Thriving in the post-carbon era

We’ve passed the world oil-supply peak and we’re staring down the barrel of a crisis to which leadership is conspicuously absent. If you think the government — or anybody else for that matter — will bail your sinking rowboat when oil is priced at $400/barrel and annual inflation is running at 1,000 percent, you failed to notice how long it took FEMA to get water to the Superdome in the wake of Katrina. That was a temporary inconvenience, and the feds had plenty of resources, including carbon-based ones.

Disruptions in electrical power and the flood of food at the grocery store, not to mention disruptions in drinking water, pose a significant challenge to human survival. Thriving in this environment will require a certain set of psychological traits and some serious planning. I am often asked about the latter issue (apparently the perception that I’m insane precludes much inquiry about the former issue).
Preparations will be different for every person and every place. I live in the American Southwest, a region that presents huge obstacles to post-carbon survival. Due to familial issues, I’ll be staying in the area until well after TSHTF, thus precluding my exit to a location more desirable to me (e.g., Belize, Hawaii’s big island). Caveat emptor: The following description is relatively specific to southern Arizona and southern New Mexico.
Regardless where you choose to spend your post-carbon years, a few things are necessary: water, food, shelter, and community. Piecing together an existence that supplies each of these elements will not be easy, but I think creative people will be able construct a life worth living. A few people will even thrive, helped along by the knowledge that the collapse of American Empire is wonderful news for the many species and cultures with which we share the planet.
Water is primary. Our landing zone has a river within a few hundred meters. The river is not quite perennial at the nearest stretch: it runs for 11 months, most years. The groundwater, at less than 20 feet, is shallow enough for a hand-dug well. In our near future, if all goes according to plan: large storage tanks and a mechanical pump that can be run with solar power or by hand.
Food is a big deal, too. We’re learning about wildcrafting (i.e., harvesting nature’s bounty for our own selfish purposes). A neighbor harvests all his food this way. I grew up hunting and fishing, so I’m not averse to shooting and trapping animals for food. Our rural future offers opportunities for harvesting small game and the occasional deer. And we’re starting a relatively large garden in anticipation of the failure of large-scale agriculture. Remember, Eden was a garden, not a farm. Better stock up on tools. For my next birthday, I’ll ask for a shovel. And maybe a plow, attached to a mule.
Food storage will help. We’re digging a root cellar to store anything we can grow.
We’ve designed a strawbale building, and we’ll try to do most of the construction ourselves. The road ahead seems rocky at best, in no small part because we’ve got all the wrong skills for post-carbon living. Yes, we can deconstruct ideas and talk about philosophy, government policy, and macroeconomics. But, as I wrote in one of my recent books, I can’t fix my cranky toilet. To say I’m mechanically disinclined would be a huge understatement.
For a couple years, we’ve been hovering at the periphery of the community into which we’ve chosen to settle. Lately we’re spending most weekends in the area, working on home-improvement tasks and further inculcating — and hopefully even endearing — ourselves into the community of a hundred or so decent, hardy folk. Many of them have spent the last few decades or so preparing for a low-carbon existence. I hope they’ll share their knowledge with those of us who are late to the party.

Comments 5

  • Presumably you won’t be hunting or gathering any threatened or endangered species…?

  • Worse, this lack of leadership comes at a time when global warming is already making life more difficult and uncertain for endangered species.

  • Is global warming being reversed? The United Kingdom’s Metrological Office has said that 2008 will be the coldest year, calculated on an average basis, since 1999 by 0 .01 Celsius. Should we all celebrate and forget about green house gas emissions? Have we licked global warming?

  • Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s near-surface air and oceans since the mid-20th century. We must be more careful.

  • Great blog post! I love learning about this online as gardening/landscaping are not only hobbies of mine but I actually do a little bit of work like that during the summer months as a second job. I appreciate your content in your blog and wish that you would keep up the good work :)