by Pauline Schneider
When I recently learned that Dr Guy McPherson had chosen not to have children due to ecological Apocalypse and human-population overshoot, I completely understood. Regardless that his offspring would have been exceptional human beings that the world might have benefited from, he spared his potential children the terrors that mine may face all too soon, and he did so deliberately with unselfish compassion and personal sacrifice. I really get it, and it’s where the majority of my grief lies. The Greek word Apocalypse means to reveal or revelation, and there have been numerous scientific climate revelations over the past three decades that few have paid much attention to, maybe only 10% of us have noticed. We are now on the brink of the newest revelation from last week, which was the Apocalyptic revelation that our Earth had reached 400 ppm CO2 levels. I shivered with terror when I heard that and wondered how many others shivered as well. Apparently, not enough because it was business as usual around the world.
I am the mother of three: two adult aged, 26 and 24 years old and a teenager of 16 years, which gives me special credentials and skills in the world of GenYers and Gen Xers. I know about Halo 3 and the fantastic world of World of Warcraft and can even quote the line from Southpark “This could mean the end of the world of The World of Warcraft” from a spoof episode mocking people who have no lives and play WoW 24/7. On rainy days, I’m guilty as charged.
Lest you be fooled by my MA in Education or BA in Anthropology and Sociology, these video game skills are skills to be admired and ones my kids appreciate even more than my abilities to grow food in the garden, plant a fruit tree without killing it, and wax poetic on the fraud of Paul Revere whose ride was no midnight ride, nor frantic, but a relaxed stroll that included a beer stop. Compare his ride to Sybil Ludington’s ride, a 16-year-old girl who rode through sheets of rain on narrow unpaved roads in the middle of the night, through the Putnam Valley of NY to muster a regiment to Fredricksburg and gets a mere footnote in the school books, but at least a fabulously crafted statue in the town of Carmel, New York. Now she was the real deal, and Revere would be jealous and maybe turned on a bit. But I digress, and my kids eyes would be rolling back in their heads by now, though I will come back to the theme of Sybil sounding the alarm …
Growing up I was not ever planning on being a mother, I’d already played mom to my three younger siblings and to every child I had babysat since I was 11 years old; yes we started working young back in the olden days. I was going to be a successful career woman, though at what I had no clue, and children had no place in that fantasy career world.
Fast forward to falling in love and getting knocked up at 22, then married to the handsome father and becoming the proud mama of a boy by 23. When he was 18 months we decided he needed a sibling and instantly produced his sister. And we were done. We had responsibly replicated ourselves and not added extra human carrying weight to the Earth and we were feeling mighty proud of ourselves. Being ecologically conscious of the resource depletion humans were conducting on our planet, and of the serious implications of climate change, economic collapse and environmental pollution, we tried to walk gently on the Earth and then eight years after our daughter we were faced with a third person to care for and worry about and to love until our last breaths.
Just a few years before our third child came into this world we had been talking to a close friend who was a filmmaker and whose brother was a climate scientist measuring temps over the arctic and taking core samples. At one dinner we sat around and discussed the current state of the planet and global warming and our friend revealed to us that his brother’s conclusion was that we had a mere 20 years left on this planet. We shook our heads in amazement, not daring to believe this, but certain that, since it came from so reliable a source, that it must be true. We weren’t properly terrified enough, but I was concerned enough to want to learn as much as possible about growing food, storing water, becoming resilient and reducing my carbon footprint. I was a mere drop in the bucket and my husband, smart and compassionate though he was, reassured me that none of my efforts would be enough to ward off the hordes of starving that would for sure ultimately come through and devour us and our children. I wasn’t buying his nihilistic complacency. I was a warrior, and a granddaughter of warriors and survivors of multiple wars, famines, diseases, etc. This story would end the way I wanted it to end, not the way hordes of zombies wanted. My children and I were not going to be the main course for anyone, at least not if I could help it.
So I wrestled with all that information, learned as much as I could, collected books on plants, Permaculture, mini farming, raising livestock, making clothing, wilderness medicine, the whole shebang. I have a fantastic survivalist library complete with numerous tomes on Anthropology and History. Because those who fail to know their history are doomed to repeat it. And if we make it through this Apocalypse, I’m making sure no great-great-great-grand kid of mine is melting the Earth down again ….
And then the marriage ended and I left my seven acres off the beaten path with a stream running through its woods and a sweet smelling swamp with an old oak growing out of it. “Sigh.”
I moved to a walking village nearby on a third of an acre filled with poison ivy and pachysandra. It took me nearly seven years to restore the soil, replace most of the lawn with fruit trees and berry bushes, perennial vegetables, edible and medicinal flowers, and install a very noble and practical wood burning stove that has already served us twice when the power went down. It goes down regularly now. When I moved to the neighborhood I was informed it had never gone down in 40 years but a couple times in recent times. … Ah, yes, that’s because the grid is aging and the storms are getting worse, but I decided not to alert my neighbor yet. She’d find out soon enough for herself.
I transformed my little bungalow into a cozy, beautiful and “sustainable” home, replacing oil heat with Natural Gas and on demand, tankless water heater. I stripped layers of paint from wood molding with SoyGel stripper, a safe, natural and REALLY effective paint stripper that doesn’t burn skin and isn’t made by an evil chemical company. I Venetian Plastered two rooms in the hope that it would insulate them better; it didn’t do much but it looks great! With the help of my new sweetheart and partner, I insulated the attic and installed a solar power attic fan to keep air circulating up there. We gutted and tore out the inefficient, power gulping kitchen appliances and replaced them with Energy Star rated appliances and granite countertop, FSC harvested cherry cabinets and Kona wood flooring. And when I was mostly done with this project I finally realized my life’s dream, which was to have chickens. So last summer I bought a chicken tractor and four young chickens from a local family that provides them and I felt complete. I was growing food, I was walking lightly on the land and I had invested in four birds that would provide me with one of the most nutrient dense foods around, sans all the pesticides, antibiotics and stress hormones. This was my organic paradise.
Then my world began to slowly collapse. I wasn’t too surprised, since I was preparing for global collapse anyway, but it was not what I’d expected. Is it ever? It started with a neighbor who complained about my chickens, blaming neighborhood rats on the four girls. The rats had arrived en masse due to an unusually warm and dry winter and spring (gratis climate change) and they found the neighborhood veggie gardens extremely nutritious. I was instantly visited by the town Code enforcer, who curtly told me that no chickens were allowed in my 1/4-acre zoning. I was shocked since I had believed chickens were allowed in my town. Well, they were allowed, just not if someone complains (under the radar is okay) and only officially in 1/2-acre zoning which was, ironically, just across the street from me. I was so close to victory, yet so far. I decided to buy some time and apply for a zoning variance. I figured if people can apply for a variance to build a garage, I could do so for four chickens. Apparently my surrounding neighbors disagreed and had not received the climate collapse memo being sent around the globe … I’m not sure how they missed it even after living through power destroying hurricanes or random storms each year since I moved there. After several months battling the neighbors, the law, reading vilifying letters sent to the board, being grateful for the handful of neighbors that were deeply supportive but did not live in my immediate neighborhood, the day of trial came. I’d crafted a document of such impressive proportions, and with citations that would impress the strictest of PhD professors (Prof McP?) that the board actually complimented my work and wished they could offer me the variance, but they assured me I would not win and gave me the opportunity to withdraw the variance so I would not have to be denied it. Ultimately, I lost my four hens who were laying the most wonderful and delicious eggs I’d eaten since being a child in Greece (a good friend in the next town is babysitting them). The American Culture of stupidity and injustice had bested a free & honest spirit and won again. Freedom isn’t free. Yay Rules!
Which leads me to this past week when I first met Dr. McPherson and first heard his Dr. Doom presentation, alerting us of a much sooner-than-anticipated climate collapse in the next decade, if not sooner. And then I remembered my filmmaker friend telling me what his climate scientist brother told him all those years ago; all those 20 years ago …. Time flies when you’re sort of not paying attention and busy raising kids, getting divorced, fighting for four chickens, etc. … I filmed Dr. McPherson at the Age of Limits and, with apologies for the unfocused result, video is embedded below.
I came to this realization: When your neighbors and town work together to deny you and your children a safe and mostly free source of highly nutritious food, compost and fertilizer, you know they are your enemy. When the leadership of the richest and most powerful nation works to deny you and your children the right to safe food and water, and non-toxic energy (nuclear and hydrofracked gas are toxic, for your information), you know they are your enemy. When the lamestream media refuse to tell the truth for decades and instead promulgate the same rubbish week after week, you know they are your enemy. When schools and colleges keep churning out students who have not learned the connected nature of all things or even taken a single course in Logic, you know these institutions are your enemy.
I could go on but time is running out and there is little left to stand and fight for. Certainly not for the neighbors.
People are now talking about the impending collapse, however, I have a news flash!
Here she comes, this brave news flash, on her horse named Star and riding furiously through a downpour of climate change and on a collapsing infrastructure that was once a road or a highway or a bridge, the wind of pestilence in her hair, and in her hand she carries a flickering torch of hope to guide her to you and give you and your families the message that fills her heart and mind with pain and grief and torment, and that she will never be able to run away from again, and this is it: Take your children and flee! The collapse is upon us!
Quite literally, what’s a mother to do? Grab the kids and run for the proverbial hills! And if you’re lucky, Dr Guy McPherson may end up as your kids’ teacher in those hills. But only if you’re really, damn lucky.
Pauline Panagiotou Schneider was born in Nigeria and grew up in Athens, Greece. She is a lifelong gardener and naturalist, as well as an artist, educator, song writer and lifelong student of anthropology. She has been an active core member the past three years with Transition Westchester, promoting the Transition Town movement in the hope of a softer landing for communities as systems collapse.
Pauline has two adult and one teenage human children and many four-legged children.
Gail, who writes at Wit’s End, attended the Age of Limits conference in southeastern Pennsylvania. The video embedded above was shot at the conference, and Gail’s witty, informative, photograph-filled assessment of the conference is posted here.
McPherson’s latest essay for the Good Men Project was published 1 June 2013. It’s here.