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.