What YOU Can Do

(Suggested soundtrack for this article: Everybody Knows by Leonard Cohen)

Here’s What YOU Can Do to Stop Collapse:

Nothing. Seriously. Not a goddamn thing.

I’m not trying to be a dick by saying this so bluntly, but there is absolutely nothing you, or I, or anyone else can do to stop the collapse of civilization at this point. The damage has been done — and continues to be done every second of every day — and we don’t have the time, money, political leadership or even the collective will to alter the course of industrial society. It is going to crash, hard, well before the end of the century.

Civilization is like a train that has already jumped the tracks and fallen over a cliff. Even though the train is still in the air right now, no one can change its trajectory through lobbying or activism or prayer or grassroots democracy or recycling or installing solar panels and wind turbines. The course is set by the laws of physics, and it’s only a matter of time until gravity catches up.

Here’s a clip from Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom that sums up the situation pretty well:

What You Can Do In The Meantime

With all that being said, most people still have some time to fill before the consequences of our actions finally catch up. In the absence of a fast-collapse trigger like a major solar flare, pandemic, global financial breakdown or nuclear war, people in wealthy countries could potentially have another decade or so of accelerating decline before things get completely dystopian (as they already have in Venezuela, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, most of Africa, etc…)

Depending on your personality and predispositions, there are several possible paths to take as the process of collapse unfolds. None of them are objectively any better or worse than the others, practically speaking, so feel free to do whatever seems most appealing to you.

Eco-Sainthood

A saintly-looking man in green robes asks for change.
Trying to feel better about decades of consumption and apathy? Try becoming an eco-saint for a while. Perks include an inflated sense of self-importance, multi-hour consensus meetings where nothing is ever decided, and all the fucking quinoa you can eat.

For many people, finding out about the impending collapse generates a flurry of activity and emotion as they enter the stages of grief and begin looking for any conceivable solution to the problems we’re facing. This path includes idealistic projects like ecovillages, transition towns and environmental activism in general, all of which primarily attract upper-middle-class types with enough free time and money on their hands to worry about niceties like social justice and a livable planet. Unfortunately, most of the impoverished people who could benefit most from these efforts don’t have the time, money or opportunity to actually participate.

I list this option first because many well-intentioned and intelligent people are drawn to the idea of trying to change the world and convince people to live more sustainably, but some of them remain in this state indefinitely, bouncing from one band-aid project to another as they drive themselves crazy trying to figure out how to fix global, systemic problems that ultimately don’t have practical solutions.

Pros and Cons: People who choose this approach get to feel self-satisfied, enlightened and superior to the masses of blindly-consuming sheeple, but they have to be prepared for constant frustration and disappointment since they will be relying heavily on other people to work together, listen to reason and act responsibly. In my experience, humans are terrible at all of those things, and the vast majority of these projects inevitably crash and burn due to a combination of personality conflicts, exhaustion, mismanagement and active interference from government authorities.

Before embarking (or continuing) down the path of eco-sainthood, consider the fact that nothing any of us does can actually “save the world” at this point. Most of the people in the world do not want to be saved, and even if everyone woke up tomorrow willing to set aside self-interest and work together for a change, the climate has already been destabilized past the point of recovery. According to data compiled by Skeptical Science, human activity releases four Hiroshima bombs worth of heat energy every second into the atmosphere and oceans, the equivalent of more than 2,600,000,000 (two billion, six hundred million) atomic bombs just since 1998.

There is absolutely no way to pull all of that energy back out of the system, and it has already triggered multiple feedback loops that will accelerate the process no matter what humans do now. Accepting the fact that there is no way out of this situation is the main hurdle we all face on the journey toward acceptance. The sooner you internalize that knowledge and stop wearing yourself out rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, the sooner you can move on with your life and have some fun while there’s still fun to be had.

Prepping and Survival

A digitally modified version of Grant Wood's painting "American Gothic" featuring people in gas masks.
Prepping isn’t just for tinfoil-hat types any more. Stocking up on food, water and other supplies makes sense no matter where you live, and it might save your life in an emergency. Just don’t get in the habit of wasting all your money on the latest techno-gadgets. Focus on building useful skills instead, and try to find some like-minded people willing to work together. (Keeping in mind that lots of people are useless assholes who will want to work together as long as you are doing most of the work.)

Another common response to finding out that collapse is inevitable is to begin collecting supplies and developing survival skills. Once considered the domain of right-wing militias and tinfoil-hat types, prepping has become much more mainstream in recent years and includes everything from storing a few weeks worth of food and water to building self-sufficient survival bunkers in old missile silos.

Countless websites dedicated to prepping and survival have proliferated on the internet, so I won’t go into extensive detail here regarding what to buy or which skills to learn. The main thing to keep in mind if you decide to become a prepper is that knowledge and hands-on experience are far more valuable than high-tech gadgets and dehydrated food. If you’re determined to try to survive the collapse of society, focus on developing skills that will make you valuable to a community of like-minded people rather than attempting to hole up by yourself with a mountain of rice and beans.

Pros and Cons: One of the major points in favor of basic prepping is that nowhere on Earth is entirely safe from natural disasters. Even if the collapse takes decades to play out entirely, there are plenty of lesser emergencies that can easily disrupt food and water supplies for days or weeks. Governments are notoriously slow and inefficient when trying to respond to large-scale disasters like hurricanes, floods and wildfires, so you should never bet your life on outside assistance if you can avoid it.

Basic necessities include water storage and filtration, easily-prepared food that doesn’t require refrigeration, fuel for cooking and heating, portable light sources, and sanitation supplies to reduce the risk of disease. Here’s a list of emergency kit supplies recommended by Ready.gov, and there are lots more resources listed on our Links and Sources page for those who want to dive more deeply into prepping.

There is virtually no downside to having some supplies stored in case of emergencies, just don’t fall into the habit of buying every new gadget and survival product on the market. Choose purchases carefully and look for bulk foods that your family can eat as part of the normal meal cycle. This makes rotating supplies as simple as pulling down the older goods to use before they expire and replacing them with fresh stuff every few months or years.

Nihilism and/or Hedonism

A still frame from the show "Futurama" depicts a robot eating grapes and exclaiming, "I apologize for nothing!"
This is Hedonism Bot from Matt Groening’s show Futurama. (If you haven’t seen the series yet, it’s a great place to start your journey into self-pleasure and decadence. Bonus points for watching while slathering yourself in chocolate sauce.)

No amount of self-denial or asceticism will make the slightest bit of difference in the end, and you can be damn sure that there are plenty of other people who would be more than happy to use up whatever resources you might have managed to save through a lifetime of responsibility and self-denial. With that in mind, if you happen to be lucky enough to live somewhere that isn’t already collapsing, there’s no reason not to go ahead and do all the fun things you might want to do.

Eager to see the wonders of the world before they’re buried in garbage? Book a flight and burn that jet fuel. Hungry for red meat and exotic fruits? Better buy that shit while you can still afford it. Have some money saved for retirement? Spend it now on something you’ve always wanted (or wanted to do), because all those imaginary numbers can evaporate in the blink of an eye.

Life is short and getting shorter every day. Don’t waste your time worrying about the future or fretting about what other people think of you. The universe seems to be made up of roughly equal parts creation and destruction, so embrace your dark side and don’t be afraid to get fucking weird with it. There won’t be anyone around to judge you before long anyway.

Pros and Cons: Reveling in nihilism and hedonism can be quite liberating and enjoyable, but it carries a high risk of alienating people who haven’t yet accepted the inevitability of collapse. People who are making personal sacrifices to try to fix the world tend to get very angry when confronted with the futility of their actions, and talking to someone who no longer even pretends to care can be especially maddening for them. If you begin going down this path, you’ll probably want to keep it to yourself for the most part. Practice smiling and nodding when others talk about the urgent efforts needed to avert catastrophe, then go ahead and do whatever you feel like doing anyway.

I imagine that some readers will be pissed off by this suggestion, but it’s pretty much exactly what most people are already doing. If there were even a tiny chance that living like a hunter gatherer would solve our global problems I would be the first person to sign up, but it has become completely obvious that lifestyle changes are far too little, far too late. Since it appears that the only point or purpose of existence is to experience all that life has to offer, that’s basically what I’m encouraging people to do. If that offends you, then you have my sympathy because its going to be a rough few decades for anyone holding on to false hopes.

Further Reading

People new to the concept of collapse (and those just looking for a laugh) should check out Collapse 101 for a quick rundown of the basic factors invovled.

Want to explore other responses to collapse? Check out our articles on Coping Mechanisms and the Stages of Grief.

Those who would like more supporting evidence and analysis from actual scientists can get started with our Links and Sources page.