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Handy Hints For The Coming Chaos

By Peter Goodchild

14 September, 2011

The following hints are meant to apply to the early decades of systemic collapse, while such things as government, money, and law and order can still be said to exist.

Preparing for the decline of oil and other natural resources will be quite different from preparing for the short-term emergencies covered in most survival manuals. The future will not consist merely of “stocking up,” waiting for the big moment, and then locking your doors and waiting for “the authorities” to arrive.

The world now has an average of 45 people for every square kilometer (120 per square mile) of land surface. In foraging (hunting-and-gathering) societies, on the other hand, there is an average of far less than 1 percent of that density. Since the survivors will be living closer to a “foraging” way of life than to an “industrial” one, the first step is to move to somewhere with a low population density.

Those who live in the country will be better prepared than those who live in the city. A city is a place that consumes a great deal but produces little, at least in terms of essentials. A city without incoming food or water collapses rapidly, whereas a small community closely tied to the natural environment can more easily adjust to technological and economic troubles.

There are not many store-bought foods that can be kept for years. Anything in cans or jars is going to be suspect after a while. Thoroughly dried foods might last for a long time, but they would have to kept in darkness and sealed against insects or larger pests. Oils would go rancid, so most whole grains wouldn’t last forever. White (not brown) rice, however, will last for decades if it is kept well sealed in plastic or metal; it won’t provide all the elements of a balanced diet, but in a year of famine it could save your life.

Learn to grow your own food; you should probably get used to a largely vegetarian diet. Only 10 percent of the world’s land is suitable for crops, and most of that is already being used. Nevertheless, people have drifted into urban areas to such an extent over the years that many rural areas now have a fair amount of abandoned but arable land. Don't assume that growing vegetables is simple: no matter how many books you’ve read, it takes a good deal of practice to become sufficiently skilled.

Before you buy rural property, make sure the soil is fertile: find government maps that show arable land, look at the prevailing vegetation (hardwoods are a better sign than conifers, for example), or see if there is any commercial farming being done in that area.

Good soil has sufficient humus, and also adequate amounts of about 16 elements, especially nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, naturally occurring or otherwise. Compost and animal manure can provide humus, but they will do little to make up for missing elements. You should be leery of “organic gardening”: much of it is little more than folklore, primarily for the reasons mentioned in the previous two sentences. If the soil isn't naturally fertile, its ability to produce crops will always be limited.

For a largely vegetarian diet, you will need at least 0.25 hectare (0.5 acre) per person, at least if you also intend to produce grains, not just “vegetables” in the narrow sense of the word. (In most climates, “intensive” gardening is only possible with motorized irrigation.) Useful crops are those high in carbohydrates and protein. Less useful would be those susceptible to diseases, bugs, bad soil, or bad weather; potatoes, for example, provide calories but can have many problems.

If you’re determined to raise animals for food, you may find that chickens are the least troublesome, but deal with them in a manner more primitive than that described by most modern books, which are based on maximized production rather than “survivability.”

Where farming isn’t very practical, you might at least supplement your diet by foraging (hunting and gathering), especially in areas of very low human population density. It’s generally impossible to live solely on wild plants (in most of northern North America, for example, blueberries are the only wild plant food worth serious attention), so it might be necessary to hunt, trap, and fish.

A gun would be useful if you live in a country that allows such things. There’s no such thing as a perfect gun, so you have to make your own decisions. A .22 is quiet, with lightweight ammunition, but not very good for hunting large animals. A 12-gauge shotgun will take a variety of ammunition, but it’s only good for short distances. You could use a shotgun for deer, or you might prefer a rifle, perhaps a lever-action .30/30 (light and easy to carry), a .270, a .303, or a 30-06. Bolt and lever actions are less trouble-prone than either pump or semi-automatic. Do plenty of target practice, well before you need to be able to shoot straight.

It's been said that there might be far too many people planning to hunt for food. But that might not be the case: the shortage of fuel will cut down the number of motorized vehicles on which the modern hunter depends; the average person nowadays lacks the physical stamina for hunting; and there are simply not that many people who have the skills for hunting.

Learn basic medicine. Most books on wilderness medicine, unfortunately, are based on the assumption that you’ll be traveling with a suitcase full of drugs, which won’t be the case. Training in so-called first aid would be more useful. A few herbal medicines have genuine value. Most medical problems, even if untreated, eventually go away.

The only heating fuel will be wood. In a cold climate, from 8 to 40 cubic meters (2 to 10 full cords) are needed for a winter. One hectare (2 acres) will provide 8 cubic meters (1 cord) on a sustainable basis. With a non-motorized saw, you might conserve your strength by cutting wood that is narrow enough not to need splitting. The smaller the house, the less wood that will be needed. Rooms that are not needed in winter should be closed off; windows should be covered.

You'll be traveling more slowly. Your speed is about the same whether on foot, on horseback, or in a non-motorized boat: 40 km (25 miles) per day, if you’re in excellent health. When looking at maps, consider the possibility that you’re looking at the wrong lines: perhaps you should be studying the rivers, lakes, and seacoasts, not the roads.

Peter Goodchild is the author of Survival Skills of the North American Indians, published by Chicago Review Press. His email address is prjgoodchild {at} gmail.com.




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