A Planned Collapse. WTF?

Planning: ‘the process of identifying actions required to achieve an outcome’

Collapse: ‘to suddenly fail, to stop existing’

‘Planning’ and ‘collapse’ are not normally two words that would work together. In these unprecedented times, we explain not only how they do work together but how, in combination, they redefine the parameters of political struggle and activism, and how people can begin work for a planned collapse.

Developed during a period of history marked by the ideal of progress, planning now faces a crisis. We have been in overshoot for 50 years. Driven largely by wealthy nations, we are using and consuming more, through extraction, production, land clearing and industrial agriculture, than the planet can replenish each year. At the same time, we are emitting, wasting, and polluting more than the planet can effectively process. Overshoot thereby diminishes the productive capacity, and the carrying capacity, of our biosphere.

Earth’s climate and ecological systems are collapsing, and as they go, so too, inevitably, does global modern techno-industrial civilization. While some might proclaim this inevitability, ‘good news’, the reality is that life on earth will not benefit from this eventuality.

Global modern techno-industrial civilisation is dependent on fossil fuels, enabling eight billion people to inhabit the earth. If fossil fuel use stops, there is no viable, alternative way of feeding so many. Perversely, atmospheric pollution from fossil fuel use also protects us from some global warming. Removing these pollutants would result in a rise in global temperature. We collapse if we continue using fossil fuels. We collapse if we don’t.

Understanding the inevitability of collapse demands that instead of planning on the up, we must learn to plan on the down.

Planning rules and regulations are, for many people, their only experience of planning. Planning is also about setting agendas and identifying actions to meet these agendas. Industrialization and market-based economies do not, intuitively, create habitable places. Despite the ‘invisible hand of the market,’ over one billion people live in slums or informal settlements, while others are homeless and seeking refuge. Production and consumption not only can cause harm to immediate environments but can also export negative impacts to other places. In response to the uninhabitable places created by global industrial civilisation, modern western planning sets agendas for developing places that are more liveable, sustainable, and/or profitable.

Insurgent planning is a form of planning that occurs when governments break the social contract and fail to act in the public good. Developed by activists and academics, particularly in the Global South, insurgent planning turns modern western planning on its head. Typically, professional planners identify and set agendas on behalf of government. Conversely, insurgent planning does not rely on governments for decision-making and action. Instead, communities and citizens exert and extend power by setting their own agendas and implementing their own actions. They do not wait for elected representatives, or other powerbrokers, to act on their behalf. They act outside of formal processes and structures to achieve more equitable outcomes. By nature, insurgent planning is not sanctioned by government.

For example, in South Africa, the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign resisted forced eviction of informal communities along a highway that linked Cape Town’s international airport to the city. Comprised of residents and organisers from poor townships, this Campaign demanded rights to shelter and basic services. Actions included,

‘…informal negotiations with the agents of forced eviction to ignore or postpone its implementation, …capacity building and creating their own data about the plight of evicted or threatened families, …operating weekly soup kitchens to feed children, …defiant collective actions such as reconnection of disconnected services by so-called ‘struggle plumbers and electricians’ and relocation of evicted families back into their housing units, …mass mobilizations and protests, sit-ins, and land invasions – as well as the use of courts and legal claims’ (Miraftab, 2009).

Climate action and environmentalism tend to be based on a gross misconception – that government is, invariably, the central decision-maker. Because of this, green agendas have evolved to align with the agendas of government, namely by adopting an ‘infinite growth on a finite planet’ mentality – be this ‘green’ growth or ‘sustainable’ growth. As collapse does not ‘fit’ within a growth paradigm, collapse is not – cannot – be part of these agendas. Insurgent planning, however, can accommodate collapse because communities and citizens set their own agendas and act irrespective of government and other established power structures.

Through insurgent planning, governments still have a role to play, but this role is defined by the agenda of insurgent communities and citizens, not the other way round. Communities, for example, may be able to locally plan and act for food security. Larger scale issues, however, will likely need to be acted on by government, such as the decommissioning of nuclear power plants – these pose a toxic risk following societal collapse and decommissioning requires significant technical expertise and resources.

By failing to act decisively on the climate/ecological crisis, governments and other powerbrokers, have violated the social contract. This means, as part of an insurgent planning agenda, they can also be held to account for their inaction.

Setting an insurgent agenda can take some time. It starts with a community or group working to establish a shared vision, goals and objectives, as part of a strategic plan. The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, for example, shared a vision of access for all to shelter and basic services. To meet these shared objectives, actions are then identified. In Cape Town, this included disruptive actions, as well as utilising existing structures such as the legal system.

As collapse unfolds, plans and actions will need to adapt and change. The reality is that what makes sense today may not make sense in the future. Importantly, insurgent planning within collapse comes with a sober appreciation that, in the end, there will be no ‘win’. After 50 years of overshoot, no amount of human agency can turn collapse around, and we can only do what we can do. In understanding that although death will surely come for us all, today is not that day, and there is plenty yet to fight for on the way down.

11 thoughts on “A Planned Collapse. WTF?

  1. There is no scientific evidence that the earth’s climates are collapsing. This issue is a huge weakness in your argument. Best, Ross

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  2. Nice to see this level of honesty and reality acceptance being published, anywhere. When people call me a “doomer” I tell them that life on Earth will survive in some forms (microorganisms, mostly?), but what is certainly doomed (and very soon) are all of the unsustainable human social constructs. The possible exceptions to that could be remote, isolated, eco-centric, mostly Indigenous, or “Earth First” type small cooperative communities. I’ve been telling people since 2014 to stop barking up the wrong tree of appealing to and trying to work through the existing human social, political and economic structures to create the needed radical change in human behavior and social organization. Here are links to a couple of my essays on the types of insurgency that I recommend, most recent first. https://learningearthways.net/2021/12/13/paths-forward-in-defense-of-utopian-creativity/
    https://learningearthways.net/2016/01/01/the-problem-with-money-2/

    I would be very interested to hear your thoughts regarding these insurgent, Earth-led, eco-centric proposals.

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    1. Your article on paths forward resonates strongly. We’re founding an eco-community that fairly well fits the description you provide. The main challenge at the moment is finding enough likeminded people to join and form the core group of cofounders that will help ensure our success.

      Our project is in Panama: http://8thLifePanama.org

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      1. Hi Rebecca. Thanks for sharing your work with us. It sounds like such a great project! We wish you all the best and please feel free to share updates and news with us :-).

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      2. Thank you, Rebecca and I am delighted to hear that you read my essay and found something of value there. I am currently enjoying reading through your community’s blog, which also delightfully resonates with much of my thinking on these vital issues. I added the link to your home page to the blogroll on my blog, and because the name starts with a number it went right to the top of the alphabetical list. I hope that you all get the people that are meant to join you sometime soon. We are in the process of seeking members for our small communal land-space (only five acres, which I think can support seven to ten people, if some are children). We hope that our grandchildren (who are mostly in their twenties now) will come join us some day, but we might need other people here before the grandkids ever catch the vision or make their own decisions about that.

        I welcome you and your friends (or anybody) to engage in discussion in the comments area of my blog, at the end of the Paths Forward… essay, or any of the other articles. I realize that you might need to use some money to get started and create necessary infrastructure, but we all need to learn how to live without money ASAP, because the monetary systems of humanity will soon be gone.

        P.S. Thank you, Kate, for creating this discussion and inspiration space for us. I hope to engage in thoughtful interaction on some more of your articles soon. It is planting season here at LifeGiving Farm, and we are very busy, but we do take lots of breaks. Peace, all. Forward to Regeneration!

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  3. Degrowth WILL happen one way or the other as fossil Carbon as energy leaves us by decision and depletion. Along with the continued degradation of access to water, soil, minerals, and temperate air. Better to make a concerted, controlled decent now (50 years ago) while we still have the resources to choose what we want to hang on to. Rather than just keep kicking the can down the road until our way forward is entirely blocked by empty cans.
    .
    We are living at the peak of a one time, stroboscopic, energy pulse. Which is still 85% from fossil Carbon. Even after all we have done in the last 10 years to build out a transition (20 years in Germany which has spent 500 billion), wind and solar are still barely 3% of world total primary energy and not increasing since we still build out more new fossil Carbon producers and consumers than wind and solar every year. Which is all mined, refined, manufactured, and installed, with Carbon energy. Mainly liquid fuel. In attempting to build out the electrification of everything ($200 trillion worldwide), and replace the still required half (efficiency improvement of electricity) of the unfathomable 18 TeraWatts we are currently blowing through with wind, solar and 200 TWh of batteries, we are going to come up way short. At the same time that our access to clean water, temperate air, soil, and minerals, is continually being degraded and becoming more remote.
    .
    Things will be much smaller and simpler again in the near future.
    .
    Energy/ Economy/ Human population, are all highly correlated at nearly 1:1:1. As energy descends by decision and depletion, so too must at least one of the others. And population is forecast to continue to rise to 11 billion. We will need to find a whole new way to equitably share what we have left.
    If we would start to degrow material consumption now (50 years ago would have been better) and use our remaining energy and resource wealth as seed corn to build out the things we will really need to be happy, we could consciously choose what to save from this high flying civilization. Rather than denying and delaying the inevitable to result in an uncontrolled, chaotic descent and letting the chips fall where they may.
    Learn. Think. Talk. Steer the conversation toward better outcomes.
    .

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  4. The Plan for A Sustainable Tomorrow (PAST) is spelled out on my YouTube Channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFPwI8CUE012to4cM3msRJQ .

    The Perception Story is there as well. It explains my positions the best.

    You said that planning and collapse don’t normally go together. Planning for collapse, however, means that we’re planning for a time when money, government, business, militaries, etc. (we assume) no longer exist. It doesn’t matter whether they will literally exist or not. Our assumption that they won’t exist allows us to plan. Planning allows us to prepare so that we can survive collapse when it comes. Then we can approach the healing of our planet from a collapse level of change without having a collapse level of death.

    I’ve heard scientists say that adequate response to climate change would require the collapse of civilization. Planning allows us to determine how we’ll feed everyone, how we’ll organize so that we know who, when, and where, to meet, etc. How we’ll turn back on hydroelectric dams and public infrastructure systems like water, sewer, and medical. Hydroelectricity accounts for 16% of our global energy supply. 16% will go a long way when we no longer have to power the useless destructive grid of business. We can have a volunteer workforce and use machinery. We’d not have to work much at all. We could spend our extra time cleaning up our environment.

    The truth is that governments don’t make the decisions and neither do the elite. Why? Because all their decisions are made for the purpose of making money. Money is like the drug heroin. We alter our lives around the drug to ensure that we have it. Therefore, like the drug heroin, all decisions are ultimately made to ensure continuation of the drug. This is why money is a poison.

    When we grow up we learn to survive by making money. We learn by lawnmowing, babysitting, paper routes, etc. We learn that the more money we make the better our survival will be. This gives us the perception that our survival depends on money instead of Nature. This is where the mistake lies. Money causes us to give priority to money over Nature and everything else. Money is a poison because of this. Because it causes us to foul our own nest. Because our primal instinct to survive would naturally make us stop living like we do, but the poison makes us think that we depend on money instead of Nature for our survival. Which, of course, is not true. But this is how poisons act. They change behavior.

    The secret is to realize that the enemy we fight is money and it’s too powerful. We can’t win or escape from it. But we can plan to escape when the poison has let go. Which we assume will be at the collapse of civilization. Then, when collapse comes, we’ll have an organized plan that tells us how to survive. People will then follow this plan. When the collapse comes, people will follow a well organized plan that leads to life, if it’s available. Otherwise they’ll turn to guns and Armageddon. This is why we need to plan.

    In order to plan we need an internet platform set up that humanity can work from. The most efficient way to get this platform is for the elite to make it happen. Why would they? Because they want to live too, and a few of them will see that money is indeed a poison. Do you realize that some of the environmental groups are most heavily funded by members of the elite?

    I simply cannot describe all this in a short blog. We spend our entire lives learning how to live in this world of money, it will take some time to learn how to live in a world without money. One has to allow the time to learn or else you will not see.

    The reason I see it is because about 30 years ago I began to have the perception that money is a poison. From this point of view I’ve watched humanity’s reaction to money. Like I said, money is like the drug heroin. Money was born when civilization was born – with animals being the first form of money. Civilization has destroyed the world in only about 7,000 years. Before then, DNA reports show that our species has existed on Earth for 315,000 years. We existed as hunter gatherers. They had life right. We’re the ones who’re messed up.

    Adam Soul

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