16 December 2011

DIY economic collapse: no computer hacking or explosive skills required

Some guys living in a shack in the Don Valley in Toronto during the Great Depression. They look a lot better off than the modern homeless ravine dwellers. They have teacups and books.

In my last non-housekeeping or forest photo post, I talked about the brutal truth about climate change. That if we are to limit global warming to 4C (a most dangerous level, but the lowest practical increase from where we already are), we (the world) have to level off carbon emissions soon, then drop them quickly to zero (by about 2050 or sooner). Given the huge inequities in current carbon emissions and the fact that we cannot trust governments to do the right thing, we the people are just going to have to take matters into our own hands. The only thing that has ever resulted in significant year over year reductions in carbon emissions is the fall of the Soviet Union. Therefore, I propose that anyone who is genuinely concerned about the well-being of people in poorer countries in the short term, and their own children and grandchildren in the medium and long term, should be actively working to collapse the current financial system. 

Which is, of course, the argument that conservatives have been using to avoid doing anything. It's just that they love money more than poor people or their grandchildren. And many of them are counting on being raptured before things get too warm anyway. And to supporters of any other political party - we're not going to have a prosperous, green economy, and I wish you'd stop pretending we can.

The current financial system looks ready to collapse under its own weight without any extra help from me, but I'm a pessimist by nature, and I'm not prepared to leave such things to chance. The first thing is to question some basic assumptions about how things ought to be. Like, annual economic growth of 1 - 3% is necessary and good.  Actually, annual economic growth is incompatible with a liveable planet for our kids and grandkids. The conservatives are right - reducing carbon emissions will hurt the economy, but luckily, a collapsing economy will reduce emissions. 

So, what to do. The greenest thing I ever did was quit my high paying job. Our family income dropped by more than half, and so did our spending. Canada's GDP went down accordingly. I could write a book on why I think most families should only have a maximum of one full time job each, but for the purposes of crashing the economy, the drop in family incomes and resultant spending would go a long ways. Why do I suggest quitting your job rather than just spending less? Well, for one thing, I know from experience that you are pretty much guaranteed to spend everything you make plus a little. Even if you save half your income, you have to put it somewhere, and unless it is under your mattress, it's going to be fuelling economic growth in some way. So from an anti-economic perspective it makes a lot more sense to not earn it in the first place. This also results in much lower income tax, which reduces government revenue that will eventually enter the economy.

Please don't have any more kids.  I honestly don't think that if I'd known fifteen years ago what I know now, that I would be a mom today. That would be a terrible loss for me, but my kid, like yours if you're reading this blog, has a much higher carbon footprint than the global average. We don't have enough time to reduce the world's population enough to solve our climate problems, but we can certainly work at preventing the population problem from getting worse. Besides, what sort of world would you be bringing those kids into?

Pay down debt as fast as possible, or default on it entirely. Repaid or defaulted debt takes money out of circulation and frees you from wage slavery. Debt has been the foundation of most of the world's economic growth for the last few years, so whatever you do, don't take on more.

There are major benefits of choosing a low income lifestyle. A perk of voluntarily reducing income is that having less money automatically causes you to question all forms of consumption, and you quite naturally come to the conclusion that you don't need nearly what you thought you did when you had more. All those little decisions you might have had to make about whether or not to spend money on something or other are pretty much made for you, when you don't have much to spare. It's easier to take care of a smaller house and less stuff. Family life is very pleasant indeed when everyone is not always in a rush to get to work and childcare and endless activities. The main advantage to living on less now, though, is that it is pretty much inevitable, with the approaching crises of climate, finance and energy, that very few of  us (save the usual suspects) will be more prosperous in the future than we are now. We might as well get used to living simply, so that our expectations lead rather than trail our circumstances. 


  1. Awesome, Bev...succinct and hard to refute. Any suggestions on how to get people to DO it?!?

  2. That's just the thing, canuck. "People", "government", and "corporations" aren't going to do anything. That's why economic collapse is the only thing for it. I do think that the system is teetering already, and any well-placed effort can have a magnified effect.

    Of course, there's lots a wannabe economic terrorist could do, but might not want to write about on their public blog.



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