Tuesday, March 13, 2018

How To Prepare For a Future of Resource Scarcity

This is an essay I originally published in 2008 on one of my old blogs. It was primarily intended for an audience concerned about peak oil and resource scarcity, but it is valid for most other concerns, too. I am reposting it here with a few minor changes to fix typos and update links.

 How To Prepare For a Future of Resource Scarcity

This is a general summary of the basic advice advice I give anyone concerned with potential disasters such as peak oil, environmental problems, or economic and political collapse.

1. Educate yourself on the potential problems our society is facing. Read Patrick Moore's essay Environmentalism for the 21st Century (opens as a .pdf) to get an overview of the real environmental and resource challenges faced by our civilization. Read Richard Maybury's book Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? to gain a better understanding of our economic problems.
2. Reduce your home energy usage as much as possible. Turn off lights, TVs and electronics whenever you leave a room. Remember to unplug your various chargers (cell phone, I-Pod, etc.) when not in use. Set your thermostat to conserve energy. Switch from incandescent lighting to LED lighting. Replace old appliances with new, energy-efficient models. Super-insulate your house. Install energy efficient windows. Consider heating with a modern wood stove. Consider a passive solar system for your home.

You may be interested in my article  Reducing home energy use, and costs, by 60%.

 3. Reduce your use of fuel for transportation. Make sure your vehicle’s tires are properly inflated and the engine is well-maintained (tune-ups & oil changes) to maximize mileage. Drive less by walking, car pooling, using public transportation, and planning & combining trips. Replace your old vehicle with a newer one that gets better mileage. If you have a long commute to work, consider moving closer to your job or finding a new job closer to home. 
4. Get out of debt.It will not be a good time to owe large amounts of money to a bank. Take a look at your situation, to what extent do you live on credit? If you have a large house could you make do with a smaller one, and reduce your repayments? Make getting out of debt a family priority and use it as an opportunity to simplify your lifestyle.” –Rob Hopkins in Permaculture Magazine.

I consider getting out of debt to  be a very important, yet often overlooked, area of preparedness and survival. My article Prepping 101: Finances - Get Back to Basics is full of tips and information on how to eliminate debt.
5. Raise at least some of your own food. We need a modern victory garden movement. Look up articles and books on lasagna gardening, forest gardening and container gardening for ideas on how to grow your own food. Plant fruit & nut trees and berry bushes. Urban dwellers should look into rooftop gardening or joining a community garden or food co-op. Steve Solomon's book Gardening When It Counts is a good place to start for gardening advice.
6. Reduce your personal consumption of everything. Adopt a simpler lifestyle. Live well within your means. Be a saver, not a consumer. If you had to, could you support yourself and your family on half your present income? You may have to some day, so start making the lifestyle changes now.
7. Be a life-long learner. Improve your job skills. Learn about personal finance. Study permaculture. Learn about the ecology and natural history of your region. Learn useful skills such as auto mechanics, carpentry and home repair. Learn first aid and CPR. Learn to sew, and to preserve food. Learn how to save seeds. Learn how to hunt, fish and forage for wild foods. Learn the skills your grandparents had.
8. Reconnect to the natural world. Spend time in nature. Take up outdoor hobbies such as gardening, hiking, fishing, camping and bird watching. Learn the names of trees, wildflowers and “weeds” native to your area. Learn what kinds of soils are in your region. Learn where your water comes from. Visit nearby parks and wildlife refuges. Visit your local natural history museum or botanical gardens. Learn the names of the birds and butterflies common to your backyard.
9. Be a part of your community. Join a local church or synagogue. Meet your neighbors. Participate in a community watch program. Volunteer with a local museum or environmental group. Support your local farmers’ market. Whenever possible, shop at locally-owned businesses instead of the big box stores. Attend the meetings of your city council, zoning boards and other local government organizations. Let your voice be heard!
10. Get healthy. If you smoke or abuse drugs or alcohol – stop! Adopt a more plant based diet such as a traditional Mediterranean diet, or even become a vegetarian. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Exercise will help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure & cholesterol, control blood sugar and get fit. Walking, bike riding and swimming are three cheap & easy ways to get more exercise. Getting enough deep sleep is an often overlooked yet very important ingredient to good health.
11. Conserve water. Install low-flow showerheads and faucets in your home. Learn about xeriscaping. Mulch your garden and flower beds to help retain moisture. Plant trees. Consider installing dry composting toilets in your home. Use rainwater catchment techniques to provide water for your garden or to wash your car. Learn how to purify rainwater for human consumption.

DON’T EVER THROW GARBAGE OR POUR CHEMICALS INTO A STREAM, RIVER OR LAKE. Report to the authorities anyone you see doing so.
12. Consider where you live. Most people end up living near where they or their spouse grew up, or perhaps to be near a particular job. But you might be better off relocating. Actively consider where you live: Is the community you live in really the best place for you and your family? Will it still be the best place for you in ten years? Things to consider: crime, pollution, taxes, educational opportunities, economic opportunities, economic diversity, climate, rainfall, nearby resources, cohesiveness of the community, style of the local government, availability of public transportation and farmers markets.
13. Keep stores of food, water & supplies. Today, we run out to the markets whenever we need something. We have a just-in-time supply system, so we don't need to store things for future use. But the slightest problem can lead to a system-wide disaster. We need to re-learn the art of storing necessities in case of emergencies. Things to store include food, water, medicine, vitamins and personal hygiene products, as well as other useful items such as batteries, sewing supplies, first aid supplies, duct tape, matches, candles, lamp oil, etc. If you were cut off from buying things for several weeks, or even a month or more, what would you run out of? Figure out ways to store those things.
14. Restore nature. Plant trees. Clean up local lakes and streams. Rebuild soils through composting and vermiculture. Participate in pollinator conservation efforts. Practice organic gardening and lawn care. Eliminate your lawn entirely. Participate in the National Wildlife Federation's Backyard Wildlife Habitat program.
15. Don’t dwell on the negatives. Be a hopeful realist. It is important to understand the problems we face. Just don’t obsess over them. Instead, start working towards solutions. Acting to make positive changes, even small ones, will increase your confidence and encourage yourself, your family and your friends.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

How to give prepper advice to your non-prepper family and friends

Preppers and survivalists are often unfairly portrayed as paranoid and backwards. We are often labelled as right-wing nut-jobs, gun-nuts, conspiracy-nuts, or just plain-nuts. This makes "regular" folks reluctant to hear the our message of self-reliance and commonsense preparations for any future emergencies So, how do we get around that unflattering image, so that we can reach our family, friends, and neighbors?

The following is advice that I give to my non-prepper family and friends. How the advice is given is what I want you to notice. I've intentionally toned-down the message so as to not turn off non-preppers to the advice given. There are no acronyms or prepper jargon, no extreme "head-for-the-hills and hide" advice,
no politics, no conspiracy theories, no end-of-the-world doom-and-gloom, or any of the other stuff that might turn off "regular" folks to the idea of prepping. Yes, I think folks need to do more than what I present here, but if they at least follow the advice given here, they'll be better off than 95% of the general population.

1) Get you finances in order.

This means reducing your expenses, and living within your means (a budget or spending plan is an excellent tool for achieving this goal). Setting aside an ample emergency fund is also very important. Also: Pay off your credit cards and consumer loan debt. Avoid new debt. Refinance your home into a fixed mortgage. Pay it off if you can. Keep some extra cash in a safe place at home in case the ATMs are temporarily down. Spend a lot less money than you make, even if it means cutting back on your lifestyle. Make sure you have adequate insurance. There is a lot of good information on how to get your finances in order throughout the archives of this blog.

Check out my article Get Back To Basics for much more on this important topic. 

2) Make health a top priority.

Being sick doesn't just feel bad, it is expensive! A top priority for you and your family should be improving and maintaining your good health. Stop smoking and abusing drugs or alcohol. Get adequate sleep on a consistent basis. Eat healthy. Eat less sugar (a lot less). Be physically active every day (walking, hiking, gardening, yard-work, biking, swimming, tennis, yoga, and exercise videos are just a few ideas). Visit your doctor and dentist for regular check-ups. Don't take your eyesight for granted - have regular eye exams.

3) Take care of your mental health and attitude.

Surviving difficult times requires having your "head screwed on straight" and being able to think clearly. You can't do that if your frozen from fear, having a panic attack, or going through some sort of addiction withdrawal. Take care of your mental issues now, before a crisis occurs. 

Check out my article Prepper's Guide to Mental Health and Emotional Preparedness for more on this important topic.

I also think getting right with God is a very important part of this step. I encourage everyone to pray, read the Bible, and attend the church of your choice. My relationship with God gives me great comfort and peace, helps me remain calm in bad situations, helps me stay focused on my true priorities, and provides the moral foundation for decision making. All very useful for survival. Not sure about God? Talk to a local minister or priest. Or check out the websites The Roman Road and Peace with God.

4) Take basic precautions.

There are a lot of basic, commonsense precautions everybody should make: Have a good first aid kit at home (and one in the car). Take a first aid & CPR course. Have smoke & CO2 detectors in your home (check the batteries). Have (and learn to use) a fire extinguisher. Do a home safety inspection (if you know a boy or girl scout, they have to learn to do these for various merit badges).

Make sure you have at least a week's worth of groceries, water, and other supplies on hand. Two weeks' worth is even better. An entire month's worth is better still.You never know when a snow storm, hurricane or other event may make it impossible to go shopping for a few days or even a few weeks.

Have a good flashlight and battery-powered radio at home, along with extra batteries.

5-Way Powered Emergency AM/FM/SW & NOAA Weather Alert Radio

Keep your cell phone fully charged at all times.

In your car, have a first aid kit, flashlight, and jumper cables. Make sure your spare is in good condition, and that all drivers in your family know how to change a tire. Keep your gas tank full. Keep up with basic maintenance, such as oil changes, brake jobs, tires in good shapes, headlights and taillights working. In winter, keep a blanket or extra jacket and gloves in your vehicle, just in case.

5) Consider your security.

The first and most important tool for personal security is awareness. Awareness of your surroundings and the potential risks of your situation is essential. However, awareness is about more than just simply paying attention.It also means both knowing what to look for, and how to access (make decisions about) your surroundings.

See my article Situational Awareness and the OODA Loop for a much more in-depth discussion.

Also consider the physical security of your home. How easy would it be for someone to break in? Harden your home by replacing weak external doors with heavy-duty security doors. Consider a home security system. Consider a gun (and if you do, PLEASE take the time and effort to learn gun safety, how to shoot your guns, and how to maintain your guns).

Guard against identity theft (an extremely fast-growing crime). Protect your personal and financial records. Don't give away too much information on Facebook and social media. Burn or shred important papers instead of just throwing them out.

Talk with your family about ways to stay safe when away from home, including shopping in groups, parking in well-light, highly-visible locations, avoiding dangerous areas of town, letting people know where you are going and when to expect you back, and paying attention to your surroundings.

6) Build Self-Reliance.

Self-reliance means learning how to do things for yourself - car and home repairs, sewing, gardening, home canning, and so-forth... Develop your DIY skills. Accumulate a good tool kit. But, mostly, it means to develop an attitude of taking care of yourself and your family, instead of waiting around for others or the government to take care of you.

Remember New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? Remember all those people standing around in knee-deep water waiting for the government or someone else to help them? That is called "learned helplessness." Don't be like them.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Why Preppers Have a Hard Time Building Community

I received a good, thought-provoking comment from a reader earlier today. It really got me to thinking about building community. Rather than a quick  reply in the comments section, I felt it worthy of deeper consideration.

Here is the reader's comment:

The most difficult aspect to me continues to be building community. I was electronically connected to local prepper groups for four years, and attended meetings over a year, mostly sitting off in a corner, before I felt comfortable enough to have a one-on-one coffee session with anyone. We've discussed "community" many times, but I just don't see a "safe" way to bring in neighbors pre-disaster. I need a good plan to bring in folks almost immediately post-disaster initiation to hopefully avoid the community going bad.

Here are my thoughts:

Finding and building community is something that most preppers/survivalists agree is a good idea, but find it very difficult to do in reality. I certainly struggle with this issue, and I've heard from lots of others who struggle with it, too. Why is finding or building community so hard?

A large part of the reason it that we are looking at the issue in the wrong way, or at least in an incomplete way. We seem to focus on the external - Who should be in the group, who should be excluded, where to find group members, when/how to talk to them about preparedness, how can they be integrated into a group...

We largely ignore the other half of the equation, the internal. We ignore ourselves, and our own attitudes and problems. It is these internal issues that may be blocking our efforts to find/build community. It comes down to our inability or unwillingness to trust others.

Let's face it: many of us are very independent-minded (I want to do things my way and only my way), cling to our own individuality, "compromise" is seen as a dirty word, and delegation of duties and responsibilities is difficult (what if they don't do it "my way'). 

Most of us are not very trusting by nature, which is part of why we are preppers in the first place. After all, if we really were trusting, we would trust the government and other authorities to take care of us in an emergency. In fact, we are suspicious of others by our very nature.

A successful community requires we trust each other, but most of us are not wired to be trusting of others. Therefore, we end up looking for "perfect" group members, folks we can absolutely trust and feel extremely safe bringing into the community. Yet there are no perfect people, so we are doomed to look continuously without success.   
Perfect is the Enemy of Good

Understand that I am not advocating blindly trusting everyone and anyone. We do need to consider the character, trustworthiness, and compatibility of folks we let into our lives and community. But, if we are to be successful, at some point we have to be willing to say "This person isn't perfect, but they are good enough."  Hopefully, they will be willing to say the same about you. After all, you are not perfect either.    

You might like these other articles I've written on the topic of community:

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Are You Overlooking Any of These Seven Important Areas of Prepping?

Here's a quick look at seven areas of prepping I feel are often overlooked or ignored by many preppers and survivalists. They are presented in no particular order. Are you overlooking any of these?

1) An Emergency Fund - Many preppers and most survivalists believe that the dollar is going to collapse at some point, and that paper money will be worthless. That may be true, but until then we do need money to pay bills and buy stuff. It is a good idea to have an emergency fund set aside for when you need it. Besides,even in an economic crash, the dollar will likely still have some value for a period of time. For more on money in an economic collapse, please read Fernando Aguirre's The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse. It explains in great detail what happened during and after the 2001 economic collapse in Argentina. It will open your eyes as to what might happen in America.  

Idea: If you are one of those folks getting a large bonus check from your company thanks to tax reform (over 300 large companies have announced such bonuses), don't spend it on a large-screen TV or a trip to Disneyland. Instead, use it to create your emergency fund instead. 

2) Getting out of Debt -  I've been around the prepper/survivalist community for about 15 years now. I've become convinced that a surprising number of folks are actually looking forward to an economic collapse, believing that it will give them a clean slate - wiping away their debt and bad credit.  With the sudden collapse of banks, mortgage companies, and other financial institutions, all their credit card debt, student loans, car loans, and even mortgage payments will vanish overnight. That's not reality. Study history (Aguirre's book, mentioned above, is a good starting point). When economic collapses happen, it is not a boon to the poor and indebted.

I've told this story before, but it bears repeating:  I was the owner/moderator of a Yahoo group, Surviving the End, many years ago. One group member offered his plan to prepare: He was going to rack up as much credit card debt as possible buying supplies to survive an economic collapse caused by peak oil. He believed such a collapse would happen "within the next 2 or 3 years," and that banks and other lenders would be unable to collect on debt. He also planned to stop paying his mortgage "about 6 months before the collapse." I'm not sure how he planned to time the event so precisely. This was in 2006. It is now twelve years later, and banks are still collecting on debt. If he truly carried out his plan, he and his family suffered absolute financial devastation years ago. Don't be like him. Make getting debt-free a major prepping goal.

3) Spirituality - Yes, I know a number of people will roll their eyes at this category. Being dismissive of religion is a very "in" thing to do these days (one or the reasons our civilization is in the mess its in, but that's a different article for another day). Yet, I believe that our mental attitude is an extremely important part of prepping (see my article Prepper's Guide to Mental Health and Emotional Preparedness ), and that our spirituality, our relationship with God, is a vwery important part of our mental attitude. My own spirituality (I am an imperfect follower of Jesus) gives me great peace and comfort, especially in difficult times, as well as a sense of purpose, focus, and an understanding of what my priorities should be. Besides, I really do believe God answers prayers and can work miracles. Check out the Peace with God website of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. Or visit the website The Roman Road.

4) Building Community - I get the sense that there are a lot of "lone wolves" in the prepping and survivalist community. Folks that just want to hide with their families at some mountain retreat far from civilization. This is a mistake, especially over the long-term. Instead, we should work on building community - a network of like-minded folks willing to help each other. Yes, this is difficult. Start small, get to know your neighbors, make friends in the prepper/survivalist community, and work your way up from there. (Personally, I think living near a small town in a rural area, far way from any mega-city, is the best option - but wherever you choose to live, you will need other people at some point.)

5) Health and Fitness - This is a category most people acknowledge is important, but many folks still don't do anything about it. I am constantly amazed by the number of preppers and survivalists I know who are smokers, or who are very overweight, badly out-of-shape, or who have chronic health conditions like Type II diabetes and high blood pressure that are largely self-inflicted (including me!). We all know the excuses - I don't have enough time, I'm too busy, eating healthy costs too much, its too hard, I've got bad knees, I'm too old, I'm too set in my ways to change... But in the end they are just excuses. Make health and fitness a priority.

Idea: Walking is a great way to exercise for free. It can be done around your neighborhood, at a local park or greenway, or inside the local mall (many have "mall walkers" clubs).  You could even takes laps inside a nearby Wal-mart, Target, or other big-box store. The best part of walking is that you can start small (maybe 10 minutes) and slowly work your way up (maybe to an hour a day).

6) Sleep - Another category that may make some eyes roll. After all, we live in a 24/7 world in which most people like to proudly proclaim about how little sleep they need to "get by." Sleep is much more important to good health, mental sharpness, and physical reflexes than most people realize. Making sure you get enough sleep on a consistent basis is one of the best ways to prepare. This is another reason we need community. No one can pull guard duty 24 hours a day. 

7) High Visibility Colors - Although black, camouflage, and khaki are all the rage, there are times when high visibility is preferred. You need some clothes, bandannas, cordage and other gear in bright, highly visible colors like Blaze Red, Safety Orange, Neon Yellow, and Hot Pink. See yesterday's post for more on this idea.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Black, Olive-Drab, Khaki... But Don't Forget Hot Pink, Neon Orange, and Blaze Red!

Sometimes we need to be seen.

Black looks very tactical, and is hard to see at night. Same for olive-drab green. Khaki, along with grays, browns, tans, and other earth-tones are great for our "gray-man disguise." And we all love camouflage designs - be it woodland, digital, desert, or whatever. These seem to be the official colors of preppers and survivalists everywhere.  

In addition to being really neat, cool, and hip, all these colors and designs are great to help us stay hidden in the wild (camos) or at night (black), or go about unnoticed in civilization (the Earth-tones). We pick these for our clothes, shoes, belts, jackets, caps, bandannas, bags, packs, paracord, and even our duct-tape, so that we can be hidden and unnoticed.

Yet, it is a mistake to get all of our clothes, packs, and other gear in these "low-visibility" colors. There are times when we might want, even need, to be seen - to stand out and be noticed, rather than to be hidden. During those times we need colors like hot pink, neon orange, blaze red, and fluorescent yellow.

Maybe we are lost and/or hurt in the wilderness, needing rescue. Or  maybe we are on the rescue team and want to be visible to the one that is lost, as well as to our teammates. In such a situation, do you want to be wearing woodland camo, or neon orange?

Maybe we are camping, and need to mark a trail so that we can find our way back, or for others to follow us. Which would be the best color to mark the trail so it can be easily seen -  olive drab or hot pink?

You need to mark off a dangerous area. Perhaps its a patch of poison ivy or whatever. Would it be best to use black cordage, or blaze red?

Its dusk, and you're escorting some kids around your neighborhood on Halloween. Do you want to wear your gray hoodie, or something more noticeable? Maybe a florescent yellow hoodie?

Its the weekend, and you're taking the family hiking. Great fun and exercise for everyone. But, how do you want your family to be dressed in case someone gets separated? In trendy camouflage or in bright, easy-to-spot colors? 

Personally, most of my clothes, gear, and other stuff do fall in the low-visibility category, suitable for my gray-man disguise around town or staying hidden from the bad guys in the wilderness. But I do have some high-visibility colors ready for use when needed.

My bug-out bag includes a bright red bandanna, a small roll of orange duct tape, a safety orange t-shirt (I can either wear or wave to attract attention), and 50 feet of neon orange paracord. I also have a safety orange hoodie (in a bigger size so that I can wear it over another hoodie or jacket, if needed).