Debating Water World—or, Why People Love A Good Worst-Case Scenario

Of all the collapse scenarios I’ve heard or read about, I’m guessing that 99% of them assume a desert world, where the soil has been monsantoed, the rivers and rain are toxic, and the ground is both fragile and radioactive. I too assume a level of desertification (hence the blog title—although, I’m really alluding to deserts of the mind and of culture, as well as deserts of the material earth), but on a planet whose surface is mostly covered by water (liquid or solid), it’s probably a huge mistake not to think about watery options.

Ray Jason, The Sea Gypsy Philosopher, is doing just that over at Nature Bats Last. I know what you might be thinking: I’ve already seen this movie; isn’t Kevin Costner in it? But this kind of water-world hypothetical is worth pondering not so much for what it has to offer to an actual strategy (i.e. how to construct floating “towns” out in the ocean), but instead for what it has to offer to the critical realization that our planet is both finite and extremely precarious. We already kind of live in towns tethered together, floating in a desolate ocean, don’t we?

Jason writes:

There are thousands of people out wandering the world’s waters in extremely self-sufficient, ocean-capable sailboats.  These vessels are the ideal survival pod should a societal meltdown occur.  They elegantly combine simplicity and appropriate technology.  Their electricity is supplied through solar panels and wind generators.  Propulsion derives mostly from the wind, but the diesel engine can be used in an emergency.  Water comes from catching rain or from reverse-osmosis water-makers.  Many months of non-perishable foods can be easily stored onboard.  And “security devices” can be hidden for use, if necessary.

While I think this kind of thinking falls into the same trap as the similar, land-locked technotopian visions do—that is, A. solar panels (and boats, for that matter) require an oil infrastructure to manufacture and an academic/technical elite to operate and maintain, and B. confinement, although initially appealing, doesn’t offer much of anything that humans need in the long-run: diversity of food, space to walk or run, shelter from ever intensifying storms, toxic groundwater, earthquakes, etc.—these kinds of scenarios can generate some thinking about hard-to-face realities. For instance, there will be much less people on earth in the future, one way or another.

I’ve been trying to determine why communities of “doomers” or “preppers” or (my favorite) “collapsatarians” love—love—to sit around, either around a campfire or at a computer, and discuss last-resort scenarios. I myself have wandered into these discussions many times (it’s safer in the long-run to stay in city centers near rivers or coasts, I contend), but they’re mostly silly. And yet, there are whole shows about building underground bunkers, there are guns that are intentionally marketed to preppers, and there are of course countless movies about life in the end-times. In short, people love to talk about hypothetical worst-case scenarios. Maybe it’s because discussing the strategies for each possible scenario is easier and way more fun than discussing the situation we’re currently in—how bad, dangerous, or boring it is, and how it’s just getting worse—and, more importantly, discussing ways we can prevent or ameliorate the crash.

“Will the crash be fast or gradual?” is a question I’ve seen discussed on forums for ages. Considering the fact that we’re in the crash already (200 species went extinct today, lest we forget), could this question simply be a distraction?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s