Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Principles for preparation

At some point after really researching Peak Oil, when you realize that solar and wind alternatives won't completely bridge the gap and and corn ethanol is quick way to starve the Third World.... you realize that just about everything is going to have to change. Change in ways that we can't even imagine. That can be overwhelming, to say the least.

A lot of obstacles can stand in the way to preparing for peak oil: lack of time, money, knowledge, or initiative; feeling out of the norm or hopeless. So to get the most bang for your buck, use the following to help guide you on your way:

1. Focus on the essentials.

Don't worry so much about running your car. It will be uncomfortable for awhile to have no car, especially if you live in a city like OKC, where there are no bike paths that actually go anywhere, where highways dominate the landscape, and the public transport system is a wee bit underfunded. We'll all be in the same boat on this one, and eventually cars will be rusting relics of a wilder time.

What would you need to survive with a measure of comfort? Food. Water. Shelter. Knowledge. Defense. Cooking. Community. Hygiene. Transportation. Focus on these essentials and leave the solar panels and hybrid car for later.

2. Do many things for one essential (Having a backup plan)

Food, water, shelter, etc. should be provided for in multiple ways. Be flexible in your thinking and ask "what could go wrong?" with your primary plan.

Example 1: Heating.

We have a geothermal system for heating and cooling. It uses much less energy than a typical furnace, but is just as prone to failure from electrical blackouts. So it would be wise for us to have a backup ==> we are debating solar heating and wood heating. Having both would be nice, one dependant on the sun and one reliant on availability of wood. But in OKC, where temperatures never drop below 0 degrees, and usually get up to 45 degrees daily in the middle of winter, we could survive easily indoors with layered clothes, down comforters or sleeping bags, warm food, and hats. So we have these things in abundance.

Example 2: Shelter.

After choosing your home so carefully and lovingly Scheming to make your land a post-Peak paradise, you won't want to hear this. But, all locations are subject to disruption, whether from natural disasters, nuclear fallout, or rioting in the streets, and you should be prepared to re-locate. We have 2 backup plans:
  1. Living with family in other locations. We will bring seeds, low energy technologies, books and food to make ourselves useful and welcome.
  2. Having a tent, sleeping bags and portable water filter. We might have to rough it on our way to Backup Plan #1. In the meantime, these will come in handy for cheap vacations.
3. Take advantage of low-energy technology

Our ancestors would have paid through the nose for so many of the low energy technologies that we can get for dirt cheap. $400 for a grain mill may not seem cheap, but in the past the grain miller might have been the second highest paid man in town, because he owned the right technology that no one else could afford.

Here's a quick hit list of low energy technologies that can make your life easier in a post-peak world. Let me know your suggestions and I'll add them:
  • Bike. Requires no feeding or grooming. Fits even in an apartment. On the other hand, doesn't generate any fertilizer.
  • Books. An easy way of storing knowledge for when you need it. An easy way of passing on knowledge.
  • Garden tools. Oh, the riches that are available! Rakes, hoes, shovels, pruners. They will last if you buy quality and take care of them.
  • Food preparation. A Sun Oven will substitute the sun's energy for wood or fossil fuels. A sturdy hand grain mill will give you flour. Cast iron cookware will help you get your daily dose of iron when no meat is available for weeks at a time, and will last a lifetime. A good Solar dehydrator is a low-energy way to preserve your fruits.
  • Buckets. Good for so many purposes. Hauling water if the water lines go down. Storing food away from light, heat, and critters. Emergency, or long term if needed, sanitation measures.
  • Insulation. Insulation for your body means taking advantage of sleeping bags, down comforters, polar fleece, Gore-tex, etc. to keep you comfortably warm under any kind of condition. Insulation for your house means not wasting the fossil fuels and / or wood you are currently burning to keep the place warm or cool.
  • Passive solar. Site your house the right way (long axis south), with enough windows and a good thermal mass, and you will need only minimal additional heating. Remember to have wide eaves or trees for shade in the summer.

4. Don't delay

While there is only so much time available, and only so much peak oil Scheming your brain can handle, don't put off what can be done this month. Already, oil, gold, and food prices are rising. My grain mill was actually on backorder due to demand. Hey, who knew there were so many of us out there? You might consider giving up on the 401K and putting the money somewhere useful. Don't wait so long you have to start competing for the good stuff.

It may seem ridiculous to go to the trouble of storing salt when it only costs $2. We are used to judging the worth of items by how much they cost. But trust me, salt is an essential you won't want to go without when processed foods are not available and you have to bake your own bread. In addition, it's fortified with iodine, another essential nutrient.

5. Use regenerating assets

Money and gold may or may not be worth much in the future. Center your plan around things that are intrinsically valuable, such as seeds, fruit trees, etc. Instead of planning to buy manure, fertilizer and straw forever, plan to be more self-sufficient. A chicken or rabbit will provide both manure and meat/eggs, as well as heat if you can figure out a way to use it. Comfrey will become both fertilizer and mulch. Bamboo and grape vines can be made into furniture, poles, twine, etc. Herbs can be used as medicine. Trees and grape or kiwi vines will provide fruit and shade if sited correctly.

Solar items would fit here too. Solar lanterns, solar heaters, solar water heating, solar cell phone chargers, etc.

6. Create a functioning system

Eventually, we have to forget our current paradigm of the throw-away society. There is no away. What we thought was "Away" is now a plastic cesspit the size of the contiguous 48 states floating in the Pacific ocean, killing marine life for the forseeable future. What we thought we were getting from "the store" was really a strip mine, an oil well, a decimated forest - the inheritance of millions of years burned up in 2 generations.

So close the loop. Inputs need to equal outputs, with very little waste generated and very little new inputs required. Learn to recycle your waste, and I don't mean by putting it in the recylcling bin. Learn to save seeds. Learn to preserve food without energy in reuseable containers. Learn to compost.

Don't just buy things to prepare. Learn the skills you will need in a post-peak world. Many of you won't be willing to do these things until you have to - but give it a try. Make it an experiment (this is a good strategy to convince your spouse) :). And, at least know how to do what you will need to do when TSHTF.

7. Incorporate others into your plan

Ensuring your own survival and comfort first prepares you to teach others, and also puts you into a position to help others when the time comes. Frankly, it took me 3 1/2 years to get to the point where I feel like I can start to help others. But despite the correct and natural urge to plan for one's own first, eventually others must factor into your plans.

Depending on your level of a) charity, b) sociability or c) paranoia, this principle may top your list. No Frau is an island, and you can't act like the hordes will be happy to let you live in comfort with your solar panels and Prius while they starve in the cold and dark. Alternatively, would you really be able to let your brother's toddler go without food or your parents live on the street? What are you going to say when your friends ask "Why didn't you tell us?".

You can achieve a measure of synergy here. Family, friends and neighbors can work together to achieve what they can't do so easily on their own. You and your neighbor could combine your yards for a super-garden and switch off chores. Your elderly friend down the street could watch your baby in exchange for your errand services. You and family could agree to put each other up if the need arises.

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