Thursday, December 2, 2021

How to Prepare for Scarcity and the Great Inflation

Illustration by Taliesin River

"You’d better prepare for the greatest inflationary wave in human history." That's the line that stuck out to me, near the end of umair haque's REALLY good article, "Why Everything is Suddenly Getting More Expensive -- And Why It Won't Stop". If you haven't read this article yet, or aren't already familiar with the idea of the Great Inflation, and how we're now paying for the affordability of past generations, I recommend reading that article before reading this one. 

umair's article was very helpful to my understanding of why our groceries are getting so expensive or why, for example, I looked into second hand electric cars a few years ago and could find plentiful good options under 9K, and now there are none. So we know the Great Inflation is happening. My question is, how are we preparing?

Emergency kits and Go-bags are not going to cut it. Home preparedness is totally underway at my house. After this year's excruciatingly horrible wildfire season, we made plans to back up our family photos and prepared a little waterproof box for our phones, wallets and hard-drive, for when we'll inevitably have to jump in the ocean and swim. After this year's heat-wave, we bought an air conditioner that doubles as a dehumidifier for the now annual warm-and-foggy (read: in-house-moldy) season. After the deep freeze we insulated our chicken-coop. After the current flood-caused highway (and whole-town) washouts, we put emergency supplies in our car. After gas prices jumped and the flood-caused supply chain disruptions made gas rationing necessary, we looked into electric cars. I already told you how that went. 

But what's next?? We all know that none of this is enough. We can hardly predict the next climate-change-related disaster. Who knows how we should prepare? The one thing we all have to do is learn to live differently. And the change needed is so drastic we can hardly fathom it. Personally, I need lists to help me fathom. So I'm making one. In my mind it breaks down to three broad sections: things we need "much less", "none" and "more". My list is not complete or well-organised, but it helps me sort out my mind, so here goes:

We need much less of this:
Most things in this first section should actually be on the "none" list, but at the moment our culture is such that we're going to need a transitional phase. I guess that's what this is. This gives us time to learn and share some skills we've abandoned and get prepared for the time when, whether we like it or not, all these things move to the "none" section.

Travel: As fuel and steel prices rise, it's going to become impossible for most people to travel, anyway, and the many industries that depend on travel tourism will die, regardless. But on top of that, it's already becoming impossible to commute for work, to send our children to non-local schools or programs; to visit our parents. We're going to have to use our great ingenuity, as we have already proven capable of during the pandemic, to work around this.

Dependence on government: I'm not sure what makes us think that the government will just keep creating resources to fix and replace those destroyed by climate change, but I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that right now our government and military are pretty taxed just dealing with the constant march of disasters. At some point that's going to break. There won't always be soldiers available to build dikes and put out fires. We might as well get used to that, and expect to do the work, ourselves. Yes we can.

Clothing: I have such a clothing addiction! I think I buy very few things--just a garment or four a year for each person in my household. And recently I try to buy sustainably. But I also still own, alter and wear many clothes from my teens, and every decade between then and now. I probably have about ten times as many clothes as I actually need, and it's not like giving them away would be any more sustainable. Some parts of the world are drowning in our "donations" (take time to watch that if you, like me, still thought donating clothes was helpful). The only actual solution to this is to stop buying, entirely. I know I have enough clothing to last the rest of my life, if I do more mending. And I could clothe the rest of my family, too.

Non-local food and industrial agriculture: We know that industrial agriculture, along with fossil-fuel driven production and transportation, is a disaster for our future. Thousands of chickens and cows just drowned in my province when the artificially-drained land they lived on flooded, because of climate change. Our flimsy, human-made systems are going to crash so hard they can't recover. We might as well accept that now, and start something new so we're ready when they're gone. There are many viable solutions for this problem, and they begin with all of us eating more simply. 

Imported food: We can do this now. My family is Dutch, and we LOVE our imported cheese. My family is also Mexican, and we--wait! We already figured out how to make our own tortillas from local corn! This isn't going to be as hard as I thought. This isn't as big a deal, perhaps, as how our food is produced, but it's one way we can make a difference to our impact, and become more engaged in local food production.

Fossil fuels. Resource Extraction. ALL. THE. WASTE: We're already making some progress with this. As we limit our needless use of office buildings for computer terminal work than can be done online, we will need less concrete and steel. As we commute and travel less, we'll need fewer highways and less fuel. As we drive less, fewer cars. And on it goes. The stuff that supported our wasteful consumerist existence will no longer be needed, and we can stop pillaging and burning our earth's resources.

We need none of this:
We already know these things are destroying us, and we can eliminate them, now. Yes, there will be devastating job losses, and huge shifts needed in our culture and thought patterns. We'll have to get very creative. But you know how when a close family member dies we're devastated and we don't know how we'll ever recover? But then we do, and we grow. And we end up somewhere new we never could have imagined before the loss. This will be the same.

Tourism: Yep. That's probably the end of the travel industry. Airlines. Cruising. Little plastic souvenirs and the trusted income source of so many communities, including mine. We'll find other ways to enjoy our world, along with other ways of supporting our communities.

Careers that depend on global travel: So much of our current air-travel is related to needless work-travel. It's the end of my career as an artist who exhibits in Amsterdam. A few years ago I might have said, "at least I got to do it once..." Now I'm kind of embarrassed I didn't make this realization before that. Lucky for us, technology has brought the world to our handheld devices. We can make the most of this.

Needless consumption, supporting mega corporations, escapism: I, like most of us, grew up in an age where Christmas was actually about presents; about light shows in shopping districts and buying stuff to feel happy. I learned to satisfy my soul by shopping, by travelling; by escaping my real-world life into screens, food, shopping, and travel. Now that that world is falling apart, it's no longer satisfying to fulfill those consumption needs. For Christmas I want to be released from the "age of stuff", as my friend recently called it on Facebook. Oh yeah. Facebook. That has to go too. I'm going to have to actually go to out and talk to my community members in person. I hope I find some walking around without their phones.

So now what? Now that we've dispensed of most of the biggest industries in the world, most of the jobs, and everything we actually loved about life... how on earth are we going to survive? Well, maybe not on earth. The billionaires are already playing with spaceflight. Let them move to Mars. The rest of us will dig deeply into that "More" category, and thrive. 

We need more of this:
This is the beauty section. This is where we take all the grief and fear from the previous two sections of my list, turn it on its head, and marvel at all the joy we've found.

Local food (and other resources): The more of us go find sustainable, local producers to satisfy our needs, the more such producers there will be. It's not cheap to do this, so a huge part of it is valuing the food for what it's really worth. My partner and I decided to eat very little meat, a few years ago, and what we do eat should be sustainably produced. So in order to afford this (both ecologically and financially) we went from eating meat three or four times per week to a maximum of once a week. And we eat cheese about twice a month. I'm still looking for a really good local cheesemaker. When I find one, that cheese is going to be as expensive as it should be, but deeply, deeply appreciated. When you don't get something very often, it becomes so much more valuable. It's the scarcity principle, but this time it's working for us.

Sharing: My family has chickens, now. Sometimes we don't have enough eggs even to bake bread. Sometimes, we have enough to bake, make quiches, and share with our family. Those are happy times, when we feel rewarded by our ability to contribute. Like when my neighbour grew so many apples she asked us to come pick some. We ate so many apples that year. Sharing isn't always about food, or even objects. We make a point of learning and sharing knowledge with our neighbours, as well. Sharing isn't just necessary for the equitable use of community resources--it's necessary for our survival.

Finding sustainable ways to contribute locally: This is the joyful counterpart to the misery of losing jobs and entire industries; economical collapse that will be a natural fallout from rampant inflation. This is where we find ourselves working instead of for money, for survival. And I can tell you from my experiences supporting unschooling parents, teaching and writing for free, and raising plants and animals for food, it's the most rewarding work I've ever done.

Connecting with community and local ecology: We protect what we know and love. Those who know and love us are our resources, and will protect us. This is the foundation of a wholistic society, but it's also the root of love and joy, so... what more can I say?

Pointedly appreciating what we do have: This comes back to the scarcity principle. My family has been regularly cutting back our consumption for a few years, now. We're eating mostly rice, corn, beans and lentils, along with what we grow, ourselves, and locally-grown veggies in the winter. We really enjoy our mushrooms, now that we only get them when they decide to pop up in the garden, or when we find them growing in the wild. It's the same for our homegrown chicken, eggs and veggies. It's the same for clothes we've mended or repurposed. Now that we rarely get to see our family (because: travel), we appreciate phone calls so much more. I make a big deal in my heart of what we took for granted, before. And that leaves me feeling deep joy.


Maybe it's weird to be talking about deep joy in relation to climate change disasters and our current basic needs becoming unaffordable. But maybe we're just not seeing straight. The cost (as opposed the price) of our lifestyle has been astronomical since our parents and grandparents were children. Now we're finally paying for it, in climate change disasters and rampant inflation. That's going to hurt a lot, no matter how we slice it. But maybe some mental preparation can make the hurt more tolerable. 

Maybe, instead of dreading the fires or floods or the housing crisis, we can prepare by living more simply, by forming strong communities of people who support each other; by building and living within our means. Maybe instead of rushing to the stores to stock up when we hear there's a shortage of microchips, maple syrup, or gas, we can embrace scarcity. Those last few spoonfuls of maple syrup are extra special now; I can feel resilient by making do with older devices, and I can walk instead of driving. I can even stay home. I can change careers, if I need to. And most of us will. Maybe, instead of working ourselves to death and spending more than we earn on big homes; spending time and money we don't have on travel and products that cost us our future, we can work less, spend less, love more, and look at everything we do have as if it is a gift. Because it really is. And we're finally learning to cherish it. That cherishing--that appreciation and finding of deep joy--is how we prepare our minds for the inevitable.

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