A few weeks ago, we had a power cut early in the morning. I was just waking up, still in bed. I realised the security floodlight was off outside. Since we moved in, it has been on all night every night. The first night I hated it — what feels like one million lumens lighting up the path and the woods behind our house, and of course, because of its placement on the gable wall, also our bedroom. Every single night, from sundown to just past sunrise. But I got used to it quickly and felt somehow safer because of it. Now, it was oddly dark.
I heard the pipes hissing as the radiators began to cool, and I realised that our beloved gas central heating system was also out. With an electronic timer, no power also means no heating and no hot water — what a lesson.
And, of course, the Wi-Fi was out as well. Because we live in the middle of nowhere, I don’t get phone signal in the house. The nearest 3G coverage is on the lochside, a quarter of a kilometre away. So in a single moment, we lost power, heat, internet, and phones. In the depths of winter, half a kilometre down a private track, we were also snowed in. In lockdown, we hadn’t had any reason to dig out the van from the drive since the last snowfall — there was nowhere to go. Even if there was, we wouldn’t be making a dash for civilisation today.
But we were ok.
Thankfully, the camper van has a gas cooker and a solar panel connected to a limited circuit. So at lunchtime we decamped to the van outside, cooked some hot food, and, importantly, our camp stove meant at no point did we go without coffee. All was manageable.
But just after lunch, our water went off too. On a private water supply with an electric pump, it was only a matter of time before that would happen. And when the water went off, I lost it. I hate being vulnerable. In the last crisis — the Great TP Shortage — I installed a bidet hose within days. I do not tolerate being stuck, helpless, exposed.
Ever since that power cut, I’ve thought long and hard about how I can protect myself in the future. A generator? A solar panel installed for the borehole pump? We live in a rented house, so our options are limited. Still, I lie awake at night thinking about it. Strategising. Planning. A friend listened to my woes and recommended some reading — Four Futures, in which the author Peter Frase speculates about four different scenarios in a post-capitalism world. The narratives play with political and class power, resource depletion, and ecological destruction. It highlights our vulnerability in our reliance on machines, and power. After that short day without electricity, the predictions felt a lot closer to home.
So when Texas got snowed in, I really fucking sympathised. Frozen and bursting pipes disrupted water supply for roughly half the state’s population. Millions were left without power. People dying in their vehicles, and from carbon monoxide poisoning from running generators in their homes, trying to stay warm. The winter storm destroyed farmland and crops. It was a disaster.
Full disclosure: climate anxiety is real.
What started out with mild disapproval and boycotts of big oil giants or supermarkets for not bearing more responsibility — while I continued driving my hydrocarbon powered car and bought cheap food — is now full blown fear that our entire civilisation is at risk from plague, or pestilence, or bee populations collapsing. My survival garden is more like an anxiety garden — less an attempt to live off the land, and more just a desperate plea with nature to acknowledge my efforts.
And for whatever reasons, I just assumed that the consequence of climate change would either be that we all live, or we all die. But it’s only just beginning to dawn on me that in fact this isn’t the case — we are most definitely not all in this together. Some will simply buy their way out of this mess, while the rest of us fight it out.
It’s already happening.
Ted Cruz escaping to Cancun for a brief family holiday, leaving his fellow Texans to tough out that brutal winter storm, is my case in point. It’s not even each man for himself. It’s the lucky few, the wealthy few, the privileged and protected few out for themselves and each other.
I keep thinking back to the Exterminism chapter of Four Futures, where the super-rich have retreated into fortresses to protect themselves. Check.
Another concept in the book is that automation brings forth a need for depopulation. It sounds frightful, but when you think about it, it is maybe not dissimilar to what is happening right now. Herd immunity, anyone?
During this pandemic, not only have politicians and the wealthy few sheltered themselves from the impacts of Covid, they’ve even profited from it. In the early days of the pandemic, as The New York Times reported, the UK government awarded contracts to the tune of $22 billion, half of which went to companies “either run by friends and associates of politicians in the Conservative Party, or with no prior experience or a history of controversy.” In the US two Senators traded stocks after receiving private briefings about Coronavirus.
All this, while we, the plebs, were ordered to stay at home, save lives, and importantly, follow the rules. But some considered themselves far above the rules. Let us never forget the Dominic Cummings affair. And when the double whammy of Covid-19 and climate change materialised, Ted Cruz couldn’t get away quick enough. Our wealthy overlords will not hesitate to screw us over to save themselves and their bottom line. So I condemn Ted Cruz, yes. I see him, reneging on his duties, abusing his position of authority.
But who am I to judge? Because three years ago, I fled, too. I made a decision that I no longer wanted to live in a city. I wanted freedom to live wherever I wanted, wherever the risk to my standard of living was as low as the price of a fresh mango. So I made a break for it. I put my needs first. My social media feed is full of people doing the same thing right now. Flying off to paradise. Seeing out the storm on a nice faraway beach.
What made me come back when I did? What made my moral compass kick back in? Other than the need to see Scotland through to independence, naturally. But what else? Solidarity? Common good? Guilt? Whatever it was, I feel better about at least being in my own home country to see out the storm and not leeching off another system under the guise of digital nomad lifestyle. This is a landscape I know and understand. This is a climate I am accustomed to, even if it is highly variable and I have no idea how to take care of my plants. It’s a land of people and accents that are familiar and comforting, even if, during lockdown, I don’t get to hear it that often. Is it just nostalgia? Nationalism? Or self preservation, coming home to what I know so that I can prepare for post-lockdown, post-capitalist life?
This week I started watching Tribes of Europa on Netflix. Set in 2074, post apocalypse Europe. One tribe has opted out of technology and retreated to survive in the mountains. Other tribes are unbearably cruel. So far, so cliched. But this is what we think of when we imagine a Post Apocalyptic Time. Think Hunger Games.
I also watched Greenland, a near future sci-fi film on Netflix a few weeks ago. A select few families chosen to take refuge in a place of safety, while everyone else is left to fend for themselves / die “in the face of a cataclysmic natural disaster.”
I can’t help feeling we are already living this. Right now.
Could this be the apocalypse sneaking up on us and taking us by stealth?
I mean, sure, after the winter storms, the power cuts, the meltwater floods… I’m hardly suffering here — these are Global North problems. Texas got hit hard, yes. It’s painful, but we are finding ways to cope, give or take. Other regions have been feeling it for much, much longer. But now it is happening to us. Have we noticed though? Because we keep talking about getting back to normal, and my fear is that normal has gone for good.
I always thought we would know when the Apocalypse had happened. It’s absolutely a case of that immortal meme, Apocalypse Outfit: Expectations versus Reality.
The thing about this climate crisis is that it isn’t a question of IF we survive. It’s much more insidious, much darker, more subtle. It’s a question of who will survive.
I do not want to be responsible for choosing. But I can’t help feeling that the powers have already made the decision. And this is it, playing out right now.
In the end, my power was restored in about 6 hours. Texas is getting back on its feet again, even opening the doors. Things return to normal pretty quickly. Normality is on the horizon after nearly one year since the global pandemic was announced. Is that really what we want though? Is normal ideal, or even real anymore?
Meanwhile, what keeps me up at night now is should I invest more time and energy in my survival garden? Or do I get a new sofa?