When — not if — TSHTF

As I’ve said and written too many times to count, the Greatest Depression is just getting started. The stock markets have experienced a bear-market rally analogous to the 48 percent rally of 1929-1930. But contemporary unemployment figures indicate serious structural damage to the industrial economy, and even mainstream pundits have started to figure it out: “Most of the jobs lost will never come back.”

An annual decline in world supply of crude oil of 0.5 percent led to $147 oil and therefore to the current economic predicament. The International Energy Agency, which had never previously admitted world oil production would peak, forecast an annual decline of 9 percent beginning in 2009. Through April of 2009, the year-over-year decline is holding steady at about 3 percent. While that may seem like good news for the industrial economy, the opposite is true: The longer we hold onto a slow decline, the steeper the subsequent, inevitable cliff, as has been demonstrated in dozens of fields and collections of fields (e.g., nations). The steeper the cliff, the greater the probability of sudden disruptions in the supply of fuel, food, and water in towns and cities. And, too, a 3 percent annual decline puts us at mid-1980s world oil supply by 2015. Looks like it’s Mourning in America all over again.
The figures for oil supply suggest it is far too late to save the American pipe dream of suburbia, happy motoring with the top down, summer vacations in your national forests, and winter trips to the Caribbean. But if we start planning now, and throw everything we’ve got at it, and we’re very, very lucky, we might be able to ward off a massive human die-off in the industrialized world. We might be able to avoid a catastrophic collapse of western civilization. Unfortunately, I cannot see a shred of evidence to suggest we’re even thinking about putting together those plans any time soon. And, not exactly being the superstitious type, I hate to count on good luck.
If you’re betting civil unrest might overtake our congenital, congenial nature, you could do worse than planning for a sudden collapse of civilization in your local area. If that’s the case, I’ve got three books for you. For best results, you’ll want to memorize them, and then practice every skill they contain. You’d better get cracking.
John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman served in the British Special Air Service (SAS) for 26 years. The SAS Survival Handbook is based on the training techniques of this world-famous elite fighting force. If you think you’re having a bad day, imagine parachuting into unknown territory where all the organisms are unknown to you, and having to secure food, water, and shelter for several weeks. That’s the basic premise of the SAS Survival Handbook. It is chock full of details about how to survive any situation in any climate.
The SAS Handbook describes, step by step, how to set a compound fracture. Ditto for tracking, trapping, killing, and preparing large animals for human consumption. Ditto for deriving drinking water from fish at sea. And so on, until the reader is overwhelmed by the sheer number of Things That Can And Will Go Wrong.
There is little doubt the SAS Handbook is a comprehensive, authoritative body of work. It’s been revised several times since its initial publication in 1986, and has sold a million copies worldwide. But I doubt most people possess the time or rudimentary skills to make a dent in the plethora of specific techniques described in its 576 pages. And it’s hardly a riveting read: I soldiered through as if my life depends on it, but I recall having had more fun reading poorly written critiques of mediocre playwriting during my undergraduate days, when all I really cared about were women and basketball. Put this one in your bug-out bag so that, when the SHTF, you’ll have ballast to drop along the way.
When All Hell Breaks Loose is considerably more interesting than the SAS Survival Handbook, if only because writer Cody Lundin has some semblance of a sense of humor. In addition, the text is interrupted with frequent cartoons to illustrate the main points (Russ Miller provided the illustrations). Lundin is wildly superstitious and he incorrectly believes we have free will, but this book nonetheless provides good advice for difficult times.
Like the SAS Handbook, When All Hell Breaks Loose takes a broad approach, focusing on relatively simple, common-sense approaches to the acquisition of water, food, and shelter. To a greater extent than the SAS Handbook, though, When All Hell Breaks Loose is a preparatory guide. That is, it should be read in advance and thoroughly digested, after which significant action can be thoughtfully applied to prepare for an emergency (as opposed to reacting to one). Furthermore, unlike the SAS Handbook, this book pays considerable attention to urban survival and also to staying in place for an extended period. It’s not merely a dropped-into-nowhere guidebook for aspiring mercenaries.
Consider, for example, Lundin’s section on storing food and water in the home. There’s nothing revolutionary here, and certainly nothing unique to this book. But rudimentary information on storing food for emergencies isn’t a bad idea. Neither is basic information about composting and using gray water. Indeed, these concepts should be integrated into every household, even if the homestead isn’t a doomstead.
Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life is the pick of this litter. Written by New York Times bestselling novelist Neil Strauss, this book reads like a well-paced disaster novel. Gripped by fear about the impending collapse of industrial society — and living in Los Angeles certainly would do that to me — Strauss set out to insulate himself from such a catastrophe. He is quick to point out his naiveté when he sets out on his journey: A city boy who spent most of his adult life as a music writer for the New York Times, Strauss is the model subject for transforming ignorance into preparedness.
Strauss began to lose faith in industrial civilization about ten years ago. But he ramped up personal preparations only three years before the book was published in 2009. Thus, he transformed himself from a relatively helpless, hapless, hip, and urbane city-dweller into a hard-core survivor within a relatively short period of time. Lest we get too cocky about our own ability to similarly transform ourselves, Strauss spent more money than most of us have ever earned, and his writing credential opened a few doors. Nonetheless, the skills he acquired in a short period of time are impressive. To wit: “Today I can draw a holstered pistol in 1.5 seconds, aim at a target seven yards away, and shoot it twice in the heart. I can start a fire by rubbing two pieces of wood together. I can identify seven hundred types of footprints when tracking animals and humans. I can survive in the wild with nothing but a knife and the clothes on my back. I can find water in the desert, extract drinkable fluids from the ocean, deliver a baby, fly a plane, pick locks, hot-wire cars, build homes, set traps, evade bounty hunters, suture a bullet wound, kill a man with my bare hands, and escape across the border with documents identifying me as the citizen of a small island republic.”
Not bad. Not bad at all. If I possessed the ability to do any two of those, I’d think I was damned talented.
In addition to reading like a fast-paced novel, Emergency is genuinely uplifting. In the end, Strauss uses his newly acquired skills to serve his community: “Most days you’ll find me in Los Angeles, doing search and rescue as SR14 with C.E.M.P. [California Emergency Mobile Patrol], training with the Disaster Communications Service as ham radio operator KI6SJC, working local medical events as EMT number B1892201, running mass-casualty incident drills with CERT [Certified Emergency Response Team] battalion 5 — or milking goats in my backyard.” Although he learned these skills and acquired these credentials strictly to save his own ass, Strauss realized the power of saving others: “those who run to death also run to life.”
Check out Emergency from the library, and read it in a weekend, as I did. Then acquire When All Hell Breaks Loose and start serious planning for that day, not far off, when TSHTF.

Comments 20

  • Guy
    you should have a link to amazon
    so you can get a 7% commission. :)
    Thanks, Guy, I was feeling reasonably
    sunny today. My local library
    has Eemergency and the SAS handbook. Woo hoo!
    Are you relying on data or intuition? Is there a
    difference here.
    re – TSHTF. As much respect I have for your
    voice, passion and sincerety,
    your collapse may be very local.
    This GFC will play out differntly
    in different countries. I dont think
    the energy decline per se is the
    problem, its our reaction and current
    non reaction that will be the source
    of the major unrest. How we learn to
    live with less not more, will be
    the challenge. As stated previously
    some nations get by very well with half the
    energy consumption of the US and Aus.
    Just visited the wifes sister house in the country.
    They are putting the finishing touches
    to their new 6000sqft home, yes there is
    just the two of them. I helped him fit
    his flat screen idiot box to the wall.
    The bracket (remote control) cost $1000,
    the TV $5000. He had enough porcelain floor tile
    off cuts to tile a modest house. I just tiled
    by shed!
    Are they peak oil aware? Of course not. Ah the burden…

  • Prof Em Guy:
    Yes indeed.
    And certainly there must be something in all this that would help Wendy wend off the rabbits that are stealing her turnips.
    Please help her out.

  • My neighborhood is inundated with rabbits.They breed a lot faster than the coyotes who eat them.
    So would you help both Wendy and me Prof Em Guy.

  • Anyone who thinks capitalists are nice should read Tim Harford’s, “The Underground Economist”,where he explains why IBM,Intel,and Adobe deliberately sabotage their own
    products to induce their customers to spend more money.

  • The caveman vision seems a little bit extreme. Perhaps even in a cave you will require a modest commerce between families sitting around fires in other dark corners?
    My book suggestion is: Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses. (Available for free.)
    Yes the title contains words that have become suspect in our discussion AND it is published by a university. However, it might be more aptly titled: Building An Appropriate Lifestyle. We could bring values to our efforts in life. If we first tried to understand our goals and then routinely evaluated to what degree we achieve them, we could see that American “health-care” is actually disease management.

  • Somehow the link was not posted with the comment.
    We will try again: http://www.misa.umn.edu/vd/bizplan.html

  • Matt, the collapse — which is ongoing — will develop differently in different countries and even different neighborhoods. Civilized western Europe uses a lot less energy, per capita, than #1 Australia or #2 U.S., because they made the appropriate investments in infrastructure many, many years ago. They have excellent public transportation, excellent bicycle paths, excellent mixed-use neighborhoods, and so on. We don’t have ANY of that stuff. Of course there is a lot of “slack” in the system, as there has always been, but we’re working out a lot of that slack right now, as the industrial economy implodes. At some point, likely in the very near future, disruptions in supply of the stuff we need to survive are going to make people quite unhappy, especially in cities where almost nobody knows their neighbors. Food and water come immediately to mind. Fuel, too. For that matter, disruptions in the supply of reality shows might be enough to tip some people over the edge.
    Frank (and Wendy), I’m having serious issues with pocket gophers in the potato patch. So far I’m using lethal means and still losing the war. The threat of MAD isn’t convincing them. If I can’t handle pocket gophers, with their tiny brains, I dare not enter the rabbit foray. You’re on your own.

  • Guy: re the list of skills Strauss touts, good for him. But I don’t think being able to hot-wire a car is going to come in very handy in a post-fuel world, nor will the ability to fly a plane, although I’ve done that. And hopefully I’ll never need to know how to kill a man with my bare hands. (I wonder how Strauss knows he can do that. On second thought, I’d rather not know.) Therefore, I think I’ll start with the other book, When TSHTF…I mean, When All Hell Breaks Loose.
    Coincidentally, just today I had a run-in with a gopher making a bee-line for my potato patch. I handled this one with a gopher-bomb in his tunnel, but will need to come up with something for the future that doesn’t require a run to the hardware store.
    Frank: I have a love-hate relationship with the bunnies. I am such a sucker for the furry things, I am currently harboring a tiny one under my porch and enjoy watching it eat grass in my yard. But I’d prefer they not eat up my garden. My solution – chicken wire fence. After all, we can’t get rid of the entire local population of rabbits, and I’ve found no other way of discouraging them.

  • Wendy & Prof Em Guy:
    Sun City is a weird place,but of the nice things about my neighborhood is the lack of fences.The wide open wild West.All creatures can come and go as they like.
    A chicken wire fence would violate the unspoken cultural covenant with my neighbors.They all get to walk thru my property,and I thru theirs.Maybe I’ll
    just have to put up with the rabbits–sigh.
    I have an affection for the tiny Caribbean islands-I’ve been to many.It’s usual to not lock your doors or windows,and also to just leave everything open.On Mustique,my cottage was open on two sides,so the neighborhood cats and dogs just walked right thru my living room at all hours.Found a cat curled up on on a chair as I was preparing for bed–put it outside–but woke up in morning to find the same cat in the same place.My chair was it’s bed.I’m a light sleeper,so I’d find the same dog walking thru my place at 3:00 or 4:00 AM.Great fun.

  • Frank: Sounds like you and your neighbors (and the dogs and cats) have a great sense of community. My home remains unlocked at all times, so friends and family can stop by and drop things off in my house, or pick up items I’ve left for them, or use the amenities as needed. My property also is open, and my dog and the neighbors’ dog roam together over either place at will. However, I do draw the line at my garden. Humans are welcome to step over the fence and help themselves (with prior permission), but bunnies and gophers are fauna non grata.

  • Wendy:
    Yes,it’s becoming more apparent all the time–we’re two of a kind.But I have a question.Apparently you’re not cocerned with burglars,intruders or other unwanteds.
    How are you able,in this lawless era,to keep your home unlocked at all times?

  • Wendy:
    The dogs and cats only happened on Mustique,but there are numerous places,such as Caribbean islands,where no one locks their doors.Entire islands are open to one and all.I’ve stayed in many hotels and resorts where there are no keys,because there are no locks on the doors.On Mustique,two sides of my cottage basically had no walls,except for something to close in bad weather.

  • H’mmm…Prof Em Guy may have made a mistake building his mud hut in hot, arid Arizona. I think I’ll pack up and move to a small Caribbean island. There must be plenty of sustainability to be had in tropical paradise! :)

  • Frank: To answer your question, I suppose it’s the same concept as those homes on Mustique – a matter of honor and trust. This is rural Idaho, very little crime, and my old farmhouse doesn’t look like much out here among the fields. Anyone who is going to bother with a crime will break into a nicer looking home in town. The neighbors watch out for each other. And I have a dog with a terrifying bark. Strangers don’t dare come near if I’m not around to call her off.

  • ‘The wind got up in the night
    and took our plans away.’
    Chinese proverb
    There was a false belief that energy
    usage is relatively inelastic.
    The GFC has proven this.
    It was believed that the design of our cities
    had created a situation where the required energy
    usage to maintain them was fixed and inelastic.
    This is not the case.
    Chasing sunk costs, or the psychology of past
    investments is a another matter.
    I might add that the decline in petroleum
    use has not been greater than the
    decline in the production of oil. You are right
    we are chasing the slack now, we will hit an
    efficiency limit soonish. It is happening now
    with regards to car dependent suburbs,
    they have become considerably cheaper than inner
    city ones.
    So we are still in trouble no matter how many hybrids
    we use. As mentioned previously –
    the purchasing of industrially made
    environmental products is an oxymoron.
    It is a conundrum, I am yet to resolve.
    Everything is future waste – ‘architecture is waste’.
    Trying telling that to an architecture undergrad,
    I have, did not go down to well, clearly I am
    in the wrong profession.
    The oil production decline will spur
    efficiency gains, this wont leave any room
    for surplus for growth – let the downward spiral begin.
    Ten years ago we had a ‘gas crisis’ here.
    (household – heating and cooking).
    A gas plant blew up. We had no
    household gas for 2 weeks, SES
    (volunteers/dads army) went around
    and turned off everybody’s supply at the
    meter. The remaining gas in the lines
    was rationed to hospitals and other
    emergency services. I had no hot
    water for 2 weeks so I had bucket
    showers. The community rallied
    somewhat, our premier/governer of the
    time basically said that whingers were
    soft cocks and told us all to suck it up.
    The point is perhaps we may under estimate our ability
    to collectively respond positively to emerging and emergency
    Guy, you wont have any friends left if you go around
    saying that TSWHTF soon! It is a lonely business.
    Better to go to your mates house, drink beer
    and watch the Tour de France on the big screen!

  • Wendy:
    I understand.There is a prominent rampike(dead tree) displayed in my front yard.
    What about a private island as a safer fortress against the maurading mob.If you’re surrounded by water,isn’t it easier to defend ? Just a thought.I’d like to hear others
    opinions about that.

  • Two hotels just bombed in Jakarta.I was in Belfast during the height of “the troubles”.
    Everyone entering a hotel had to go thru a security check point.Barbed wire was a common sight.I have many horror stories of that experience.Everyone in Belfast knew they were in a war zone.
    Will we face a future where every place looks like Belfast?

  • http://video.aol.com/video-detail/the-audacity-of-no-hope/1127743939
    It’s always a matter of when, not if. But, as long as you’re alive you have to keep going. Sure, there are other options, but they aren’t nearly as interesting as continuing to live despite knowing how the third act plays out.

  • nice vid charlene
    ‘the audacity of no hope’
    (title for guys next post)
    A mate of mine loves zombie movies,
    (media studies grad). He constantly
    critiques them as if they were a form
    of high culture. I have suggsted they
    are merely a means to produce copious amounts of
    gratitous/comic (sp?) violence. Not exactly sophisticated
    criticism I know. He too, is a fan of Romero.
    Lack of appreciation for the genre aside,
    I am a fan of 28 days later and 28 weeks later.
    I confess this peak oil thingy has somewhat
    heightened my appreciation for apocalyptic ‘entertainment’.

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