Hints For Post-Petroleum
By Peter Goodchild
22 November, 2007
The priority of these "hints"
will vary as the years go by, but most of them will remain relevant
over the course of the century. The slight bias toward northern North
America is partly due to the fact that the area meets most of the criteria.
1 The world now has an average
of 116 people for every square mile of land surface. In foraging (hunting-and-gathering)
societies, on the other hand, there is an average of only about 0.1
person for every square mile. Since the survivors will be living closer
to a "foraging" way of life than to an "industrial"
one, the first and most obvious step is to move to somewhere with a
low population density. (Crowded countries, on the other hand, will
be experiencing famine.)
2 Everything in the modern
world is dependent on hydrocarbons. From hydrocarbons we get fuel, fertilizer,
pesticides, lubricants, plastic, paint, synthetic fabrics, asphalt,
pharmaceuticals, and many other things. When oil goes, our entire industrial
society will go with it. We must therefore look to "primitive"
3 On a broader scale, one
could can say that modern industrial society is based on (1) hydrocarbons,
(2) metals, and (3) electricity. The three are intricately connected;
each is only accessible — on the modern scale — if the other
two are present. Electricity, for example, has been possible on a global
scale only with hydrocarbons. The same is true of metals: most metals
are now becoming rare, and the forms that remain can be processed only
with modern machinery — which requires hydrocarbons. There is
no way of breaking that "triangle." What we are then looking
at is a society far more primitive than the one to which we have been
4 It might be possible to
grow one’s own food. The problem, however, is that only 13% of
the world’s land is suitable for crops, and nearly all of that
is already being used. Also, the "13%" refers to the land
when it was virgin soil; since then it has been quite depleted. 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
5 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. One should leery of "organic gardening"
— much of it is little more than folklore, primarily for the reasons
just mentioned. One should get one’s soil tested by a government-approved
laboratory, while it is still possible to do so. While prices are still
low enough, one should go to a farm-supply store and buy a lifetime
supply of high-grade fertilizer.
6 It is possible to live
mainly on cultivated plants, but at least 1/4 acre per person would
be needed. (In most climates, "intensive" gardening is only
possible with motorized irrigation.) Useful crops would be those high
in carbohydrates and protein. Less useful would be those susceptible
to diseases, bugs, bad soil, or bad weather. One of the most practical
crops has the scientific name of Zea mays — and unfortunately
too many common names: maize, corn, etc. (One should choose from the
varieties commonly called field corn, grain corn, or Indian corn, not
the "sweet corn" that is sold in supermarkets.) Beans and
squash should also be high on the list. Most root crops are also worthwhile,
but potatoes are subject to insects and diseases. Grains other than
maize generally require more tools, but they can still be feasible.
7 Where farming isn’t
practical, one might survive on foraging, especially in areas of very
low human population density. It is generally impossible to live solely
on wild plants, so it would be necessary to hunt, trap, and fish. The
organs, fat, and marrow should not be wasted. The flesh can be dried.
The hides provides clothing, the bones provide tools.
8 A rifle or shotgun would
be handy until there was no more ammunition. Bows and arrows can be
made and used; in some respects they are actually superior to firearms.
Deadfalls and snares can be used for many species.
9 Basic medicine is worth
learning. Most books on wilderness medicine assume one would be traveling
with a suitcase full of drugs, which will not be the case; drugs expire.
Training in so-called first aid would be more useful. Those who have
lived a sedentary life should start developing their muscles —
they will need them.
10 Living in the country
has less to do with butterflies and flowers, and more to do with carpentry
and plumbing, so one should learn how to do household repairs and improvement.
When building, one should consider local materials: logs, bark, grass,
moss, stones, clay. Local materials cost less, require less transportation,
and are more easily replaced.
11 The only heating fuel
will be wood. In a cold climate, from 2 to 10 full cords are needed
for a winter, depending on many factors. A cord (128 cubic feet) is
4 trees of 12-inch diameter. Two acres of trees will provide 1 cord
on a sustainable basis. With a non-motorized saw, one would conserve
one’s strength by cutting logs less than 6 inches wide —
also, they will not require splitting. The smaller the house, the less
wood that will be needed. Rooms that are not needed should be closed
off; windows should be covered.
12 Bicycles would be hard
to repair. Paved roads might be unusable: the route will be blocked
by smashed and abandoned cars, and everywhere the asphalt will be starting
to crack. On foot, on horseback, or in a boat, one’s speed is
about the same: 25 miles per day, if one is in excellent health.
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The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. Champaign, Illinois: U
of Illinois P, 1980.
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Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.
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Peter Goodchild is the author of Survival Skills of
the North American Indians, published by Chicago Review Press. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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