February 20, 2011
Personal Responses To Large Scale Collapse

First off, the purpose of this post is not to argue that a collapse of society is in any way imminent or definite in the foreseeable future. I just want to raise the level of discourse I see on blogs and other venues about how to respond to larger scale collapse and assorted disaster scenarios. I'll spare you links to comments on other blogs that were irritating enough to make me write this post.

The term "collapse" covers a wide range of possible future scenarios, each with varying degrees of severity. For example, we could go thru a period of higher inflation all the way up to Weimar-style hyper-inflation. That can cause economic collapse. Or declining oil production could cause economic contraction that might be severe enough warrant the term "collapse". Such a contraction might come with revivals as part of a long economic descent.

Natural physical events could cause societal collapse. A large coronal mass ejection from the Sun aimed at Earth could cause a Carrington Event like in 1859. Such an event today could cause most of the electric grid transformers to melt (though we could mitigate much of that risk, and fairly cheaply). As a result, cities would become uninhabitable for months or years due to lack of electric power. Or a VEI 7 volcano like Tambora in 1815 would cause crop failures for a year or two combined with very cold weather with resulting food and energy shortages. Or a VEI 8 volcano like Toba of 74,000 years ago would cause collapse at a level that makes Weimar hyper-inflation a walk in the park in comparison. Still other civilization-threatening scenarios can be imagined.

We've got lots of ways for things to go wrong. We can debate the probabilities of each. But regardless of whether the cause of collapse or decay is due to financial events, natural resource depletion, natural disaster, or even thermonuclear war each of the possible causes come in varying levels of severity (e.g. the size of the volcanic eruption varies over a wide scale, the size of solar coronal mass ejections similarly vary in severity, as do nuclear war scenarios). Those different levels of severity are too often elided. Therefore important nuances about how to respond to lesser levels of severity are often lost. Given that probabilities of disasters are inversely related to their scale (i.e. smaller scale disasters happen more often than larger scale disasters) this is unfortunate.

Since most discussions about disasters and survivalism tend to focus on severe scenarios (it being more fun to imagine total collapse) most proposals about how to survive collapse miss out on what to do about disasters that are moderate in scope. To counteract that tendency I would like to present a first cut attempt at a typology for different levels of response needed for different kinds and severities of collapse. These responses are at a personal level (since most of us do not have our hands on the levers of government) so that w can think about our options as individuals and as members of smaller social groups and families. I will set aside preparations for disaster and collapse and focus mainly on responses.

A proposed collapse response typology:

  • Stay put, live frugally and defensively.
  • Migrate.
  • Hide in plain sight (this can be added to either of the first two options).
  • Form a defensive perimeter for an armed camp.
  • Form a raiding gang.
  • Hide out of sight.
  • Tunnel down and surrender the surface to nature.

Okay, probably not what you were expecting. But let me explain: A great many disaster novels focus on groups migrating across a post-apocalyptic landscape or forming a sort of Fort Apache to fight off marauding bands of scavengers. But these options do not make sense in most common disaster scenarios. For example, if your country descends into high inflation with an economic depression (think Argentina in 2001) what point is there to moving around? Also, few people will gain any advantage by creating not only gated communities but heavily guarded neighborhoods with barbed wire and lots of gunners guarding the perimeter. Other options make more sense.

A garden variety financial crisis with a mild depression thrown in probably is best handled by staying put and adopting a number of defensive tactics against an inevitable rise in crime rates. Fernando "Ferfal" Aguirre, who lived through the Argentina financial crisis and depression that began in 2001, wrote a book about his experiences, The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse (and the book needs a good editor but makes useful points). Aguirre argues that in financial crises moving out from cities to the country makes you easier prey. Formation of an isolated defensive community requires a considerable number of people to stand guard in all directions. It is hard for a very small group to defend themselves on an isolated ranch. Though the extent of the danger when living in a rural area depends in part on the sort of nation you live in, what region you live in, and other considerations. A small town (not a single farm house) in the middle of farm fields might be much safer than a city.

Less severe disasters (whether economic, political, natural or other) are more frequent than more severe disasters. The smaller disasters are also easier to prepare for. Plus, some of the forms of preparation for smaller scale disasters are also quite useful for larger scale disasters. Therefore it is not sensible to buy an abandoned missile silo and turn it into an underground disaster ark before buying candles, enough food to last for months, and a way to purify water. Get ready for earthquakes, hurricanes, and several day power outages before preparing for combat or a retreat from the surface of the planet.

Some localized crises are best dealt with by migration. Move away from the trouble. A volcano flowing down on a village or a smaller scale Carrington Event with only localized damage to the electric grid would leave most of the world still functional. So if you can go to a nicer place then it makes sense to go where you can get fresh water and electric power?

The options I find most interesting are those that amount to different variations on hiding. Hiding has a major advantage over defense: less attention from predators. When defensive perimeters get set up to guard really valuable assets (e.g. food, drugs, fresh water, solar panels) these perimeters attract raiders. The visibility of a well-guarded perimeter sends a message saying "We've got good stuff inside". Groups big enough to take down your perimeter will be tempted to try. Also, in a severe crisis you are as likely to be raided by a security and military units of a desperate government as by desperate private groups. If you can hide it works much better because nobody comes knocking to take what you have.

Hiding starts at the most minimal level with hiding in plain sight. This is the trickiest option to pull off. It means stay where you are with valuable resources but make it seem as if you have nothing. Act poor. Appear as poor and destitute as everyone else. The advantage is that nobody tries to take what you have. You can keep your dwelling and swap favors in your familiar and trusted circle of friends. It also enables you to engage in commerce and do work if what you do is still useful after some disaster.

Hiding in plain sight does not work if you can't really hide what you've got. It works better if you can plan in advance and create false walls that hide, say, a secret underground room that has your food supply. That way, even if someone forces their way into your home they won't find much.

Hiding in plain sight only makes sense if you have stuff worth hiding and if you can maintain your subterfuge for as long as the crisis requires. Even if you have great techniques for hiding your stuff and have many months of supplies this approach won't work indefinitely. Your own obvious success will eventually doom your strategy if most other people can't get enough food. For example, imagine (and for hard core survivalists no imagining is even necessary) before a disaster you stockpiled a few years of food in well hidden locations easily accessible only to you. Then a VEI 8 volcano knocks out most photosynthesis for a few years and it looks like most people in your community are eventually going to starve to death. Does hiding in plain sight work? For a while. But your own lack of emaciation will eventually blow your cover as everyone else becomes gaunt. Bottom line: You can't hide your stuff while presenting yourself in public if your own appearances will reveal that you must possess a survival cache.

This leads us up to hiding out of sight. If an extended period of hunger becomes a certainty and you have sufficient food to survive then your need shifts toward how to get your non-emaciated body literally out of sight of everyone else. Do not let people see your obviously well-fed body while everyone else starves to death. Hide in an obscure location.

Those with a more martial bent might think a defense perimeter has more appeal. At first glance a defense perimeter seems like a viable strategy. But you need enough food for all the people needed to maintain that perimeter as well as the right sorts of people to create it (e.g. loyal, conscientious, good with guns, skilled in military tactics). That's hard to put together. But let us suppose you've got the needed quantities of food, guns, great location, and skilled marksmen in your survival group. In the early days of a great starvation that works for the same reason that when fleeing a bear with a group of people you don't have to be able to outrun the bear: You just have to be able to outrun everybody else. So it is with defense perimeters. If you've got a great defense perimeter then other less well defended groups will get attacked first by raiding gangs (unless raiding gangs are too stupid to accurately rank defense perimeters - and you can count on some stupidity). But eventually the easier targets will get wiped out. Then the best organized raiders (which could well be real government military units) will come for you.

The most severe collapse scenarios therefore require either the most sophisticated methods of hiding or membership in the most organized groups of military force or both. If you are not part of a special forces group or high group of military officers then hiding way off the beaten path is the ultimate survival strategy during a severe collapse scenario when trying to defend against depredations by other desperate humans. Hiding can be done by smaller groups than are needed to pull off defense perimeters. Hiding groups need fewer martial skills and less time spent outside on guard.

Given a big enough volcanic eruption or asteroid strike your need to hide takes on a different form: the need to hide from the elements. If sunlight is going to get blocked out for a while you need to go underground where the temperatures will not fall below about 50 Fahrenheit. Human artifacts have lasted longest underground because they are protected from plants, storms, and temperature variations. But the amount of resources needed to build up an underground survival community is so great that I doubt many groups outside of militaries and top leaderships would have the resources to prepare such a place after the initial disaster became known.

To evaluate the best responses to disasters and collapses you need to consider the severity and duration of the likely disaster period. Strategies optimal for some scenarios will doom you to failure in other scenarios. Keep in mind that much less severe disasters are more likely than the most severe scenarios.

If you want to prepare for the full range of disasters and collapse you need to accurately predict the level of desperation your fellow humans will feel, how many resources you need to survive, and who you should team up with to achieve needed synergies of survival skills. Crises develop over a period of time and you need to map out your succession of strategies and be prepared to switch to a new strategy when conditions deteriorate to the point where an early stage strategy ceases to be viable.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 February 20 09:52 PM  Disaster Survival

xd said at February 20, 2011 10:47 PM:

Come on Randall, you're not going doomer on us are you?

Anyways, far as I can make it we're less than 10 years from covering our asses with disruptive renewables, nuke, shale gas and electrified transport not to mention medical breakthroughs.

Sure the US and Europe are in a prolonged recession, but not the entire planet.

All you need to do is look at the rate of discovery taking place today. If I didn't know better I would suspect "the singularity is near"

James Bowery said at February 20, 2011 11:07 PM:

There used to be businesses that dealt with this kind of thing:

Insurance companies.

Too bad they don't exist anymore.

Nowadays, the actuarial "profession" is more akin to the oldest profession.

Randall Parker said at February 20, 2011 11:30 PM:


The rate of scientific discovery? It is actually quite low. See Tyler Cowen's The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better. We are doing lots of refinements derived from older discoveries. Truly fundamental discoveries on par with, say, the transistor have been coming less frequently.

I am working on a blog post (might take a week or two) that addresses the issue of rate of innovation at greater length.

Disruptive energy technologies: Nope. What's notable about nukes is they have stayed quite expensive and many utilities have backed off their plans to build new ones due to spiraling cost estimates. Solar? Getting cheaper rather slowly. If optimistic reports are to be believed battery costs are going to drop by more than half in the next 5 years. So batteries are the only item on your list that might be disruptive. But they will have to drop by more like an order of magnitude to be disruptive. So far the only disruptive energy change on the horizon involves higher costs.

john personna said at February 21, 2011 5:17 AM:

Cowen buys the doomer's tenant that innovation should be measured "per population," which was wrong when there were books and newspapers, but is total bullshit in the internet age.

When one innovation rockets around the world on the "hack a day" rss feed, what the heck are we doing scaling that down, rather than up?

(To your central question - don't worry, and just plan on being adaptable. Flexibility is strength. People who prematurely prepare for a single scenario, and invest so much in it, are not strong.)

john personna said at February 21, 2011 5:29 AM:

BTW, note that Clay Shirky's "cognitive surplus" is directly at odds with with "per population" scaling.

I think Shirky is the one who has it right. Communication reduces the need to do everything multiple times. We don't need 1000 people inventing apple peelers when the first 20 of them work just fine.

Cowen (and the doomers) would count that as a loss, because we used to have 800 more apple peelers. That's wrong.

James Bowery said at February 21, 2011 10:17 AM:

What are the reproductive rates of the inventors vs the folks who can't even follow the directions in the package they just bought imported from China? What are their trends?

What is the rate of non-renewable resource depletion per population? What is the trend?

What trend does the change of "Zero Population Growth" to "The Population Connection" and the Sierra Club from an environmental protection group to an immigration advocacy group portend in the zeitgeist?


And as for scaling down: I know that the "it from bit" meme is spreading but, seriously, do you see no difference between a world that transports bits rather than its?

john personna said at February 21, 2011 11:17 AM:

"do you see no difference between a world that transports bits rather than its?"

I'm sorry, is this an either-or question?

What I see is a its and bits economy, with innovation leveraging off both. I use a phone app to book my hotel room. Does that make the hotel room any less real?

bbartlog said at February 21, 2011 11:46 AM:

Narratives of the Argentinian crisis are informative. Especially interesting in my opinion are the observations on armed robbery as society frays. A lot of people who arm themselves act on the basic assumption that they will be able to identify robbers in a timely fashion; for example, that they might spot one or more well-armed people obviously intent on mayhem at some distance, and then be able to prepare for a firefight with them. But in reality the main issue is that it is very hard to tell who is up to no good in time, especially if you continue to behave normally - by which I mean 'letting anyone you don't know get within thirty feet of you'. It becomes important to be able to get in and out of your car in a relatively safe spot. Developing a sense of who means you ill, and acting on it, is also critical.
As for the more extreme scenarios, I agree that solo defense is futile. Know your neighbors and keep in touch. I don't think it's necessary to have physical seclusion (the town surrounded by farmland that you mention) as much as enough eyes so that anyone who doesn't belong can be identified quickly.
One other way to defend your resources (along the lines of 'hiding in plain sight'), at least if you're a farmer, is to leave them in a form that requires labor to extract. Not a defense against the truly desperate, but if the local Food Redistribution Committee comes around you have your potatoes in the ground, your chickens still alive and needing to be slaughtered and plucked, and your milk in the form of cows that need to be milked daily. No need for you to keep everything in freezers and sacks ready to be carted off. Of course this won't work once conditions become more like Ukraine 1933.
As for 'moving underground', I think this is just a question of whether you have enough food or not. The settlers of North Dakota built some amazingly weatherproof soddies using nothing but thick, thick dirt walls. Granted it would certainly be *nice* to have some electric light, running water, flush toilets and so on, but strictly speaking those are optional.

'plan on being adaptable. Flexibility is strength.'
This, too. Especially pychological flexibility.

PacRim Jim said at February 21, 2011 2:37 PM:

Better get used to killing and gutting animals, especially those who try to invade your house.

James Bowery said at February 21, 2011 5:26 PM:

Hey, john, ever hear of arithmetic?

Underachiever said at February 21, 2011 6:17 PM:

"And as for scaling down: I know that the "it from bit" meme is spreading but, seriously, do you see no difference between a world that transports bits rather than its?"

They may become interchangeable if people start living in a virtual reality.

Randall Parker said at February 21, 2011 7:02 PM:

john personna,

Where's the big benefit from Clay Shirky's cognitive surplus? Sure, there's Wikipedia and some open source projects. But where is the new cheap energy source produced by cognitive surplus? Where's the innovative genetically engineered crops that will lower crop prices? Commodity prices are way up. Where are all the jobs generated by the innovations produced by the cognitive surplus? Median income is stagnant at best in the USA.

Really, there's an excessive tendency to oo and ah at the internet and gadgets and miss things like the buying power for medicine and transportation. I am disappointed by the limited effects that computers have had on the rate of innovation in areas where we most need innovation.


Thanks for responding to the thrust of my post. Sounds like you've read Aguirre since your comments remind me of many points he makes. Some comments:

- Not being able to tell who is dangerous: Yes, Aguirre makes that point. The worse conditions get the more difficult it becomes to identify who is dangerous. You need to minimize your time out in public and you need safe zones.

- Safe zones: In a partial collapse of the sort Argentina went thru apartment buildings without lower floor windows (or with serious bars on them) become quite attractive if you can choose your tenants. You need zones of higher security than a street so that you do not have to spend all your time in your house or apartment.

- Physical seclusion: It depends on the severity of the collapse. One of my points is there isn't a single set of tactics that apply in all situations. If we lose power and the cities become uninhabitable then the near suburbs become non-viable as well and you are better off in a country town. But if we have a massive freeze and crops freeze then what you've got stockpiled matters most of all and you might be able to hide in plain site in a suburb or in an apartment building.

- North Dakota settlers were too close to the surface to entirely escape the cold of winters. One needs to go deeper until the ground hits 50F all year around. That would be especially necessary after a VEI 8 or greater volcanic eruption.

- One scenario I did not bring up in this post which I've written about before: Severe killer pandemic. A suburban house would work well for such a scenario. You'd be better off away from high density areas.

Demolition Man said at February 21, 2011 9:49 PM:

According to this article, experts calculate that by the year 2020, various environmental problems and the greenhouse effect will cause at least 50 million refugees to attempt to migrate north, towards Europe. Many of these refugees will be hungry Muslims desperate to live in Europe. This situation will probably make the coming war of civilizations far worse. Now that Pakistan is redoubling its efforts to manufacture even more nukes, this means that the world is doomed, since as soon as Pakistan collapses, these toys will be owned by the new Caliphate.


Scott M said at February 22, 2011 11:16 AM:

You forgot zombies.

Rob Crawford said at February 22, 2011 11:28 AM:

"They may become interchangeable if people start living in a virtual reality."

Or if someone cracks the secret of magic. Which is just as likely. Maybe more so; there's likely more evidence for magic than for people "living in virtual reality".

Assistant Village Idiot said at February 22, 2011 12:29 PM:

Randall, I'm thinking that much of your essay was inspired by examining doom scenario solutions and noting that they don't work anywhere near as well as the survivalists who cook them up thing they will. Which I think is absolutely so, and it's good to approach disaster scenaria (?) with this flexibility.

I'm not sure that you are describing "moderate" disasters here, however. It sounds like a mix of moderates and extremes to me. Force yourself back to your original premise of leading the discussion of more moderate dislocations, rather than collapses.

FTR, my most likely disaster is power outage in winter extending longer than I am used to (we usually are out a few days each winter). But the preparations for that are different than preparation for evacuation for 30 days in case of natural disaster, the next-most-likely. And the most likely serious disaster - take your pick - will likely require an entirely different set of preparations.

I agree with bbartblog about flexibility and adaptability. A strategy that is great for getting you through a month might be a bad strategy to get you through a year, or to get you through a partial emergency in which most systems are intact but some important ones are disrupted.

Dave said at February 22, 2011 12:44 PM:

@bbartlog- February 21, 2011 11:46 AM:
You are Spot on! Ferfal's book is VERY GOOD and noteworthy because:
1) It happened only 20 years in a borderline 1st world country, not 80 or 90 years ago in countries (Ukraine and Russia) with very different norms and commerce
2) It described the decay of civilization as incremental, slow-motion and not as a single overnight collapse
3) It is written by a first-hand witness familiar with current commerce, agriculture and society

I did not find the editorial issues a distraction at all. Ferfal is writing in his second language and self-published the book.

Highly recommended. http://www.amazon.com/dp/9870563457/


Monty said at February 22, 2011 12:55 PM:

What I think people are missing about the tunneling down extreme scenario, is that you are talking about a volcanic ice-age or something of a similar scope. Your not talking about hiding in the hole you dug for a year or even ten, your talking about surviving with little outside resources for potentially generations. It would be impracticable to store enough food to last that long, so you would need a way to grow food, without relying on sunlight, or anything that that will run out within a few decades. Creating something like that would be a massive undertaking, even under good conditions...

As for the defensive perimeter point, wouldn't you want a hidden, but strong defensive position? Get the best of both worlds?

Phillep Harding said at February 22, 2011 1:04 PM:

FerFAL's earlier writings are very readable and can be found on the net on some of the survival sites. I think he also posted on usenet.

I'm going to have to buy his book to see how readable it as it's not locally available. If it's as good as I expect, I intend to buy copies for local libraries.

Phillep Harding said at February 22, 2011 1:36 PM:

DemolitionMan, global warming, man made or not, would result in increased rain, and is very likely to increase the crop yeilds of the fertile crescent (which was "the cradle of civilization" during the Holocene Optimum, and the global climate was _warmer_. Global warming would also move growth zones toward the poles, making land presently too cool for crops warm enough. We are far more likely to face global cooling, and that will cause global famine.

Gregg said at February 22, 2011 1:40 PM:

FYI - FerFal has a blog: http://ferfal.blogspot.com/

Chris T said at February 22, 2011 4:26 PM:

Randall - You actually bought Cowen's argument? Slowing innovation should increase the marginal workers value, not decrease it!

His data is out of date as well, non-foreign patents issued per capita hit an all time high last year and has been close to the 1914 peak for most of the past decade (patents are a rather poor measure of innovation, but there it is).

The rate of scientific discovery? It is actually quite low.

This would be news to most scientists. I work in the sciences and get the complete opposite impression. Things have really picked over the last two decades.

Solar? Getting cheaper rather slowly.

As compared to what?

Where's the big benefit from Clay Shirky's cognitive surplus? Sure, there's Wikipedia and some open source projects. But where is the new cheap energy source produced by cognitive surplus? Where's the innovative genetically engineered crops that will lower crop prices?

That's how you're measuring rates of innovation? Really? You sound like you think technological advance is made up of eureka moments.

Commodity prices are way up.

Technology only explains part of the explanation of a product's cost at any given time. Commodity prices have soared because demand growth has accelerated.

We are doing lots of refinements derived from older discoveries.

Good god, this may as well be the very definition of technological advance! There have never been any technologies that weren't refinements off of older discoveries. Heck, there were 70 years of refinement between the invention of the filament and the first commercial light bulb.

bbartlog said at February 22, 2011 4:50 PM:

'One needs to go deeper until the ground hits 50F all year around.'
But you don't, really. Generating a bit of heat is easy. Putting up ten cords of firewood or stashing a couple tons of coal isn't that hard, compared to tunneling out a house thirty feet underground. Now for those to be sufficient you would need to have a very well insulated house (built into a hillside *would* help). But in planning it also makes sense to think about what you can do after a disaster hits, and insulating an existing house is something that probably be managed even after the catastrophe manifests.
'your talking about surviving with little outside resources for potentially generations.'
Well... I'm not. That scenario isn't really within the scope of what I'm going to try to plan for. Anyway the fossil record suggests to me that the sun does not get effectively blocked for that long by most impacts or eruptions; dust can only stay aloft so long. One dreadful year (almost no crops) followed by a lean one (weird cool weather) seems like about the most it makes sense to think about. Not that worse scenarios aren't possible, but practically we want to make a priority list that consists of things that are easier to do and address more likely situations.
'wouldn't you want a hidden, but strong defensive position?'
Ideally. I'm sure there are places in the Ozarks that are really nice. But after all most of us also need to figure out what to do with ourselves in the likely case that no great disaster occurs. Anyway, the thing is that just ecologically speaking, I don't think the threat from Mad Max style 'large groups of traveling armed guys' is that significant. Your opponents are far more likely to be desperate individuals (in a fraying society, i.e. a mild disaster) or The Government proper (martial law scenarios). I don't see a lot to be gained from heavy defenses in either case.

Randall Parker said at February 22, 2011 6:32 PM:

Assistant Village Idiot,

Yes, some of the most promoted survivalist strategies are nonsense. I see a large element of fantasy centered around the desire to escape from status hierarchies. See my post Mickey Foley: The Doomer's Curse for an exploration of the psychological needs that drive a lot of doomer fantasies.

The most important point I would make about survival: You've got to stay inside of networks of people trading and cooperating. Even an extremely damaged economy is an economy and in most disaster scenarios an economy continues to function after the disaster. Do not withdraw from society.


Whether tunneling makes sense depends on the severity of the scenario. Given a VEI 8 eruption staying on the surface might become really a bad idea unless you just happen to have an extremely well insulated house.

With less severe (and therefore more likely scenarios) then I agree with you. Going underground does not make sense. The VEI 7 eruption's aftermath should be handled from the comfort of your own home unless you happen to be near where the eruption happens.

th said at February 22, 2011 6:42 PM:

Real unemployment is at depression levels, a run on US banks could be only a few years away as the dollar is abandoned by everyone, it depends on how bad other currencies fare in the wake of their own self-inflicted demise. Germany is thinking of cashing in on the one world govt crap and telling the euro to GFY, lots of big socialist dreamers about to see the fruits of their malevelance towards the laws of economics.


Thucydides said at February 22, 2011 9:09 PM:

If your house is strongly built and well insulated then a ground source heat pump can provide the constant temperatures desired (although 50F is a bit uncomfortable for most people, they would rather have 68F/20C as the baseline temp).

For a lot of the disasters mentioned, we could simply adopt the sort of mechanisms created during WWII; rain barrels, victory gardens, backyard shelters, "air raid" wardens in each neighbourhood (substitute raider wardens) and so on. Even 1950 era Civil Defense would probably pay big dividends.

We *know* what to do, we just have let the mechanisms to do so rust away.

Randall Parker said at February 23, 2011 12:05 AM:


Hidden defensive positions: How? Where? In a suburban tract?

Tom Perkins said at February 23, 2011 2:36 AM:

"What's notable about nukes is they have stayed quite expensive and many utilities have backed off their plans to build new ones due to spiraling cost estimates."

Nukes aren't expensive at all. What has stayed expensive is our regulatory policies with respect to nukes. As we can see in Wisconsin and the continued popularity of Republicans there, we are at the point we are willing to jettison unsustainable policies.

Dave said at February 23, 2011 7:14 AM:

You forgot one survival trick: Learn to eat something that 99% of looters would not consider "food". Icelanders have been doing this for centuries with hakarl, the fermented flesh of the Greenland shark.

I live in New Hampshire, which outside of a few urban areas and cow pastures, is covered with dense forest. There's plenty of fresh water here, and if people could eat wood, there'd be an endless supply of food too.

Termites can eat wood, and people can eat termites. So if you built a termite house out of cinder blocks and kept it warm in the winter (by burning wood, of course), you'd have plenty of high-calorie, high-protein food.

Bob said at February 23, 2011 7:07 PM:

If you are really a survivalist, you'd stop smoking, eating more than a CRAN diet of 1700 calories a day, exercise regularly, avoid cars, avoid being a pedestrian in busy areas.

Dying from natural lifestyle factors or auto accidents is much more likely than a hollywood disaster scenario.

The USA is a huge exporter of food, and we "waste" even more by raising inefficient livestock like cattle. Our ag production could go down 90% and we could still avoid famine here.

In said at February 23, 2011 7:40 PM:

Very helpful first hand account of Russia's collapse in the 90s:


john personna said at February 24, 2011 4:40 AM:

"But where is the new cheap energy source produced by cognitive surplus?"

This kind of thing is a red flag to a normal person, that is someone who is not invested in an "invisible emergency."

As it happens, cognitive surplus has reduced travel and shipping costs, and the need for energy, and can do more as it becomes necessary.

But here's the deal, and this is something that cryptic little questions like "ever hear of arithmetic?" cannot change:

You are invested in a specific prediction, about the future. And no one knows the future.

Good Lord. In one specific disaster movie scenario "cognitive surplus" does not matter, but then neither does anything else. The disaster movie is to pat for solutions.

In the meantime, normal folk will make incremental adjustment at the margin. In non-disaster movie scenarios, that might be enough.

john personna said at February 24, 2011 4:44 AM:

As an aside, I did investigate the PO thing for about a year. Maybe two. I argued with people who I thought took it too lightly, while (I thought) maintaining a distance from the doomers.

The thing is though, human believe and group dynamics are tricky things. As I left it, I came to see how much group-think had crept in without my knowledge.

I did actually buy an "invisible emergency" that everyone else would see ... any day now.

Well, if you can wait 5 ten years for your invisible emergency, maybe it isn't such an emergency after all. It certainly isn't compatible with the "overnight" storylines that drive the doomer ethos.

john personna said at February 24, 2011 4:54 AM:

Oh, I just thought of one other thing.

Movements often win, while losing.

They do it by getting their basic idea across (CERA accepts the undulating plateau) but rejecting that accomplishment, because not everyone is ready to go live in a grass hut, or prepare for TEOTHAWKI.


Randall, back off and get a grip. Lighter PO scenarios are probably what we'll get, and they are remarkably accepted. PO freaks just aren't happy, because they've moved to a more extreme position in response.

Chris T said at February 24, 2011 10:00 AM:

The thing is though, human believe and group dynamics are tricky things.

This is really something that should be drilled into everyone. Humans are social creatures and form groups and then seek status within the group. We're incredibly good at adopting the beliefs and attitudes of the group without even realizing it. The only way to guard against it is to realize that it does happen and you're not immune. This is precisely why I consciously avoid labeling myself when it comes to politics; it's too easy to identify with one group and steadily shift one's opinions to match it. Went down that route during college; I'm a tad embarrassed about it now.

th said at March 1, 2011 6:00 PM:

Apparently, the US still sees gold ownership as a privilege, not a right.


Kiwi25 said at February 11, 2012 12:56 AM:

Actually a well thought out essay IMO.. as one who has been preparing and studying SHTF scenarios for years. I agree with most of what you say.. and agree that too many "survivalists" are unrealistic.

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