The Winter Solstice, and suggestions for the New Year

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England.  The Druids celebrated Christmas here for 5,000 years until the ceremony was rebranded as the Winter Solstice by nineteenth century neo-Pagan revivalists

Happy Winter Solstice everyone!  At this time, the turning of the year, people often make predictions about what they think may happen in the next 12 months.  I’ve done this myself in the past.  But this year, I don’t feel able to make any predictions.  I’ve been looking at the signs with mounting unease, and I think we are accelerating towards a catastrophe which will be brought about by a combination of resource depletion (particularly fossil fuels), climate change and the collapse of an unstable economic system, it’s a race to the bottom as to which will get to us first, and the race is too close to call.  At this point, I think anything could trigger it, even something quite minor, and there’s no point in trying to predict what that thing might be.

Let me give you a couple of examples.  On 28 June 1914, an obscure Austrian aristocrat called Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in an obscure Serbian town called Sarajevo.  Until that point, probably very few people outside Austria had even heard of him.  That assassination set into motion the war machines of Germany, Russia, France and Great Britain, resulting in World War 1 and the deaths of 16 million people.

On 17 December 2010, an obscure Tunisian street vendor called Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire as a protest against harassment by police.  Absolutely nobody outside Tunisia had ever heard of him.  This set off a wave of protests across the Middle East and North Africa, widely known as the Arab Spring, which resulted in, among other things, the Syrian civil war, the rise of ISIS, massive migrations of refugees out of the region, proxy wars between the USA, Russia and Iran, multiple terrorist attacks in the Western world, and the deaths of millions of people.

It would be absurd to suggest that the deaths of Ferdinand and Bouazizi directly caused the deaths of those millions of people.  Those were accidents waiting to happen, and those incidents were like the last grain of sand on a pile which causes it to collapse, or the last snowflake falling on a mountainside which sets off an avalanche.  I think we are entering another period of global instability in which any event, however small, could trigger a crisis.

The nature of the crisis is fairly easy to predict (war, famine, mass migration, the deaths of millions of people etc., same as the last few times), but its timing, and the nature of the triggering event, are not.  It could be a software bug in a Wall Street computer which causes a trading algorithm to start executing “sell” commands causing a wave of financial institution collapses.  It could be a malfunction in a military satnav system which causes a warship or aeroplane to stray into the wrong zone.  It could be the assassination of a minor Saudi royal which triggers a Saudi civil war and an oil shortage.  It could even be a slightly off egg in Donald Trump’s breakfast which causes him to send a particularly offensive tweet.

So this year I’m not going to make any predictions about what I think might happen in the next 12 months.  Instead, I’m going to give you a list of suggestions for things you might want to consider doing in the next 12 months.  In no particular order, these are:

Get to know your neighbours.  Hopefully they are nice people, but if they are not, or if you think they might sponge off you or rob you in a crisis without giving anything in return, you might want to consider moving.

Position yourself so you have some form of direct access to food.  This may mean moving close to, or into, a farming or fishing community, or practising growing your own.  Living in an apartment in the middle of a big city may not be a good idea at this time.

Ditto, fresh water supply.  I understand that in the absence of power for water pumps, there is unlikely to be a water supply above the third floor of most buildings.

Learn to play a musical instrument.  This is good for getting to know people (see “neighbours”, above) and for stress relief.  And boy, are we going to need stress relief in the decades ahead.

Ensure you have a useful, tradable skill which can be practised in the absence of fossil fuels or advanced technology.  I’m thinking basic carpentry, blacksmithing, food production (see above), animal husbandry, making shoes and clothes, midwifery, basic emergency room skills like suturing or setting fractures, basic herbal medicine.  I’m not thinking website or app design, marketing, neurosurgery, financial services or beauty parlour work.

Consider putting about 10% of your savings in precious metals of small denomination coins.

Assemble a collection of books which tell you how to do stuff like make and mend clothes and shoes, grow food, look after animals, purify water and treat minor illnesses.  You can assemble your collection as paper books or PDF files on your computer, depending on your resources and space, but if the latter, make sure you have a way of powering your computer using solar panels.  I can particularly recommend Survivor Library (

Make sure you have a radio which works, or can be recharged, off solar panels, to keep up to date with breaking news.

Pay attention to your physical fitness.  If you are overweight, smoke, drink to excess or take drugs, now is the time to do something about those things, because you don’t want to find yourself trying to deal with a wide scale societal crisis and your own health problems at the same time.

Learn how to make wine or beer: see “stress relief” above, and it’s also a very tradable commodity which you can exchange for other stuff.

Take care of yourself and your own family first before trying to help others.  That may sound selfish, but it’s like the instruction you are given on aeroplanes: “Put on your own oxygen mask first before trying to help others”.

Good luck.

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin

3 thoughts on “The Winter Solstice, and suggestions for the New Year

  1. I encourage everyone to watch the BBC video “37 Days,” the story of the final weeks before the outbreak of WWI. Oh, the stupidity! It is unbelievable that men in these positions could be so dumb. It is truly an enlightening movie and brings home how truly fragile our world is in light of the events that have happened over the past year. As for the home front, I have always lived outdoors, had a garden, animals,and like us old peasants been aware of the weather. The winds have picked up substantially and it has sharply affected the growing of grains crops in our farming community. Crop yields are down and quality of grain is affected. This year I needed wind breaks for my cabbages. The cabbages without wind breaks suffered harshly and were unsuitable for making sauerkraut. My neighbors are old time farmers like me and came to see me this year because their garden was suffering. They wanted to know what I’m doing. It takes more skill each year to grow a garden to produce the food we need. I’m 70 with a lot of experience and it’s getting tough to do that because of the weather changes. With the grain quality declining, it is more difficult to keep egg and milk production up to the norm. I’m having to produce 30% of food for the goats and chickens in the garden now. Cabbage, kale, and beets keep the girls happy laying eggs and giving more milk. I cannot rely on the protein content in the grains and hay crops as I could in the past. I’ve been doing this for over half a century. The changes were slow until the past three years. Now it has suddenly escalated. What is my advice? The same as offered in the post. I would add to become efficient. For example, I’ve had goats for over 50 years and improved the herd so that we have goats that give a lot of milk on minimum amount of food and can stay healthy in harsh weather. The same with chickens — Get efficient chickens that mature early, can withstand colder temperatures, remain healthier under stress, and still produce eggs. Pretty chickens are lovely to look at, but I suggest looking for the other attributes first. Spend the extra money on the best basic equipment possible. A cheap axe will do the job, but a well balanced one makes the chore of splitting wood a pleasure and cuts the work time in less than half. We all need to change how we live and negatively affect the climate. We need to help the earth restore balance. My Best Wishes to All.

  2. Thanks Jo, that’s very interesting. On the subject of BBC documentaries, could I also recommend the BBC Historical Farm series, of which you can find more information here:
    This is a series of documentaries made by the BBC between 2005-2014 about life on English farms from the 1300s up to the Second World War. The documentaries were intended as family infotainment, not doomer porn, but they show in great detail how farming was done in pre-modern times using mainly human and animal labour and local materials. The programmes are re-broadcast from time to time and can be recorded off air, or you can buy DVD sets on Amazon.

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