Thus Spake Zuska

How Do You Prepare For The Unimaginable?

I’ve been reading a lot of Casaubon’s Book lately. I usually come away from it feeling like I ought to convince Mr. Z to move back to southwestern PA with me so the two of us can become gentleman farmers and live sustainably after peak oil – maybe we can live out our days in mom’s house and garden in the backyard, as my grandfather used to, or buy some nice cheap land out in the countryside in Greene County, and I’ll raise chickens, and maybe we’ll even have goats, or…

I think FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!!!!!!!!! we are all so fucking SCREWED!!!!!!!!! Even those crazy ass folks who are moving out to the farms! What, who are they kidding? It’s all gonna go down the crapper!

See, Sharon even agrees with me:

And that’s right. All of those painful and ugly truths are absolutely correct. None of it is enough to do all the things we change if we could, none of it is enough to soften all the pain, none of the safety nets we try and put in place for those we love and those we do not know are sufficient to catch everyone. It is all true – and that’s terrible.

Well, not really.

And yet, it would also be a wild and radical understatement to say that simply because you cannot fix the vast problems of the world piece by piece that that doesn’t matter, because of course, it does… All of what I do is a response to the world I live in – get up and clean the messes, because they need cleaning. I get up and tend the sick kids because they need tending. I get up and write my pieces because they need writing – because internally, I need to write them and because they might be of use. I make things because we need them. I weed the garden because it needs weeding. I try and reduce emissions because they need reducing. And I bring other people back to my home, because they need to see and know what I know, and I need to know what they know. I do it because in the end piece by piece is the only way to mend what is broken, the only way to make a future. I once thought I could live my work and my life in separate pieces. Instead, I found that, piece by piece, I was building a whole – and that the future is built the same way.

After awhile of this stuff ping-ponging around in my brain, I generally reach the conclusion that my blog is more or less irrelevant. Then my brain can’t take it anymore, I block it all out, make myself some coffee, and go back to business as usual.

Question: is this why the world is, in fact, SCREWED!! ?

Occasionally when I read the comments at Casaubon’s Book, they remind me of a friend of mind who once used to brag and brag about how she and her husband were not car snobs like all the other people at the research institute where we worked, with all their late model vehicles, because they had the oldest and shabbiest looking vehicle in the parking lot. She was exceedingly proud of how they were so not into cars. She was a holier than thou reverse car snob.

Some of the commenting is exchange of information – I’m trying to do this, how’d you do that – but some of it just strikes me as bragging.

- We keep our house THIS COLD all winter!
- No, our house is COLDER!
- We NEVER eat at restaurants, and if we did, we wouldn’t drive – and do we ever enjoy telling our guests to just sack up and walk the six miles with us!
- We use cloth diapers!
- So what, we don’t use toilet paper anymore – we wipe our asses with washable cloth strips! AND I built my own composting toilet out of repurposed parts I bartered for on Freecycle!

Okay, I might be exaggerating about the composting toilet (but not much). Sharon says she is not a survivalist, and most of her commentariat claims not to be as well – they say they are something much more positive. But some of the stuff that runs through the comment threads leans toward survivalism, albeit with a heavy naïve streak. The “real” survivalists are building compounds and laying in ammo to ward off the hungry mobs and looters; these cherubic souls think they will go on placidly gardening in an undisturbed fashion while the hungry ravening mobs swirl around them. If even half of what they are predicting on the blog and in their comments comes true (and I don’t doubt it will, mind you) I just don’t see how that’s going to be possible.

Maybe I’m wrong, and they are right. Maybe enough people will turn away from excess, and to gardening, and living simply and with less, and we’ll find our way through.

Or maybe as famine becomes more widespread, so too will behaviors like those seen in North Korea. In a book review of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Frank Langfitt notes

In a chapter entitled, “The Good Die First,” [author] Demick points out that those who lie, cheat, and steal for food survive, while those who follow the regime’s edicts – don’t buy food on the black market – are among the first to die.

Langfitt also recounts a story told to him by a Chinese trucker who hauled food into North Korea to trade for scrap metal.

[He] had a gash on his forehead from his latest trip. He told me a teenage boy had hit him with a rock as a crowd leapt on his truck, cut through inch-thick ropes, and made off with 30 bags of flour. Other Chinese traders described children so weak they didn’t have the strength to climb onto the trucks to steal.

Well, maybe things won’t get quite that bad here in the U.S. We won’t be starving (at least…not all of us…), but everything, especially energy, is going to cost a lot more. Maybe electricity use (will there be electricity?) will be rationed. People might have to give up using some of their big energy hogs. Maybe…who knows…maybe even their precious, yesssss….the big screen t.v. What will happen to all those big screen t.v.s when the lack of cheap oil makes them obsolete? Let’s see…angry peeps plus ammo plus t.v.s no longer good for anything means….

…We’ll just haul them out into Skull Valley and shoot ‘em up! Ah…you know…if we’ve managed to hoard enough gasoline to fuel the Hummer to get us out there and back. But say, if we have made the switch to the simpler lifestyle already, we can probably haul the bigscreen out there in the oxcart to shoot it full of holes. If we haven’t already dumped it and shot it full of holes as part of our adapting-in-place downsizing.

I fear I have not the sanguine nature required to placidly prepare for the unimaginable. Though I gotta tell you, I am keeping my house MUCH COLDER this year than I did last year! Still using tp, though. And not wearing diapers, of any sort. Yet.

Comments

  1. #1 Moopheus
    January 14, 2010

    This is one of the reasons (just one of a number) that I’ve never had kids. There is no tech fix for our problems. We might be able to cushion the blow of the crash somewhat, but I can’t escape the feeling that we have reached “peak civilization,” that our long-delayed Malthusian destiny is near. I live in an urban environment; it isn’t practical to be a farmer here. I have thought about what it would take to add more “off-grid” facilities to the house: solar panels, rainwater collection, a wood-burning stove or two. I try to keep my bike in riding shape, but even that will eventually require parts that are the products of an advanced industrial economy. I buy rice in larger and larger quantities. But it’s true–if the “social order” breaks down significantly, these individual efforts may be quite futile.

  2. #2 OleanderTea
    January 14, 2010

    Only tangentally related: I’ve always wondered why you never hear about survivalists hoarding liquor along with the flour and water-purification tablets and ammo. If civilization ended and the hordes were running amok, I’d really need a drink.

  3. #3 MissPrism
    January 14, 2010

    Maybe they plan to concoct survivalist homebrew by mixing the flour with the water and missing out the purification tablets.

  4. #4 D. C. Sessions
    January 14, 2010

    these cherubic souls think they will go on placidly gardening in an undisturbed fashion while the hungry ravening mobs swirl around them. If even half of what they are predicting on the blog and in their comments comes true (and I don’t doubt it will, mind you) I just don’t see how that’s going to be possible.

    And maybe they’ll do their own equivalent of what so many of our neighbors are doing: insisting on living the lives they feel are worth living, even when that may not be possible.

    Granted, there might be a difference between efforts (however futile) to Do the Right Thing and refusing to admit to ourselves that our chosen lifestyles are actively harmful.

    I admire Sharon. All the more so since, unlike me, she’s responsible for young children.

  5. #5 FrauTech
    January 14, 2010

    The problem is, 25% of the country is ready with their guns, ammo and shelters. And then another 25% is trying to actively change/prevent collapse. So those who deny anything needs to be done, are actually the most prepared.

    I aknowledge collapse as very probable, though doubtful within my lifetime. I think the problem with freaking out about it is it’s not going to happen that fast. Remember when gas prices shot up? It’ll be like that. Driving us into an economic depression for a couple decades. We’ll all be forced by the market to downsize. And then someone will elect an idiot who doesn’t believe in safety nets and then yes, all hell will break loose. But I still think it will be a gradual decay of society, not a sudden leap into anarchy. And maybe some of 25% trying to change/prevent should go out and buy guns and ammo so it’s not just the wackos who have them.

  6. #6 Zuska
    January 14, 2010

    The problem is, I don’t know that we know for sure it isn’t going to happen that fast. I mean, there’s that whole tipping point theory, right? The honey bees are in trouble. The fish are vanishing from the oceans just as fast as we can eat them. At some point, some critical piece of the whole ecosystem might just get so far out of balance that the rest of it comes tumbling right down on our heads in short order, in a way we can’t predict.

  7. #7 Sharon Astyk
    January 14, 2010

    I wrote a response over at my blog – I appreciate the criticisms and comments, seriously. http://scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook/2010/01/stones_in_the_road_and_the_end_1.php

    BTW, I’m all for stockpiling booze, because, after all, even if the zombies never come, then you get to drink it anyway!

    Sharon

  8. #8 D. C. Sessions
    January 14, 2010

    The problem is, I don’t know that we know for sure it isn’t going to happen that fast.

    Isn’t it great to know that you aren’t driving the bus?

    In the end, we’re all dead. If the dinosaur killer turn up this spring, them’s the breaks. Meanwhile, do what you can to make a positive difference and have fun doing it.

  9. #9 Phoenix Woman
    January 14, 2010

    Hoop houses have been used by the Amish for ages, and now the USDA is looking into large-scale versions for large-scale farming: http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/23688

    That’s pretty low-tech, and very likely the wave of the future. It’s already being done in Vermont: http://phoenixwoman.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/winter-farming-in-vermont/

  10. #10 Paula
    January 14, 2010

    HA! we ARE building a composting toilet out of stuff we are collecting from Freecycle. I kid you not. If nothing else I’ll be prepared if/when I shit myself when the ravenous hordes arrive.

  11. #11 bioephemera
    January 14, 2010

    Without soft contact lenses and/or extremely strong glasses, I’m screwed. Yes, I can garden and do minor repairs, but unless an optician neighbor also survives the apocalypse, or I hoard a few decades’ worth of contacts, I have a serious problem, because I won’t be able to *see* to do any survivaling. Which I feel lets me off the hook for any serious survivalist planning. Oh well!

  12. #12 Barn Owl
    January 14, 2010

    Interesting point about the comments, Zuska. I may be an irredeemable old cynic, but I just don’t believe all that’s claimed in comments, on Casaubon’s Book, or on any other blog, for that matter. I suspect that at least 50% of comments are dishonest, ranging from mild hyperbole to grandiose confabulation. And because I’m truly, deeply cynical, I expect that *at least* 50% of people who read my comments don’t believe me either. I’m not willing to accuse any particular commenter of being dishonest, but I’m not willing to suspend disbelief and skepticism completely in the context of the internet, either.

    I think the point made, in the comments to Sharon’s response post, about the openness or friendliness of sustainable communities to LGBT individuals (for example) is worth discussing. Many different people could be marginalized or exploited by such communities. As a single person with no children (you could say that I’m not “responsible” for young children, in any sense of the word), I would be wary of participating in such a community. Would I be expected to sacrifice more, or work harder? Is it selfish to even consider such issues?

  13. #13 Brad K.
    January 14, 2010

    Zuska,

    I think you might have missed an important posting on Casaubon’s Book. That is, there is expected to be a reasonably gradual economic decline. By 2012, for instance, the average American family is predicted to be unable to pay for the usual utilities. You don’t have to ration what people can’t afford to buy, so that electricity rationing is only a concern, for now, in California. Soon even they will bring the demand down to the supply.

    Look at it this way. If the balloon goes up, if it all hits the fan, if the zombie hordes overrun even Podunk, IA (sadly gone, now, sold to Hollywood and then parted out after it arrived) – then the preps may or may not be worth the effort. Anyone that survives the initial overrun/event that has gardened, that has farmed small livestock, will be several steps ahead, in terms of constructing a life on the other side.

    If the scenario proceeds more or less as Sharon champions, then we are all headed for a “Little House On The Prairie”, and getting started will make the shock much easier to take – and equip us to be a resource and refuge as those we love and commune with learn useful skills On The Other Side.

    Preparing now recovers nearly lost skills and techniques, so that it will be more likely that they are available to survivors of whichever scenario you find most likely. Your preps may not help you when the time comes, but you might have helped many people between now and then.

    If you are looking for some SF interpretations of the impending collapse, you might check out Robert Heinlein’s “Farnham’s Freehold”, Leo Frankowski’s “Cross Time Engineer”, Niven and Pournelle’s classic “Lucifer’s Hammer”, Palmer’s “Emergence”, Gordon R. Dickson’s “Wolf and Iron”, Brin’s “Postman” – the book, please, not the Kevin Costner vehicle, er, movie. Laura Ingall’s “Little House on the Prairie” is probably pretty good. Speculation about what happens when society collapses has been going on for a long time.

    You may find some personal enrichment in the pages of Mother Earth News, the classic FoxFire books, the Small Farmers Journal or Rural Heritage magazine. You might check out how the Amish do very well, thank you, without electricity, for the most part, in the home. With two sets of (the same) clothes, with no electronic playthings (except for the occasional cell phone in the haystack just outside, but don’t tell the Bishops). They borrow and trade rides and vehicles, and help on each other’s farms.

    You might be interested in the upcoming movie “Babies”, it follows four babies from different cultures for a year (cultural and maternal nudity throughout). Including an infant born in a remote African village. There is the Peace Corps, “The Blue Sweater”, and National Geographic that detail low-tech lifestyles for examples and things to consider.

    I think what is almost certainly true, is that people expecting to grow wealthy continuing to live as we have been living, won’t. People that expect the career plans and retirements they planned a decade ago – that won’t be happening, for some. Each year more people will find themselves knocked off the path they expected to be following. How many, and how hard they get knocked about – well, I always did like Carly Simon’s song, “Anticipation”.

    Best of everything,

    Brad K.

  14. #14 becca
    January 14, 2010

    ZOMG! Paula, you need a blog where you tell me how to do that. No joke.

    “As a single person with no children (you could say that I’m not “responsible” for young children, in any sense of the word), I would be wary of participating in such a community.”
    I think it’s kind of weird and wonky that we’ve got a society where anyone views themselves as totally unresponsible toward kids and views community involvement as an entirely voluntary issue. I don’t think most of the world lives like that.
    Mind you, I’m not saying you should have the primary responsibility for caring for young children hoisted upon you, nor should you be forced to join certain types of groups. But between “well I pay taxes that support schools” and being the sole caretaker for an infant (a very full time and demanding proposition), there are a lot of possibilities for contributing to the next generation.

  15. #15 Barn Owl
    January 14, 2010

    I think it’s kind of weird and wonky that we’ve got a society where anyone views themselves as totally unresponsible toward kids and views community involvement as an entirely voluntary issue.

    I don’t. Are you projecting that extreme view on me? I don’t have *direct* responsibility for young children, but as an educator, taxpayer, community volunteer, friend, and aunt, I do have indirect responsibility for many people, not just children. I would just like to continue to be able to have some choices about that responsibility, just as many people choose to have children and to focus their own responsibilities accordingly.

  16. #16 Dan
    January 14, 2010

    “Some of the commenting is exchange of information – I’m trying to do this, how’d you do that – but some of it just strikes me as bragging.

    - We keep our house THIS COLD all winter!
    - No, our house is COLDER!

    etc. etc.”

    There’s a significant difference between bragging about having a BMW rather than a Merc (or is it the other way around?) and bragging about having neither a BMW nor a Merc. If you think that the world faces grave ecological threats, bragging of the latter type serves an extremely valuable social function in guiding behaviours in exactly the way we would want them to be guided.

  17. #17 Shaunta Alburger
    January 14, 2010

    All of this is so scary, and so MUCH needs to be done, that sometimes I find myself stuck in a kind of deer-in-the-headlights sort of immobility.

    Is it worth stocking up on food, when we won’t have enough water? Is it worth stocking up on food and water when we’re going to freeze/broil to death? Is it worth moving away from family to a more sustainable place, when we can’t afford to buy our own place?

    And then I take a step back and realize we can all only do what we can do. And realizing that there really is a lot to do is the first step.

  18. #18 bioephemera
    January 14, 2010

    Incidentally, Becca, I completely agree with Barn Owl. Just because someone doesn’t have or want children doesn’t mean they are not supporting the next generation in meaningful ways.

    It’s worth noting that some people do not want children because they think they would make poor parents, whether for medical, financial, or emotional reasons. I think that’s a mature and thoughtful decision, not one to belittle them for. It’s not clear to me, but it seems your comment lumps people who make that choice together as “weird and wonky.”

    As far as I’m concerned, people – especially women – should be able to choose where to devote their energies, and not be called “weird” because they do not want to raise children. I really thought we were supposed to be over that attitude by now.

  19. #19 Zuska
    January 14, 2010

    Some people – and not just women – choose not to have children because they think that is the best choice for the planet, too.

    I think you might have missed an important posting on Casaubon’s Book. That is, there is expected to be a reasonably gradual economic decline.

    One of my points is I don’t think any of actually can know what to expect, because we can hit a tipping point in some system that will just change everything radically.

    I am amused that some people seem to think I have been eating imported strawberries in winter while driving my BMW through big cities all my life, and that I only started contemplating these issues last week.

  20. #20 becca
    January 14, 2010

    Barn Owl- my bad, I was totally misunderstanding how you viewed yourself.

    bioephemera- I was definitely attempting to go much more for the “your skills and talents are needed and wanted in children’s lives, and yes sometimes that may be a burden, but we all need the next generation” message than the “your irresponsible for not breeding” message. Apparently, I was not very clear at all.
    What’s ‘weird’ to me is that many people simply do have children in their day-to-day lives, and do not see themselves as having any role to play with children. We keep kids cloistered off from the rest of the world. I don’t think it’s good for the kids, and I don’t think it’s good for adults.

    “If you think that the world faces grave ecological threats, bragging of the latter type serves an extremely valuable social function in guiding behaviours in exactly the way we would want them to be guided.”
    Unless you’re *SO* obnoxious you make people run out to get BMWs. ;-)

    “I am amused that some people seem to think I have been eating imported strawberries in winter while driving my BMW through big cities all my life, and that I only started contemplating these issues last week.”
    I think what is going on (besides bizarro defensiveness which I won’t try to analyze) is that it’s hard for some of them to see why you would have this reaction of being Totally Freaked on an ongoing basis (in a literal, emotional sense, I don’t think you are. On a *repeated* basis, sure. But not constant.). On the other hand, Totally Freaked is a common reaction for someone who just started contemplating these issues last week.

  21. #21 MadScientist
    January 15, 2010

    Personally I can’t imagine “Peak Oil” being as bad as many may imagine. There are techniques (not so much in use today) for converting coal to various other fuels. That old tech can be revived and refined and perhaps provide a further 100 years of fossil energy. The global warming could turn out to be a much bigger issue – it’s hard to imagine how you might relocate the absolutely enormous farms which feed most of the world’s population. One question which interests me is do humans collectively have the brains to voluntarily reduce their population or was Malthus 100% correct when he wrote that sex trumps all? After all, that is what Malthus read about in his era and we can see it happening in many contemporary societies today.

  22. #22 Luna_the_cat
    January 15, 2010

    And I’ll make a point that I have made before: under most of these “survival by change” scenarios, the urban poor and struggling middle classes are assumed to disappear. I guess they die. Because these are the people who absolutely depend on mass-produced food. They don’t have land and they don’t have the money to go get land, and even if they did there wouldn’t be enough arable land for everyone to get — anyone had more than a few seconds think about modern urban densities? Note, too, that in many developing and underdeveloped countries (in both Africa and Asia) the number of urban poor has mushroomed in the last few decades as population rises mean not enough arable land to partition into even subsistance farms, even where monoculture farming for export *hasn’t* taken over. You are planning your post-apocalyptic “survival” lifestyle on the back of a population crash — that lack of resources will kill off the people who have no opportunity for change. Is that considered to be ok, as long as it’s not *you*?

    Of course, the rising price of food and fuel in many places already contributes to fatalities in the most desperate of the poor in every country. But the situation will not progress with a bang, but with a series of easily-drowned-out whimpers; and the fact is, the people who most need to change lifestyles of overconsumption enough to preserve access to basics for as many as possible, are also the ones who are most prosperous and most shielded from the consequences of overconsumption themselves, and thus have the least motivation to change what they enjoy. I very much doubt that there will be a sudden and dramatic collapse, just a situation in which there is a widening gap between the “haves” and “have nots”, in which more people find themselves shunted to the “have not” side of things, but where the voting power is retained by the “haves”, until we find ourselves in a situation more like the Great Depression or medieval serfdom again, but with modern technology and entertainment. (Technology will not disappear. Let’s face it, there will always be a few who can/must/will keep the highest of high-consumption high-tech going.)

    The only “good” answer I see to this kind of situation would be to find a way to make the high-consumption technology both low-consumption and available widely, while still allowing people in the prosperous West to have their gadgets and comfort. Because the majority of people with the money to sustain their mostly comfortable lifestyles will not voluntarily change, and the people who don’t have comfortable lifestyles to preserve also don’t generally have the money to change things with.

  23. #23 Luna_the_cat
    January 15, 2010

    Note that by “technology” I also mean “food production.” I just wanted to make that plain.

  24. #24 Barn Owl
    January 15, 2010

    Some people – and not just women – choose not to have children because they think that is the best choice for the planet, too.

    That was certainly a factor in my own decision. I’m not sure that one child per adult is a sustainable rate of reproduction, and two children per adult almost certainly isn’t. I’d be interested to hear arguments that might convince me otherwise. Just to make myself clear, though – I think that all existing children deserve adequate food, shelter, and healthcare, plus abundant love, nurturing, and education, regardless of the sources of these.

    I agree with the points made by Luna the cat at #21, and I think we’ve had a taste of how people can and will maintain a high-consumption life, in the face of high fuel costs. When US gas prices topped $4 per gallon, some people used violence, intimidation, and theft to obtain fuel for their vehicles. I doubt that most such individuals did this for work or emergency purposes – no, if you’re a sociopathic shit with a bizarre sense of entitlement about driving your lift-kit 4×4 or fart muffler boom car, you will use any means at your disposal to get what you want. I and my middle-class suburban neighbors can grow vegetables, raise chickens, maintain compost heaps in our yards, and turn sheep into sweaters and socks, but if there’s a collapse, the sociopaths will just drive their vehicles through our fences and into our yards or houses (sometimes this happens accidentally right now), and take what they want. Those of us in urban and suburban settings are pretty much screwed, in a worst-case collapse scenario.

  25. #25 Brad K.
    January 15, 2010

    Luna_the_cat,

    And I’ll make a point that I have made before: under most of these “survival by change” scenarios, the urban poor and struggling middle classes are assumed to disappear. I guess they die.

    I wouldn’t be surprised that the biggest factors in surviving massive change will be adaptability and focus on essentials. And I think the “likely to survive” ratio will strike across all economic classes. Anyone that fails to adapt to major change will face a lower chance of surviving. Dust off the stories of survivors near Nagasaki and Hiroshima, of the bombed cities in Europe and Asia from WWII and Vietnam and in the Middle East. Or the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11, major snow storms and hurricanes, etc. Recall the stories of failed stock brokers after the Crash of 1929. The odds of any individual surviving might not equal surviving an Easter Parade, but those that make fewer mistakes are more likely to be telling the stories, later.

    Preparing for an economic decline is *not* class warfare. It may be that those experienced with living – not just surviving – with less, have things for the rest of us to learn.

  26. #26 Andre Angelantoni
    January 15, 2010

    It’s not true that we’re all screwed…especially if we plan properly, begin to learn new skills and get together with our neighbors to help each other out. Lots of the breakdowns that will occur will be self-limiting, at least in the short term. For instance, we likely will see a moratorium on foreclosures within the next few years, just like what happened in the Great Depression. We will soon learn that kicking 50% of the population out of their homes is madness.

    Also, it takes some time and study to see that life actually can go on, but it’s not obvious at first because the whole situation is very confronting.

    But it will certainly be a jolt for people who are caught by surprise or who are living in the fantasy that renewable energy will be able to replace the astonishing amount of energy we get from fossil fuels in time.

    André Angelantoni Founder, PostPeakLiving.com
    (watch Preparing for a Post Peak Life)

  27. #27 darwinsdog
    January 15, 2010

    Sharon Astyk and The Oil Drum (TOD) crowd are on the right track, perhaps, and have a lot of interesting ideas to share. I followed their blogs and participated in the dialog for months before becoming bored with the repetitiveness of the script. But Sharon and TOD crowd aren’t biologists or ecologists and they miss a large piece of the picture. The future is more grim than the scenarios they portray. On some level they know this but feel that they need to make “preparations” anyhow, since things might not turn out as bad as their darkest fears. Fact is that preparations are futile. The carrying capacity (K) of the biosphere for humans has been exceeded by at least a full order and a half of magnitude. There is simply no way that 6.8 billion people can be fed without massive fossil fuel inputs into mechanized agriculture. Sharon and TOD crowd are correct about the depletion of fossil fuels, especially petroleum, and rock phosphate. Global petroleum production has quite likely already peaked and entered into terminal decline. Human population collapse impends, quite probably within the lifetimes of those already born, and collapse may well be all the way to extinction. More likely, collapse will approach extinction with relict populations persisting in the Southern Hemisphere for several generations until Allee effects pull them one by one down to extinction. In any case, collapse will prove unmanageable for even the best “prepared.” Social upheaval associated with collapsing population will quite likely involve nuclear war and the release of genetically modified strategic pathogens directed against staple cereal crops and legumes. The only “preparation” one can make to free fall population collapse is to determine in one’s mind to die well. Moving to the country and learning to garden won’t help one bit. At worst it will only painfully prolong the inevitable. Sharon and many TOD regs know this but their denial is deeper than they think. They think that making “preps” is a way of holding on to hope, even though such preps will ultimately prove futile. Such behavior is patently neurotic. Enjoy life, I say, and when the situation becomes unbearably grim, which it will within a matter of months to decades, let go. We all die and all species go extinct.

  28. #28 D. C. Sessions
    January 15, 2010

    darwinsdog@26 offers a marvelous example of my contention here.

  29. #29 Luna_the_cat
    January 15, 2010

    Humans ARE technologically advanced, clever omnivorous generalists, who have already adapted to life in almost every land ecosystem on offer. The species will not die off until some time after the biomass of the planet has been stripped down to the level of bacteria. And no, I don’t think that is going to happen; ecosystems will all end up severely degraded, but I think that, as I said, the pinch is more likely to be slow than sudden and catastrophic, and although I’m not even going to hazard a guess at what the population will eventually stabilise at I AM certain it will be larger than “a few relict populations” here and there.

    The “humans will all die off and the planet will go on without us” is frankly a green-liberal-guilt fantasy, in which the harm our species does is permanently removed so that Eden can return. But it is a fantasy. We will adapt our technology too late to avoid much of the harm, but technology will persist and be adapted to more limited resources as it becomes very advantageous to the top of the current economic heap. And although umans frankly suck at long-term planning, in the short term we are damned ingenious. Sorry, but if you are going to bet on humans giong extinct I will quite happily and confidently bet against you.

    Not good news for the rest of the planet, as our current ecological impact rumbles on, but there you go.

    @Brad K.: The single greatest indicator for how many people die in various natural disasters is their socioeconomic level before the disaster. This is one of the reasons why Haiti is so badly screwed right now. They had no margin.

  30. #30 darwinsdog
    January 15, 2010

    I’m quite accustomed to anthropocentric hubris. I’m also accustomed to the ‘argument from personal incredulity,’ as in “I can’t imagine that so it must not be so.”

    Anthropogenic Mass Extinction (AME) began even before modern humans left Africa, with the extinction of several species of presumably competing hyaenids, and accelerated as humans spread throughout the world. Island ecosystems were especially hard hit by the advent of humans but even continental faunas were decimated upon human arrival. The marsupial fauna of Australia, Pleistocene megafauna of the Americas, large flightless avifauna of New Zealand & Madagascar, are just some examples. AME picked up steam with the industrial revolution and exponential increase in human population. AME is the sixth great mass extinction event to impact the biosphere. While few expect AME to approach the magnitude of the end-Permian extinction pulse – which is truly in a class by itself – AME will likely match or exceed the end-Cretaceous dieoff, precipitated by the Chicxulub bolide impact. One of the few constants during mass extinction is that animals of large body size die out. Humans are animals of large body size. Human demographic overshoot of K is unprecedented among vertebrates. The greater the overshoot, the harder the collapse, and the greater the subsequent degradation of K. Post-collapse degradation of K will ensure that any relict populations have no chance of recovery. No vertebrate much larger than a bullhead catfish, starling, or rat, will survive AME.

    Hoarding ammo, learning to garden, or indulging in technocopian fantasies isn’t going to prevent the inevitable. You may as well try to convince yourself of your own personal immortality as to argue that imminent human population collapse and extinction can be somehow circumvented.

  31. #31 i
    January 15, 2010

    I occasionally read Ms. Astyk’s blog and have expressed my reservations there about the lack of attention to defense matters.

    Unfortunately, the degree of population overshoot in which we find ourselves makes theft and pillaging nearly inevitable. While the permaculture community is admirable, I find that it’s very difficult to get any sort of discussion going about defense with them. Many *hate* the entire subject and simply avoid it.

    Regardless, ancient walled cities were walled for a reason. Defense will have to be considered. If there is a collapse, however, I would wait a year of two before joining any permaculture group. After the first few years, the survivors will have learned valuable lessons and are less likely to be victimized again.

  32. #32 addict
    January 15, 2010

    survivailist are idiots. im gonna feel left out if i dont die in the collapse.
    cant fix the world?, . .fix your self. .anyone wanna go in on a bundle?

  33. #33 Omri
    January 15, 2010

    But some of the stuff that runs through the comment threads leans toward survivalism, albeit with a heavy naïve streak. The “real” survivalists are building compounds and laying in ammo to ward off the hungry mobs and looters; these cherubic souls think they will go on placidly gardening in an undisturbed fashion while the hungry ravening mobs swirl around them. If even half of what they are predicting on the blog and in their comments comes true (and I don’t doubt it will, mind you) I just don’t see how that’s going to be possible

    Oh, phshaw… In the 1930′s those hungry, ravening mobs DID swirl around the countryside. But for those who faced those crowds it was a test of their charity, not their marksmanship. Astyk and her crowd are acting on precedent.

  34. #34 Barn Owl
    January 16, 2010

    If some of the subsistencier-than-thou participants in this thread, and at Casaubon’s Book, would just get over themselves for a moment, I think (hope?) they might realize that people like Zuska (and myself) are actually more part of the solution, than part of the problem. We may live in urban or suburban houses, rather than on a small farm, or in a converted granary or chicken coop (or whatever), and we might have bouts of negativity and depression about the possible consequences of Peak Oil and resource shortages. We might not be able to keep goats, chickens, bees, rabbits, pigs, or sheep, because of deed restrictions, city codes, limited space, and/or time limitations, and we might not be able to maintain a large vegetable garden or fruit trees for these same reasons. Since we don’t have livestock, our companion animals don’t need to be working breeds, and so we might take in strays or rescues of non-working, mixed, or even (gasp!) toy breeds. We might have jobs, or spouses, or caretaker responsibilities, or health issues, which guided us in our original location choices, and require us to stay put, at least for the short term.

    Our decisions to have no children don’t make us part of the problem, either, nor does that decision make us less valuable as part of a broader community that strives for sustainability. Perhaps it’s easiest for some to criticize the Zuskas and the Barn Owls, who are interested in making changes and participating in the sustainability discussion, yet who are not entirely on board with all of the projects, and who might express legitimate criticisms of some strategies, proposed or implemented. There are many, many more people in the US who aren’t remotely interested in sustainability issues, and who will never change their behaviors and consumption levels. *They* represent the real problem, but if you stay in your bubble and ignore what goes on in large urban and suburban settings across the US, you can conveniently ignore that fact. Instead, you can readily focus your criticism and subsistence sanctimony on people like Zuska and myself, even though we are *not* the ones driving around in giant SUVs and muscle cars, or flying here and there on a weekly basis, or blithely guzzling bottled water and throwing styrofoam fast food containers out the window. We just happen to be available for the discussion.

    Of course I can’t speak for Zuska’s precise situation. My own is such that I have a small suburban house with yard that is relatively close to my workplace. I like my ethnically diverse, safe, middle-class neighborhood, and I’m not going to walk out on my mortgage. None of my relatives have farms or rural land. I can’t keep livestock, and I have only a tenth of an acre. The soil here is poor, and gardening is best done in raised beds and containers – I have two, and will add more as money and time permit. Local and organic produce is not always easy to find here, and there are no CSAs. I have a great job that I love, as an educator and researcher at a medical/dental school, and I’m not walking out on that. Somebody has to train the physicians and dentists who will care for you and your children. I’m willing to make a lot of changes for sustainability, but I’m not on board with everything; nevertheless, I consider myself more solution than problem.

    Sorry to ramble on, but I’m kind of pissed off at the subsistence sanctimony.

  35. #35 Lora
    January 17, 2010

    @ Barn Owl:

    I think you are perceiving a criticism of your personal lifestyle that was never made. No one is saying, “should,” because the most optimal/critical path is going to be different in every situation–as you yourself have pointed out. There are multiple ways of adapting to change, and something that works in one situation may not work in another. Hence, I personally think it’s important to have a really broad range of skill sets to draw on, because you never know which one may come in useful; plus, there’s not a whole lot of guidance on the subject of what works and what doesn’t, so there’s a certain element of invention required. We’re stuck drawing on historical examples of collapsed vs. surviving societies, and the only thing you can say there is, at least there’s a hell of a lot of examples to study–Including examples of slow collapse in large cities chock-full of apartment buildings (ex-USSR, for one). Due to the USAian bias of the commentariat, yes, you’ll see a lot of people following USAian-type agrarian examples, but by no means are those going to be the only adaptations ever used. Please do invent your own, and share it! I suspect the collaborative thought process “this worked for me, when I tried it, have you tried that” aspect is being misconstrued as a criticism, and it’s not meant to be.

    Also not sure whence you are deriving the promotion of childbearing? I don’t see it, myself, and I’m as child-free as they come.

    WRT employment, I personally work 50-60 hour workweeks for Big MegaPharma and have a non-trivial commute. I take it you are referring to this post? Me personally, I think time to do organizing is only one factor and maybe not the most important at that, for a lot of reasons. Have you found that in a lot of organizations, a few people get stuck doing ALL the work of the entire group–regardless of time constraints of the individual members? Because that’s why I think time is not even the biggest issue. Just my observation.

    Having said that, can you see why hearing, yet again, the refrain that most of us hear at least weekly, “OMFG YOU GUYZ ARE NUCKING FUTS! WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE BETTER STOCK UP ON GUNZ! BUNCH OF HIPPIES!” is probably not going to go over too well? I mean, I’m sure that you have heard all the baby-bingo nonsense according to how old you are (“your child could grow up to cure cancer,” “your biological clock is ticking,” “children are a woman’s greatest achievement,” “it’s not too late” etc.), now imagine hearing a similar version on a regular basis, centered around the notion that the only valid lifestyle is making as much money as possible while spending an awful lot of it on dry cleaning, condo, fancy car, 2.5 children and nasty fast food.

  36. #36 Anna
    January 18, 2010

    Zuska, I applaud you! I have stopped reading Ms Astyk’s blog as her and her fawning fans were just so… annoying. Reading her reply to your post further highlighted to me the kind of petty, unpleasant person she’d be if you were in a community near her and would dare to disagree. Thank you for a refreshing read :)

  37. #37 Jim Thomerson
    January 22, 2010

    I used to think about this some during the Cold War when hot atomic war seemed quite possible. My thinking was influenced by being raised on a small ranch where we used to go into town once a month to buy 100 lb bags of flour, etc. We raised a lot of our food, chopped our own wood. fixed whatever broke, had no electricity, etc. (Actually things got better pretty quickly, but that’s how it was when I was a little kid.) So I think one would want to find a not too favorable place, a good way from any urban center, but part of a community. A place one could set up to be self sufficient as possible, without looking well off. Were it would not be easy for an outsider to find and get in, and where supporting neighbors would be around.