "google" testing sites, and virtually all government assistance with the pandemic has long dried up. (Luckily, this has changed recently with mail-order testing and masks, but that's a pretty small band-aid two years late.)

Things can get worse than this, though (of course). And they can get worse than this without the country falling into civil war. There are shades of bad between where we are and having Google route you away from a gunfight at the local 7-11 between warring factions. The government can still exist–can still maintain a lot of power, even, and simply abnegate responsibility for the majority of people. I turn, again, to Lebanon for a recent example: a country rocked by disaster, with a corrupt, unconcerned government, poised to this day on the brink of collapse. Inflation has skyrocketed in recent months, and many Lebanese struggle to feed themselves and their families while the country descends–nationwide–into periodic and extended blackouts due to power companies themselves being unable to provide fuel for their power plants.

And, again, you don't have to look across the ocean to see how our government may turn away; just envision yourself being treated as the government treats communities of color. It can't be overstated that the problems coming to your door are problems minority communities have been seeing for decades, the world over. You are just...catching up. (For a bit of optimism, you can look to how these minority communities survive to see a roadmap for our own survival. These communities have banded together long before you ever thought about reading Kropotkin.)

A friend of mine recently reminded me of Hanlon's Razor: don't attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity. I think, with Biden, we have a bit of both. But it's not necessary for the government to willfully deny you, your community, or your state, services. They can (and will, as things start to slide) fuck up out of ineptitude and sheer inability. Which doesn't mean they may not be doing things maliciously–in this case, it simply means it doesn't matter. As things swing back toward GOP control, it is not hard to imagine more cracks, and more things slipping through. You can forget any further attempts at improved infrastructure, and any meaningful environmental actions will be halted. The police will be empowered, the far right will be empowered, and social safety nets will be stripped away.

The math is simple: if from here until the next asshole takes office, no ground is clawed back and given to the people, we can only expect an acceleration of events. In this environment, in which more power is given to the police, in which more social safety nets are stripped away, you will find people becoming more desperate. With desperation comes what some would call crime–we, I hope, would call it survival–and we know what comes after that. Police crackdowns, protests, riots, more police crackdowns, and violent reprisals from the right. You may have seen people bandying about the term "anocracy" to describe our government lately, and we'll be swiftly moving somewhere beneath that already miserable governance. At that point, really, we'll only be a match or two away from conflagration.

Lest We Forget, Fires Burning Everywhere

This has been an atypical winter, in America, which is something we should get used to. While there's still plenty of time for more major snowstorms, our worst disasters have been the kind we normally see in the spring. On December 11th a brutal storm system spawned numerous tornados that killed at least 90 people across several states. These unseasonable storms are becoming more common, and they will continue to become more common as climate change shifts our weather patterns. 2021 was the 6th hottest year on record, and the last seven years have been the hottest in recorded history.

In Buenos Aires, a major heatwave last week caused 700,000 to lose power. The heat busted the thermometer at 106F. And it's not just the western hemisphere; in Australia, a similar heat dome has broken a long-held record at 123.3F–luckily in the sparsely populated northwest. Cape Town is the latest southern city to post record-breaking heat. These are ridiculous numbers, and it's hard to overestimate how big a threat extreme heat will be to people across the globe. And, to make it plain, every new year is the floor of our suffering; climate action has, thus far, been woefully inadequate. We're nowhere near meeting goals that are widely seen by scientists to fall short of what's needed to stave off the worst of climate change.

With a tepid administration at the helm and no improvement in sight, we should resign ourselves to the impossibility that any kind of climate legislation makes a dent for the foreseeable future. That's not to say it's impossible, but it is vanishingly unlikely we'll make meaningful changes in this decade–after which, I'm afraid, we're locked in to some troubling scenarios–worse still than what we're regularly seeing.

Back to Basics

With most things we give a damn about poised to head in the wrong direction–and with my own heart seized, at times, with a pervading sense of doom, I want to walk you through a bit of an autobiographical prepping checklist, in hopes of calming us both down, at least a little bit.

We lost my beloved Petunia a couple weeks back–the hen my wife and I have nursed, hand-fed, and kept indoors for months. She died suddenly, with very little warning, and I've taken it especially hard. But there is a practical lesson here, as bland as it may sound: you've got to fucking love what's in your life. There's no point to any of this if you don't. I loved Petunia, more than I ever thought I could, and loving her as much as I did has made me turn that love toward the surviving members of our flock. We've got four birds in a coop in the backyard, and they give us eggs every day. Every day! I can't express the unique joy of caring for these animals and being cared for in return in such a palpable, literal way. We spoil them rotten, and they give us more eggs than we can eat–so, naturally, we give some eggs away. To friends, to neighbors. We share with our community.

I've been socking away some freeze-dried food here and there, expanding our pantry slowly but surely. Our canned goods were mostly bought in 2020 and will be nearing their best-by date in a few months (though they're likely good for another year or two after), so I've been trying to focus on longer-lasting foodstuff. It's not the cheapest, but where we're at right now, the investment is worthwhile. I also, as pure luxury, bought a bunch of instant coffee to hide away with the rest of our goods.

My wife just had a birthday, and to celebrate, as we celebrate most things, we went to the archery range. My father recently handed down his compound bow to me, and while I'll always love a classic recurve, it is wild to fire a laser beam pretending to be a bow. No guesswork, no merciless adherence to form–you point that bow at something downrange, line up the peep sight, and next thing you know, an arrow is sticking out of your target. Which is where I leave you: wholeheartedly endorsing your purchase of a modern/antiquated weapon. Fun for the whole family, right there.