Your Biggest Control Over Comfort: Changing What ‘Comfort’ Means to You

In “The Collapse Will Not be Like the Thunderdome,” Sharon Astyk says that in collapse, “You aren’t going to be able to live in relative comfort, or if you are, it will because you changed your definition of comfort.”

That last line stuck with me: change your definition of comfort.

There are hard limits to what we can accept as ‘comfort.’ When we die, we can’t feel anything, let alone comfortable. Wet-bulb temperatures beyond above 35 C cannot be comfortable. It’s not clear that mammals can survive wet-bulb temperatures above 35 C long-term.

And yet, it’s possible to change one’s definition of ‘comfort’ within the range of wet-bulb temperatures which allow humans to stay healthy.

In Taiwan, I noticed that few old people used air conditioners. They favored fans. In their youth, air conditioners were rare, so they were used to fans as their primary means of cooling indoor spaces. I never used the air conditioner in my apartment when I lived in Taiwan. I just got used to summer temperatures every year (note: I didn’t live in Taipei, in Taipei I might’ve used the AC).

My father grew up in a warm, humid climate when most people didn’t have air conditioners. As a child, warm humid summers without air conditioning were all he knew. He had no other type of summer weather to compare it to.

There are other ways we can adjust our definition of comfort. Within the limits which allow us to live, it might be the most we can do to stay ‘comfortable’ in a societal collapse.

Another Sharon Astyk quote struck me:

During 2008 recession, I sat on the board of a now largely defunct energy policy organization, and pointed out to said board that recessions mean money dries up and everyone gets poorer, including organizations.

Despite the fact that the organization was largely devoted to telling people what might happen in the future economically and in terms of energy policy, by and large it had never really occurred to them that it might happen TO THEM.

I’ve seen this enough times that it no longer surprises me… I wish it did.

I’ve seen science fiction authors who wrote stories about societal breakdowns who… say the pandemic shocked them? What? Surprised, sure, they didn’t expect the exact events of the pandemic, neither did I, but… it’s clear that they didn’t believe the crises which they wrote about in their stories would actually happen to them.

Ever since 2010, when I grasped that our society failed to handle the fallout of the 2008 financial crash, I’ve had a pessimistic outlook on our society’s future. If you had told me about everything going on now to myself a decade ago, in 2012, I think I would’ve been surprised that things weren’t worse. No, I didn’t expect the details of what’s happened, but the overall trajectory… not as bad as I expected. So far.

Ironically, this pessimistic outlook has helped me deal with the crises of recent years. On a practical level, I’m a little better prepared than I would’ve been otherwise. The bigger benefit is psychological. Being aware—very aware—that things can be worse, and probably will become worse, has adjusted my personal definition of comfort.

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