Monday, December 22, 2008

My Current Approach

First, did you know that the flat-out worst time to start a new blog is right before a major holiday season? Yup, no kidding. My new blog is not only competing with my regular life, but with no school, and cookies, and presents, and family gatherings, and and and.... I hope to post somewhat regularly in the future, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's rather sporadic at first. Ah well, it'll give me time to come up with reasonable things to write about, eh?

Before getting into the nitty-gritty, I should say first that I am a devotee of Sharon Astyk and her blog, Casaubon's Book, and find almost everything she has to say of huge value. Much of my thinking on adapting in place (how to do it, why to do it, etc.) has been shaped by her writing, although I've not had the good grace to be able to take her actual class on adapting in place yet (but I sure hope to!). My financial thinking has been heavily shaped by Chris Martenson and the folks over at The Automatic Earth. I think I do have some original material to contribute to these discussions, but again, most of my emphasis will fall into the "how the *@#$&$ am I going to do all this?!" arena.

My overall approach to adaptation, these days anyway, falls into two broad categories: (1) preparing for short-term emergencies (e.g., 3-day to 2-week outages, evacuations, etc.); and (2) preparing for lifestyle-changes brought about by our Brave New World. The first one I'll call "short-term preparedness," and the second one I'll probably refer to as "the long emergency preparedness" after Monsieur Kunstler's work. I think that, technically, there probably is a third category that goes somewhere in between these two--the months to a-year-or-so long emergencies. Am I preparing for this sort of emergency? No. For one thing, if you're prepared for the long emergency, then you're pretty much by default prepared for any medium-range problems we'll have (short-term emergencies have a somewhat different set of constraints). But more than this, the middle-ground preparedness implicitly assumes that there will be a time when we come back out of this situation, and I think that's false. Preparing for the new world, to me, does not involve just managing to get through the next year, and then everything will return to normal. I think that normal is pretty much over. We're still clinging to it, no doubt. But I think it's a illusion to labor under the idea that this is only temporary. So when I store food, it's not just "to get us through this year" because the logical corrollary of this mindset is that I won't restock, or not much anyway. But preparing for the long emergency means that I am changing my family's whole lifestyle. Food storage and energy adaptation will be permanent changes in the way we do things, not just temporary inconveniences (well, at least the ones that work will be).

And in fact, this leads nicely to a discussion about why do these things now? Why not just enjoy the cheap energy while we've got it, and then deal with the fallout later? Certainly that's been the modus operandi for the past century, why stop now? I think there are lots of responses to this, some obvious and some less so. Many of the obvious responses revolve around the idea that it's probably a good idea to sort out how to live in a low-energy world before you're likely to die of starvation from it cause you never learned how to garden, or how to cook from scratch, or how to find local farmers, and so on. Right now we've got a sort of cushion period available--not a very big cushion, mind you, but we can float between the worlds, as it were. We can prepare for the future while still having the current "just in time" economy as backup. This is a huge luxury. Disaster will not currently strike us if I find that I've failed to store enough wheat berries for the upcoming year--I'll make a note of how much more we'll need, and then I'll go to the store for some flour. We can flip the power main in our house and see how it goes for three days of no power, to see how good our emergency preparations are. And then, bliss of bliss, we can turn it back on and fix what we did wrong. Heck, if we're really underprepared, we can even cut off the experiment early! Incredible! During a real emergency I can flip the power main all day long and all that will happen is my arm will get tired.

Another in the "obvious" category is the economic benefit of living this lifestyle right now. Of course, there is a fair amount of money outlay for some of the things I want to do, but in general, we will save money by changing our lifestyle now. Buying food in bulk is cheaper than buying it piecemeal from the store, and as a side benefit it's reassuring to know we have plenty to eat and cuts down on last-minute treks to the grocery store. Gardening helps cut our grocery store costs, improves our lives & health, and helps keep me sane. Buying from local farmers can be cheaper, and certainly fresher, than buying from grocery stores, and it has the side-benefit that it helps make our area more self-reliant and it builds our local economy by keeping our money & tax dollars in town. That helps maintain our job pool and infrastructure--good things indeed. And using less energy just costs less than otherwise--we're not sucking down as much oil, coal, & natural gas, so less of it shows up on our monthly bills or out of our monthly budget. The less electricity we use, the more we can afford to offset what we do use with wind & solar packages offered through our utility company. And the side benefits here are environmental--less emissions, helping to slow down global warming, which is really something we cannot afford to wait on, no matter how cheap energy might be right now.

But then there are the less obvious reasons for why I want to do these things now. I don't want this lifestyle to feel like torture and deprivation, since I'm pretty sure it's how we'll be living for the foreseeable future. If I'm in a head-space where I simply. cannot. survive. without. my. iPod I've got a serious problem, because my future may well be one without an iPod. And this is the prevailing attitude right now--the notion that we should ever have to live without cell phones, or satellite TV, iPods, cars, and the like, is intolerable to many in my society. When these people are finally forced, either via energy or the economy, to give up their toys, I'm betting they will suffer mightily. I don't want to suffer. I want this lifestyle to seem normal. I want the food that I serve now to be like the food I will serve in two years, since that will provide comfort and continuity, rather than just one more reminder about how our lives have changed.

Think about it this way: imagine a woman talking with her grandma. Like most people of her generation, the grandmother grew up with a root cellar and food storage, with fairly plain foods, very few luxuries, maybe not even indoor running water or electricity, and other similar lifestyle differences. Now imagine this person telling her grandmother, to her face, that her childhood is beyond-the-pale unbearable, and it is worth it to destroy the environment and the future of our children just so that she can avoid living like her grandma did when growing up. Was grandma's life really that depraved? There were many people during the depression who genuinely suffered, and I'm not advocating joy in suffering. But most people just lived differently, and far more lightly, than we do. They had a different set of values; they evaluated their lives on different terms. They expected different things out of their lives, and had different goals. Their mores and institutions aren't necessarily better or worse than our social mores and institutions--just different. But they're a set of mores and institutions far better suited for the coming world than the ones we currently have, and that is where the rubber meets the road.


  1. Right on! Basically, it's adapt or die. Many are changing lifestyles out of necessity, due to job loss, etc., but if changes can possibly be made before calamity strikes, so much the better. The importance of having a positive attitude in the midst of preparation can't be underestimated either.

    All the best with the blog.


  2. I've just followed you, so you'll be showing up in my blog roll whenever you post. We think a lot alike. I'm going to enjoy reading your blog.

    You're lucky that you have a house and even a little land. We're stuck in a large city, in a basement apartment. The thought of being here when TSHTF terrifies me --- although we do have a tentative bug-in plan.

  3. I am happy to have found your blog. As a closet 'Radical Homemaker' (I didn't know about the movement until I had already left my cushy government job to have more time to store food away from our farm and spend more time with my kids). All that to say - I feel entirely less alone for these blogs like yours. And even though there may be crises going on in the world (environmental, financial, loss of family/community togetherness etc. etc.) many are making the choice to do things differently. Our Gramma's didn't have a choice or options. I am hopeful for the future...