Ben Green doesn’t have to worry that Vladimir Putin may cut off gas to Europe this winter, fear the seasonal rebound of Covid-19, or panic about a looming global food crisis.
Green weaned himself off the gas when he bought five hectares (12 acres) of land for an abandoned East German army barracks three years ago: the previous owner, who used it as an outdoor museum for old tanks, destroyed the building’s water and gas pipes. Green fixed the dining room ceiling and insulated the windows so that temperatures inside wouldn’t drop below 5 degrees Celsius at night. He showers by pouring a bucket of cold water over his head and cooks on a wood-burning stove.
A 49-year-old Englishman with a gray ginger beard and the word “vegan!” Tattooed on his left arm, Green is unaffected by a strained supply chain as he almost lives off the vegetables and fruits he grows on his land. If, as Greene hoped, friends gave him an oil press for his fiftieth birthday, he would soon be able to cut the four-mile cycle transverse to the nearest cooking-oil village.
On those trips, he stocks tea, coffee and chocolate, but they are luxuries he can do without in the event of a systematic breakdown of supply chains. The fact that his food miles are still absolutely measurable is due to the appetites of Fat Tony, Brunhild Demagogi and Marilyn Monroe, the Three Mangalica Pigs.
The coronavirus is not a cause for concern — partly because Greene has been vaccinated twice, despite what one might assume from his enthusiasm for herbal remedies, but mainly because he lives alone in the middle of a remote spruce forest in Saxony, whose exact coordinates are rarely kept secret. What receives visitors?
Green isn’t worried about the sweltering heat and drought this year, jeopardizing his secret to filling his basement with 100 bowls of tomato soup, 180kg of potatoes and 22kg of dried beans in order to survive the winter.
But this summer’s sweltering temperatures may prompt more people to recognize Greene’s experience of self-sufficiency as a role model in preparing for climate disaster. Green believes that disaster is inevitable and imminent.
“When you were born, we were at 324 parts carbon dioxide in a million parts air. This year we got to 420. Change is coming, and if you’re not prepared for it, it’s going to be pretty awful.
“What we are looking at is not the end of humanity but the end of capitalism,” he said, describing climate breakdown as the common denominator behind the various political, food, energy and health crises that have begun converging in recent years. “The collapse is going to happen, and that’s the year people will notice.”
Living waiting for the end of the world is no longer a minority position. A YouGov survey at the start of the coronavirus pandemic found that nearly a third of respondents in the United States expect a life-changing disaster in their lives. A separate survey of five countries in 2019 showed that more than half of respondents in France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States believed that civilization as they know it will collapse in the coming years.
In America, concern about systemic collapse has fueled a tendency to “readiness” to stockpile food supplies and weapons to take care of themselves and their families. During the pandemic, US sellers of underground shelters reported a spike in demand.
Green, who chronicles his hermit existence on his Instagram account, The Pirate Ben, sees himself at the forefront of a more positive and less selfish European counter-movement: Happy Doom.
“The problem with preppers is: What do they do when the baked beans run out? I don’t want any fear here—that’s where all the white power comes from.”
He does not believe in the need to reduce the population, as some do on the fringes where the far right and environmental activism overlap. Green argues that if people can retain or re-learn their knowledge about how the Earth works sustainably, there should be enough food for everyone: “What I try to do is preserve the best of our society when we go out at the other end.”
There are more good life From the Extinction Rebellion to his decision to save his pigs from a butcher – an act of “effective altruism” the three huge pigs are clearly unwilling to repay. It is their endless hunger for horse muesli mixed with hay, and stale bread rolls from the nearest bakery in the village, that prevents him from leading a 100% self-sufficient and climate-neutral life.
“The pigs were the worst decision of my life,” he said, as Tony gives a pat on his muddy back. “It was stupid, and obviously detrimental to my goals.” He admits that eating them would be the logical consequence. “But that will not happen.”
Calling Green a humanist would be a step too far, he said. Building a self-sufficient society after climate change requires discipline: He gets up at 6 a.m., feeds the pigs, tends his crops, mows the lawn, feeds the pigs a second time, and then goes to bed at around 10 p.m.
Such discipline requires a strong belief in right and wrong. He blames climate change not just on a few powerful individuals, he wrote in a recent blog, but on all those who have been involved in an economy destroying the world: “Everyone working for a fossil fuel company in any capacity should be prosecuted for genocide. From kids in the mail room to CEOs.”
Green repeated the point when asked about the blog entry. “Some show trials of genocide would go a long way.” What would the penalty for genocide be? “I think that’s fairly well established.”
Before moving to the barracks in the Saxon woods three years ago, Broome pursued a successful career as an IT engineer. His tenures in Austria, Spain, London and Berlin ended when he was fired from his last job in Zurich in 2018.
With his severance payments and savings, he bought the former barracks of the National People’s Army of East Germany.
Although he is fluent in German, the choice of location was the result of a rational cost-benefit analysis rather than any strong affection for the East German state bordering the Czech Republic. “You want to be as far north as you can for the heat, but also as far south as possible for the sunlight for the growing season.”
He said that those seeking self-sufficient lifestyles setting up communities in Spain or Portugal were “crazy” because they would struggle to work the land amid rising temperatures.
Preppers take care of themselves. Green wants to set an example for others to follow, but for now Happy Domination remains one movement. Having started with occasional volunteers who helped him work on the land, he is currently running the project solo. A strict no-drug policy in the barracks is designed to put off lukewarm dropouts.
“The first follower must be very special,” he said, sitting in the dining room to escape the midday sun. “They’re going to have to believe in the project the way I don’t.”
Anyone deeply interested in joining Green in the event of climate famine can pay €3,500 (£2,950) to be put on a waiting list, although it does not offer any guarantees it will automatically secure a place. One person has already paid.
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