People say: “You have to have practical policies, it’s no use dreaming.” Here goes.
First, forget about a functioning “modern” society where everything is on tap 24 x 7. You saw how New York functioned during Sandy. Life will become a pattern of emergency and recovery. It might be huge storms, or three weeks of impenetrable snow, or an epidemic sweeping across the country, a week of riots in the cities, several days without power … these things will break up the comfortable routine of our lives today, and throw us, exhaustingly, into survival mode again and again.
We will get used to that. Survival will become the norm and the hope that keeps us going will not be retirement in the sun but just a few moments of still. There will be centuries where the weather, not man, has dominion over the planet.
The first policy is to talk about this. Don’t pretend it’s not going to happen. Talk about it and prepare us, without panic. By getting the words out there and changing what you talk about, you start to make a big difference.
Second, to make our wellbeing your priority, forget about economic growth. Expunge it from your minds. Focus on resilience. The economy will follow. When we have to re-sow the wheat crop because a hailstorm destroyed the first sowing, we won’t care about 2% or 3% economic growth. We will just care about getting hold of more seeds.
So the second policy is to stop talking about economic growth. Let it drop. Just talk about resilience and getting ready.
Third, to survive we will need a whole range of new skills. The principle of comparative advantage, which you have zealously promoted, is of no benefit when physical and virtual networks are constantly disrupted. A man specialised in the drafting of representations and warranties and unable to mend a shoe will end up in an unmarked grave when his foot-sores pick up something bad or he catches pneumonia. They might not even have the time to bury him properly.
We should look to the people of rural Transylvania (in Romania, in the EU). They are perhaps the closest to us who still hold onto skills and lifestyles which are compatible with the long years of disruption ahead of us and described in James Howard Kunstler’s book The Long Emergency. A friend who lives a village north of Cluj-Napoca spends the summer building houses, working his land and looking after the sheep; during the winter, when there is less to do on the farm, he makes hand-made boots. And throughout the year he plays the violin at concerts, weddings and celebrations. He will take the Long Emergency in his stride.
So the third policy is to get children and adults to learn these skills: gardening, cooking, making preserves, making clothes and shoes, practical first aid and medical care, making medicines from plants, maintenance and repairing of tools, woodwork, metal work, building, practical engineering, playing musical instruments. Pretty boring for sophisticated urbanites but they will have to knuckle down.
If we are lucky, we won’t need to use all these skills –with buckets and hand-pumps and sandbags we will just about keep open the channels of comparative advantage. But we need to be ready for when those systems break down.