Welcome to the Entropocene

14.41, Friday 30 Jul 2021

Back in 2019 there was a risk that the UK would exit the EU with no trade deal at all, and supply chains would be sufficiently disrupted that shop shelves would run empty etc.

So we built up a contingency stash in the room upstairs, mainly baby things: medicine, nappies, long-life milk, etc, then added tinned and dry goods like pasta and chopped tomatoes.

We didn’t need it. (My guess is that supermarkets and suppliers had assessed the risk and built up their warehouses, which stabilised those first few weeks.)

BUT our Brexit No Deal stash had a second life as a Covid Supermarkets Can’t Cope stash.

Online orders were rationed in the first lockdown in early 2020. Our existing accounts we used to get deliveries for our parents. Then for a few weeks we couldn’t get groceries – we dipped into the stash a few times (then kept it topped up). Handy.

I have been eying the remainder of the contingency stash. Time to wind it down? Maybe. Maybe not.

These days supermarket shelves run empty frequently enough that they’ve printed special boxes to fill the space. Post-Brexit problems with not enough delivery drivers? Or the “pingdemic” – a half million people are self-isolating right now because they’ve been pinged by the Covid contact tracing system. So the shops are all short-staffed. Or is it just that online grocery orders are being prioritised over actual shelves? (E-commerce has boomed in the UK, way more than the US.)

Then there are the flash floods in London from recent storms. I look at the closed roads and think, well clearly that’s not going to help.

I mean it’s multi-factor isn’t it.

One thing reduces resilience in the supply chain such that another thing knocks it out entirely.

And it’s global and it’s unpredictable. The Suez Canal shutdown led to garden gnome shortages in Whitminster. Hard to imagine that would have happened before a year of the system being stressed with Covid. (All the shipping containers are in the wrong places. The cost of a container on the Asia-Europe route is up 5x.)

All of which means I’m looking at my stash (after almost two years) and thinking maybe it has a third life as an Extreme Weather Event contingency larder.

I hadn’t expected that. I live in the UK, and we don’t have earthquakes or wildfires so I’ve never had to make up a Go Bag.

But honestly I look at the weather, here, and think of the ancient viruses being thawed out in the permafrost, a thousand miles away, and this is basically the rest of my life now isn’t it. Always keep a cache of dried pasta and garden gnomes in the back room, you never know.

The world is fragile.

Rod McLaren invented a word for it in his latest edition of the Co-op Digital newsletter, which is ostensibly about technology and groceries. But:

Every newsletter is now a climate change newsletter, because climate change is the landscape now. We now live in the “entropocene”, an era of larger, quicker, less predictable, non-linear change.

The Entropocene. The new geological era of entropy.

It turn out McLaren’s Entropocene is a parallel coinage because of course it is – all experiences are shared global experiences now.

Here, for example, in an article also introducing this new word, is a strong plea to stop using the word Anthropocene to refer to this new epoch:

Have you ever felt the toxic touch of the word “Anthropocene”? If you haven’t, I could put it in a simple way. Considering that the near-collapsing state of our planet is due to the Anthropos in general means that we take the Inuits or the Jivaros for responsible of the situation, in the same way that our modern occidental civilization. This sounds absurd, since they are amongst the first victims of capitalistic greed, deforestation, and climate change. And that all in the name of a “universal mankind” (the Anthropos), a concept they never ask or stand for. In other words, one is mistaking the victims for the predators when using the word Anthropocene. And it all sounds like the last dirty joke of Western White Man, his Empires and his Capital.

It is a great point.

Yes, the concept of the Anthropocene points out that humans wield global power and have global impact. When archaeologists a million years hence dig down, there will be a line of microplastics, radioactivity, and high atmospheric CO2, and they’ll point to the thin stratum and say, aha, the human era.

But as they say: not all humans.

Yes this is an era characterised by a general and accelerated process towards the maximal disorder leading to social and political dislocation - entropy - but Disaster Capitalism is not a universal phenomenon. It is incorrect to pin the Anthropocene on humankind at large. So let’s not bake it into the name.

Entropocene it is.

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