The Black Mountain from Mynydd Llansadwrn

Change is inevitable – it’s actually the result of the physical laws of the universe which dictate that energy flows in only one direction. The natural order of things is that, at some point in the future, the human species will have to become less ‘energetic’.

What’s important is how you meet this change; and what, if any, conditions you try to put on it.

Politics and the media tell us that growth, or the current global economic consensus, is the only option; “there is no alternative”. This not just inaccurate, the fact is the system that supports this point of view cannot survive the developing ecological crisis – and in fact, it must collapse long before that crisis threatens a global collapse in the human system.

For the last sixty years the motivation at the heart of modern society has been the acquisition of ‘stuff’. Arguably this trend, at the global level, has been disastrous for both humans and the environment. Instead of acquisition we must find a new motivation for our lives; and this is where natural systems, and the inspiration they can provide, will be critical to our future.

As explained earlier, we can adopt camping as a cheap and simple means to learn the skills of low-impact self-reliance to deal with the impending ecological crisis: But what kind of camping?

The Jurassic Way
‘The Jurassic Way’; a route used to travel across the land for perhaps 5,000 years.

The thing is, what is marketed as “camping” by the media, and especially on-line videos, is a high resource/high impact pursuit; that, from its high-tec. tents to freeze-fried food, is trying to promote a means to having luxury outdoors – as if it were a home from home.

What we need instead is a new state of mind and “being”; to support ourselves during the difficult process of change and regeneration that lies ahead.

In this final section of the ‘About the Project’ introduction, we contrast these two points: The difference between camping that’s really just and extension of consumerism, and the creation of a new approach to our lives and lifestyles that replacing ‘stuff’ with ‘skills’ can do – and how ‘free camping’ based around the principles of ‘anarcho-primitivism’ can help you to do this.

Extinction Rebellion protests, London, October 2019
If all that was required was protest on the street, we’d have solved these problems long ago.

Lifestyle and ‘Change’ – slowing down

It’s very easy to jump from the despair of perceiving the end of consumerism, into another, more nuanced form of consumerism: ‘Prepping’. Many aspects of bushcraft and prepping are just another form of consumerism – the illusion that if you can obtain the right piece of kit, or you can stockpile enough supplies, everything will be OK. Here we propose the opposite: That ‘security’ is best served by learning the practical skills to ‘have less’ – to move more slowly, and deliberatively, in order to truly ‘occupy the ground on which you stand’.

Everything must change. As the extent of the ecological crisis is finally beginning to dawns amongst less ‘fringe’ communities, that reality begins to bite on people’s perceptions of their future life.

To make a new route out of that terminal decline of consumerism people need to find a means to ‘change’: To leave behind the industrialised lifestyle of the past three centuries; and the consumer lifestyle of the past seven decades; and find alternatives.

It seems that people are endlessly arguing about how bad things are. Unfortunately they too-often distract themselves with simplistic techno-fixes that preserve the existing, malfunctioning way of life which created those problems in the first place.

Except as apocalyptic disaster films or mind-numbing documentaries, society doesn’t really like to address this question. Although for many this will seem like the ‘end of the world’, the collapse of consumerism will take place far sooner than the collapse of human society in general. And in fact, on current trends it is inevitable within a decade or two; and arguably, for the poorest in society, that collapse in their access to unfettered consumption began twenty years ago – and with each economic crash the process moves further up the income scale.

Cows and an industrial site
This process is about letting go of ‘modernity’; those aspects of modern technology and industrialisation which are unsupportable, and focussing on the simple maintennace of life’s essential elements.

Even when people do address those points ‘seriously’, don’t expect to appear in the mainstream media with that. That’s because the moment you raise the question seriously, you invalidate the daily, mindless, care-free consumer existence that our modern affluent society seeks to project.

When those TV shows or newspaper articles do open this box of horrors, there’s inevitably an, “and finally”, point at the end. They always conclude with some abstract and unlikely techno-fix, that will save you from this-or-that problem, enabling you to go back to sleep once more. No lifestyle change required. No need to question the consumer paradigm and your place within it.

Here, we do not do that.

The dismisal of the problem with the ‘and finally’ reprise doesn’t invalidate the underlying research which raised these concerns. But it ensures people are not overly distressed, and perhaps question why more fundamental political changes are not taking place.

Instead, we have to focus on change based within practical measures enacted in our own lives. Not on the streets; not as a form of ‘virtue signalling’ to show our intentions; but actually undertaking activities which teach us how to live more simply, less materially, and more slowly.

‘Simplicity’, ‘less stuff’, ‘slowing down’: These three principles are when enable true change to take place; to change ourselves from within rather than trying to reform our consuming habits, or asking other to change our lives for us.

Comforting lies versus unpleasant truths

The problem is that society doesn’t easily accommodate such notions. From building regulations, to access to land, to the demands of having a job, to tax policy, to the daily norms of how we are expected to behave, everything is skewed towards the ‘cult of consumption’.

Now the good news! All we need do is ‘extend the digit’ to the expectations place upon us, and create a new structure for our lives outside of those expectations. Learning the skills required for a low impact lifestyle are the practical means to do that – and the best way to start doing that is to spend time outdoors. This is what the ‘Free Camping’ project has been put together to explore.

A well-packed backpack
When you can fit everything you need to live outdoors comfortably into a bag on your back, everything else in your life becomes a whole lot simpler.

Camping and Consumerism – existing with less

At the root of this discussion is a very simple question: “What if, one day, everything just stopped; could you survive?”. What things are essential – and necessary given your own physical constraints – to you being able to exist in the world. Not just material ‘things’, but also the group of people you need to make it happen, and activities which uniquely define ‘you’ within that group.

We don’t mean your ability to survive some kind of ‘terminal apocalypse’ – which is yet another ‘consumer deceit’, popularised in disaster films, designed to isolate you in this competitive neoliberal culture.

We mean engaging with the very practical reality that long before human civilisation ends, or nears the end, ‘consumerism’ will have collapsed long-before. And the reality today is that for many people, the collapse of the consumerism paradigm will not only leave them jobless, hope-less, and adrift in a world that no longer has any meaning for them. For most it will compromise their ability to feed and shelter themselves – because nothing in their cosseted and controlled life before that point will have prepared them for this eventuality.

You can only learn these skills by repetition; by watching others, and then trying yourself. That requires space; and from the housing crisis, to the cost of living crisis, to the authoritarian control of public spaces, that’s not easy to do.

Here, the focus is on gaining basic skills and practical experiences. The objective is to discontinue the old way of doing things, and to find a new approach to living.

The heart of that process is learning new skills: Cooking; small-scale growing food; foraging; fire-making; ‘do-it-yourself’ attitudes; and putting yourself in a place where there are no distractions to carrying out those practices. And most importantly, being able to do this alone, with family, or a small affinity group to share this experience.

'Punk' is support, not competition

What fifty years of consumerism has done for Britain is de-skill its citizens relative to their grandparents. If we look at the practical skills of our grandparents, which at the time were taken as a normal and in many cases essential part of living, then it is clear that we have lost a large part of the "culture of living” that our society once possessed.

Given the problems that lie ahead, the fact many people today have only the vaguest idea of how to manage without mains services or ready-prepared food does not give confidence that this transition can be managed without strife. Getting past that crisis will not be about a new feudal battle over resources, as envisaged by ‘preppers’; or escaping to some remote wilderness, as entertained by the more extreme ‘primitivists’. Instead, it will focus making whatever space you are in more amenable to your daily existence.

Tipi circle at the Green Gathering, 2013
Anyone trying to promote an alternative, critical perspective to consumerism will inevitably be overshadowed by society’s negative response – the the point is to carry on regardless!

Learning to camp can provide the skills, the experience, the confidence, and the psychological strength for making difficult changes to your life; but it’s not solution in itself.

When we take day conventional trip outdoors, relying on ordinary camp sites or on formal holiday accommodation, our interaction with “the outdoors” can only ever be limited: Your water is on tap; everyone around you is accpeting of what it is you are doing; and shops and other facilities are conveniently location.

In contrast, ‘Free Camping’, where you go outside urban areas to find a rough patch of ground, and for a few hours or overnight just try and cook some food, and perhaps camp overnight, breaks all those conventional norms: You have to take everything you need; you will not have support ‘on tap’ and so you must organise yourself to provide it; and in terms of how others look at you, you will definitely be breaking some taboos in this modern, property and materialism obsessed world.

What you are seeking in this process is a very simple truth: If you can carry your needs for a few days easily on your back then you restrict your need for material support – and that enables you to travel or live outdoors comfortably with very little. But those same skills, in the event of a disruption to your ‘normal’ everyday life as the consumer lifestyle stutters to a halt, will enable you to manage those ‘crises of consumerism’ more easily – and give practical aid to those around you to do the same.

The focus of ‘The Great Outdoors’ Project was communicating the most basic of skills that are essential to life – cooking, making fire, heating water and finding shelter – so that we can rediscover our potential as “human animals”; functional beings who can look after their own needs irrespective of what's happening around them.

Question everything. 'Why?'

This project builds upon that by stressing the importance of personal change – and the need to challenge the elements of the consumer society which restrict that process of change.

Camping is a means to an end, not a panacea. Camping not a magic gadget that you can buy and solve all your problems. Camping is a means to begin a process of change which, in present day society, can be very difficult to start because of the pressures on us to work, live and consume in certain ways.

More importantly, whilst learning the skills to look after yourself with very little resources is important (and doing so without spending lots of money), it's the space and time to think that living outdoors can provide that is probably greatest force for change. When we have the time and space to imagine change, to imagine new possibilities for living, we are on the first step to being able to make them happen.

A kelly Kettle boils...
“Do not stare into the Kelly Kettle,
lest the Kelly Kettle stare back into thee”

That is what this project will explore. How it is possible to learn to live “when the lights go out”, and to do that very easily and cheaply. How, by spending time developing practical skills outdoors – outside of the restrictions of today’s everyday ‘normality’ – you can learn to move beyond the restrictions of that life. And hopefully move yourself towards something more sustainable, as the inevitable breakdown of ‘normality’ grinds inexorably forward over the next 10 to 20 years.