With my family I watched documentary images of long lines of refugees fleeing war on Walter Cronkite’s TV show “The 20th Century.” The people had grabbed whatever possessions they could and loaded them on their cars, or carts, or on their backs. I remember making lists of what I would need to take if my family had to flee: sweater, underpants, socks….
And of course there might have been a little existential fear aroused by the regular elementary school drills: file into the hallway, face the walls and cover your head with your arms. This was to protect us in case a nuclear bomb exploded in the vicinity. During the Cuban missile crisis, I discussed the likelihood of nuclear war with a fellow member of the school safety patrol. Later, walking home from junior high school, I remember wondering what it would be like if the missiles were already flying and we had been sent home one last time to die with our families.
Meanwhile, in Girl Scouts, especially at the camps I attended each summer, we learned skills like cooking over wood fires, identifying plants, tying knots and wilderness camping. (In the photo I’m emptying a wash basin at camp.) Although the Girl Scout promise and laws didn’t specifically say “Be Prepared,” the spirit of that Boy Scout motto was implicit in the skill and leadership training I experienced.
In my 9th grade civics class our teacher, Mr. Hays, drilled into us the mantra “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” He was talking about our class assignments, but he also pointed out the application of the Five P’s to life in general.
My college years and early 20’s brought the first Earth Day and introduced me to the Whole Earth Catalog. It was a source of tools and ideas, many relevant to the back-to-the-land movement, which I read about in Mother Earth News. The underlying premise seemed to be that our industrialized society had gotten off track, that our civilization’s over-consumption, pollution, war-making and inequality would lead to our collective destruction unless we changed our ways and got “back to the garden.” Made sense to me.
So I learned to garden and preserve food, found a compatible mate and birthed two sons, adopted wood stove heating, hung out laundry, and sought out friends with commonalities of orientation and lifestyle. In the early 1980’s I was involved with the Nuclear Freeze campaign, where I encountered Joanna Macy’s despair and empowerment work, and spoke at the 1982 Deerfield Town Meeting in favor of a nuclear freeze resolution. In the 1990’s I was involved in the voluntary simplicity movement, participating in or leading discussion groups, classes, film showings and a book group.
My involvement with the Earth Ministry Team at my church began then, and over the years we plugged along, promoting living in such a way as to protect and care for “creation” — the earth and its human and non-human inhabitants. With that group I jumped into Religious Witness for the Earth and 350.org events and climate change activism. One year I even got to play the part of the prophet Jeremiah – complete with sackcloth and a wooden staff – in a dramatic scripture enactment calling out society with visions of destruction if they (we) didn’t change. I personally have had visions of storm clouds gathering on the horizon, and like Shakespeare wrote in Richard III, “When clouds are seen, wise men put on their cloaks.”
At around the same time, I encountered the Transition Town movement. This organization encourages people in local communities to respond proactively to the multiple looming crises of our time (including economic instability, climate change and the end of cheap oil). Preparing and taking action are effective antidotes to fear in the face of huge and overwhelming forces, and help us feel like we have some control over our lives.
My gut conviction about the likelihood of societal collapse in my lifetime has led me to undertake what I call “preparation.” This extends into many areas, from what I do with my money to how I spend my time. It also leads to my support of collective action.
Occasionally, I question my belief in collapse and I wonder if I can trust my thinking and gut feelings in this area. Few of my friends, family or acquaintances share my preoccupation. Phalanxes of experts cite facts and figures in confident arguments that this isn’t going to happen. I sometimes wonder if the emotional power of my belief in the likelihood of societal collapse is a psychological projection of my fear of aging, illness and death. What is the truth? Where are we heading? What, if anything, can we do about it?
In future posts I will share resources that shape my thinking, what my “preparation” as an individual looks like, and examples of groups that are responding with action for the common good.
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