Prepare to be poorer.
That’s one of the most central messages in Sharon Astyk‘s book, Depletion and Abundance. And it’s really not a message of fear and doom, but a new way to look at the whole question of self-sufficiency.
Last year, I did a little blog series On Self-Sufficiency, where I worked out my thoughts around what self-sufficency means. At the end of the series, I decided that I was going to move toward thinking about self-reliance instead. After all, once you work through the idea that you want to run away and create a little kingdom where you can survive anything on your own, most of us pretty quickly decide that divorcing ourselves from the wider community wouldn’t be desirable even if it were possible. Self-reliance became more about learning to be able to provide what I could for myself, while not needing to do it all, and recognizing that building community is where real security lies in uncertain times.
Astyk, though, has painted a picture that has me thinking a little differently again. It’s all the same dots–climate change, peak oil, food costs rising, etc–but she connects them in a way that’s fresh for me.
The upshot is this. Climate change means more “natural” disasters more often. More flooding, more tornadoes and hurricanes, more intense storms, more droughts. Sound familiar?! But the realistic impact of these is that in our wealthy Western world, the government will declare states of emergency, send in the troops, provide emergency reimbursements for losses. In other words, society will expect our leaders to take the same steps that it traditionally has when a major disaster hits, only it will be called upon to spend that contingency money more often. Again, this sounds eerily familiar this week…
So one major impact of climate change is that higher levels of government spending are needed.
Peak oil, of course, is going to make everything more expensive. Again, this is happening already. In Canada, at least, a recent report confirms that everything is costing more, even when gas is isolated (which, of course, it isn’t!).
I don’t know about where you live, but the general state of things at the momentalso seems to be that governments are already facing massive debts and budget deficits. The US is barely functional, if the recent federal budget debacle is any indication!
So we take governments that are already in debt, combine that with heavier demands for emergency funds, and higher costs for everything under the sun, and we get….yep, you guessed it… higher taxes and spending/program cuts. And we get those at the same time that we as individuals are facing those higher costs for everything too.
So whether all of this happens quickly and apocalyptically, as many thought was happening during the big crash in 2008, or whether this is indeed a “long emergency,” and regardless of the whole conversation about mitigating climate change and shifting away from fossil fuels, most of us are facing a financially challenging future.
What I like about Astyk’s response to all of this, is that she doesn’t suggest that we are all doomed, or that we should run away and learn to live in the woods. Instead, she just says in a practical way, you’re going to have less cash–so how are you going to earn it, and what are you going to spend it on?
Becoming resilient is not about becoming totally self-suffienct as an individual or family. It’s about finding your own balance of how you might meet the challenges of the future. Most of us will continue to work for some money, and we will still need money. But we need to think about where that money will need to go. Will you be able to afford a long commute? Or perhaps doing that commute will enable you to meet all of your other needs without money. Can you save your money to buy staples like grain and grow the rest of your food yourself, rather than needing to move to a really large property that would make growing those grains yourself possible? Maybe you want to save your cash to run the computer and the washing machine and not put in the expensive solar panels because you can meet most of your other needs yourself. Maybe, like us, you have family across the country and you will need to save cash for what undoubtedly will be more expensive flights. We can make that happen if we make trade-offs in other ways.
Prioritizing is one important part of planning; diversifying is another. This is a psychological shift that I’ve been working on for a couple of years. I grew up thinking about finding vocation, career, calling. In reality, I’ve always done a lot of things, usually working at a couple of different jobs over the course of a year while in school. Though my job is still insecure, I have nevertheless had work full-time or close to it teaching for the last 5 years. As I disclosed in an earlier post, I also want to farm for some of my income. I also love to write, and always have a few projects on the go. For a long time, I thought all of this needed to be either/or. I struggled thinking I needed to BE a teacher, or BE a writer, or BE a farmer.
Now, though, I’m finally coming around to the fact that all I need to BE is myself, in a happy life with the people I love. That likely looks like doing a variety of things to earn some income, building resiliency through growing and harvesting food–domestic and wild–devoting time and energy to good relationships with family and friends (who, after all, are the ultimate safety net), and building relationships and strong networks of support in my community, to ensure that we all survive together.
Resiliency means having a wide range of skills and resources available, and the flexibility and creativity to adapt. No one can have all the skills and resources necessary for a fulfilling life (plain survival is something else, I guess), so we gain resiliency–and security–through networks and multiple ways to meet our needs.
All of this also makes me feel a little better about our finances. Although we could/ should be building up a reasonable cash cushion when possible, our money is going into building our resiliency in other ways. Saving for the future is good, but putting in a woodstove means one less need that requires money to meet. Storing emergency food is important, but having a garden with some reliable perennial crops, knowing our wild edibles, and being able to save seed makes a big impact in how much food we might need to store, and how varied and healthy a diet we might have should we ever have to survive off those stores. And both protect us from needing to be wealthy should food costs soar in a crisis.
So, oddly, all this reflecting on an uncertain future ended up making me feel more empowered by the choices we’ve already made, and more confident in making decisions to come.
How about you?