Ben Green doesn’t have to worry that Vladimir Putin could shut off gas in Europe this winter, worry about a seasonal rebound from Covid-19 or panic about an impending global food crisis.
Green abstained from gas when he bought the five-acre site of a dilapidated East German army barracks three years ago: The previous owner, who used it as an open-air museum for vintage tanks, had gutted the building of water and gas pipes. Green patched up the roof of the refectory and insulated the windows so the temperature didn’t drop below 5C at night. He bathes by pouring a bucket of cold water over his head and cooks on a wood stove.
A 49-year-old Englishman with a graying ginger beard and the word “Vegan!” Tattooed on his left upper arm, Green doesn’t suffer from fraying supply chains as he lives almost entirely off the fruits and vegetables he grows on his land. If, as Green hopes, friends give him an oil press for his 50th birthday, he will soon be able to break up the occasional four-mile bike ride to the nearest village for cooking oil.
He does stock up on tea, coffee and chocolate on those trips, but they are luxuries that he could miss in the event of a systematic collapse of supply chains. The fact that his food miles are still measurable at all is due to the bottomless appetite of Fat Tony, Brunhilde Demagogue and Marilyn Monroe, his three Mangalica pigs.
Coronavirus is not a cause for concern – partly because Green has been vaccinated twice, despite what you might expect 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 he keeps secret and rarely receives visitors .
Green is concerned about this year’s extreme heat and drought, which will jeopardize his race to fill his cellar with 100 jars of tomato stew, 180kg of potatoes and 22kg of dried beans to survive the winter.
But this summer’s rising temperatures could also lead more people to recognize Green’s experiment in self-sufficiency as a model to pursue in preparation for a climate catastrophe. A catastrophe, Green believes, is inevitable and imminent.
“When I was born, we were at 324 parts of carbon dioxide in a million parts of air. This year we have reached 420. Change is coming, and if you’re not prepared for it, it’s going to be pretty awful.
“What we’re looking at is not the end of humanity, but the end of capitalism,” he said, describing climate collapse as the common denominator behind the various political, food, energy and health crises affecting the world. have begun to converge in recent years. “The collapse is going to happen, and this is the year when people will notice.”
Living in anticipation of the apocalypse is no longer a minority position. A YouGov survey conducted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic found that nearly a third of respondents in the US expect a life-changing disaster in their lives. A separate poll of five countries in 2019 found that more than half of respondents in France, Italy, the UK and the US think civilization as they know it will collapse in the coming years.
In America, fears of system failure have fueled a trend of preppers stockpiling food and weapons to provide for themselves and their families. During the pandemic, US sellers of underground shelters reported rising demand.
Green, who describes his hermitage on his Instagram account The Pirate Ben, sees himself at the forefront of a more positive and less selfish European counter-movement: “happy doomerism”.
“The problem with preppers is, what do they do when they run out of baked beans? I don’t want any fear here – that’s where all the white power stuff comes from.”
He doesn’t believe in the need for population reduction, like some on the fringe where the far right and eco-activism overlap. If people can maintain their knowledge or relearn how to sustainably farm the land, Green argues, there should be enough food for everyone: “What I’m trying to do is preserve the best of our society for when we meet the come out the other way.”
There’s more of it The good life then Extinction Rebellion on his decision to rescue his pigs from a butcher – an act of “effective altruism” that the three huge pigs are apparently unwilling to repay. Their relentless appetite for horse muesli mixed with hay pellets and stale bread rolls from the nearest village bakery still prevents him from living a 100% self-sufficient and climate neutral existence.
“The pigs were the worst decision of my life,” he said, giving Tony a loving pat on the muddy back. “It was stupid and clearly detrimental to my goals.” Eating it would be the logical conclusion, he admits. “But it’s not going to happen.”
Calling Green a humanist would be a step too far, he said. Building a self-sufficient community after climate change requires discipline: he gets up at 6 a.m., feeds the pigs, tends his crops, mows grass, feeds the pigs a second time, and then goes to bed around 10 p.m.
And such discipline requires a strong belief in right and wrong. He blames not just a few powerful individuals for climate change, he wrote in a recent blog post, but everyone who has participated in a world-destroying economy: being tried for genocide. From the kids in the mailroom to the CEOs.”
Green repeated the point when asked about the blog post. “A few show trials for genocide would go a long way.” What would be the penalty for genocide? “I think that’s pretty well established.”
Before moving to the barracks in the Saxon Woods three years ago, native Brummie pursued a successful career as an IT engineer. Spells in Austria, Spain, London and Berlin ended when he was fired from his last job in Zurich in 2018.
With the severance pay and his savings he bought the former barracks of the East German National People’s Army.
Although he is fluent in German, the choice of location was the result of a rational cost-benefit analysis rather than a strong affection for the East German state bordering the Czech Republic. “You want to be as far north as possible for the heat, but also as far south as possible for the sunlight for the growing season.”
Seekers of a self-sufficient lifestyle setting up communes in Spain or Portugal, he said, were “insane” because they would struggle to work the land in rising temperatures.
Preppers take good care of themselves. Groen wants to be an example for others to follow, but for now, thankfully, doomerism remains a movement of one. After starting with occasional volunteers to help him work the land, he currently runs the project on his own. A strict drug-free policy at the barracks is designed to deter half-hearted dropouts.
“The first follower will have to be very special,” he said, sitting in the refectory to escape the midday sun. “They will have to believe in the project like I don’t.”
Anyone seriously interested in joining Green in the event of a climate-induced famine can pay €3,500 (£2,950) to be placed on a waiting list, although he makes no guarantees that a place will be guaranteed automatically . One person has already made the payment.