Living in a Kevin Costner Sci-Fi Movie
September 6, 2006 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Where should I move in order to maximize my chances of surviving the apocalypse?

Ok, I'm not actually anticipating The Rapture or anything. I've just been reading too much James Howard Kunstler and peak oil stuff.

Based on a few older AskMeFi posts, I spent most of my summer reading old post apocalyptic fiction books and self sufficiency manuals.

I'm not saying that I really buy all these worst case scenarios, but just in case....

I figure that American suburbs with their huge dependence on petroleum products and imported goods will be one of the worst places to reside in.

Let's also assume that global warming is real and that water levels have raised to the most pessimistic projections.

Should I join a commune? Is Europe a better bet? Should I hole up in a third world country? Some place like Brazil that produces its own Ethanol? What are some factors to consider?

I'm mainly interested in environmental scenarios, not so much in being left behind while everyone else is ascending to heaven.
posted by Telf to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
You might find some useful info in this thread (not exactly the same question).
posted by gatorae at 1:46 PM on September 6, 2006

You cant survive the Apocalypse. It the Literal end of the world! You COULD survive some coming disaster by moving somewhere away from Earthquakes, coastlines, killer bees and rabid dogs though....
posted by gergtreble at 1:49 PM on September 6, 2006

Response by poster: Here's some background material that got me thinking about this:

James Howard Kunstler on The Long Emergency.

This recent article on the price of oil.

Various AskMeFi posts on post apocalyptic fiction
and a few posts on useful skills.
posted by Telf at 1:50 PM on September 6, 2006

You should check out some of the so-called 'crashbloggers': Ran Prieur and Deconsumption I have found to be pretty interesting. Both are preparing themselves to be largely self-sufficient in the next 5-10 years.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:01 PM on September 6, 2006

What are some factors to consider?

Your ability to survive some catastrophic events will depend on the extent to which you are a have or a have-not.
posted by peeedro at 2:11 PM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

In Stephen King's "The Stand," the good-guy survivors all made their way to Boulder, CO. I guess it's as good a place as any.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:13 PM on September 6, 2006

Depends on the event. Suburbs would be just fine for the beginning because of all of the accessible foodstuffs at restaruants and the chain stores to raid for weapons and equipment. Plus those gas stations might be useful for stealing gas.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:20 PM on September 6, 2006

Best answer: I have a friend who works as a financial analyst and because of that (and personal interests) he is fairly well versed in current events and economics. I asked him a question about how fucked we're going to get were peak oil to ever occur (my exact words were basically "Should I start buying guns now or what?", and he told me that living in the US meant we were likely going to be the last to feel the effects of it, if it affected us at all. Take that for what you will, but he believed that due to our military and economic clout that we'd be somewhat shielded from the problem, or at least have a fair amount of advance notice before everything went all Mad Max. So I guess that's one vote for staying in the US.
posted by fishfucker at 2:33 PM on September 6, 2006

Best answer: I'm a "crashblogger": Ran Prier and Deconsumption are daily reading for me, and Ran links to Anthropik pretty often. We've got a really good crowd there (for instance, our podcast has included interviews with Richard Heinberg, Richard Manning and Toby Hemenway--Hemenway specifically is a fan of the site). I mention this less to brag, than to say that the following conclusions are not simply my own, but the result of an ongoing discussion with a lot of people who have been following these issues for some time now:

1.) Forget agriculture. That's the first mistake so many people make: they try to farm. Farming is what got us here, and it's simply not an option for our future. We've done way too much to the soil at this point. You might get horticulture or permaculture going, and in the short term that's probably your best bet, but forget about farming your own food.

2.) In the long run, climate change will require you to be nimble, and that means nomadic, and that means hunting and gathering. Hunter-gatherers have lived prosperous lives in climes even cockroaches fear to tread: from the arctic to the Kalahari, foragers have usually lived happier lives than us, and usually just as long and healthy. So that means, in the short term, learning to provide substantial parts of your diet with hunted meat and wild edibles.

2A.) Buying your whole range is cost prohibitive, but regulations in national parks make them temptingly close. The only real problem with living off a national park is where you do your actual living. So, a few acres adjacent to a national park can make an admirable base camp, while the park serves as your range.

2B.) That base camp is also a place you can turn into a permaculture garden to supplement your diet in the meantime, while bag limits and so forth continue to be an issue. As a forager, you'll need to strike your own balance against overhunting.

2C.) Two or more such sites, arranged around the edges of a national forest, can be seasonal camps, allowing you to get in the habit of seasonal migration.

3.) THIS IS THE SINGLE MOST CRITCAL ELEMENT, the thing that 9 out of 10 primitivists get wrong that dooms them to failure. YOU NEED A COMMUNITY. It can be your family--in fact, it will become your family, so starting with your family is an excellent choice.

4.) Now that we've established that, which continent? There's a chance the tropics may become fairly uninhabitable from global warming in the future, and the coasts of course are questionable. If previous collapses are any guide, civilizations typically implode. People flock to the cities, and the cities turn into killing fields. So, stay away from cities.

4A.) Because of this, I actually don't hold out much hope for Europe. They may be collapsing more slowly, but they're still collapsing, and when they do, their intense overpopulation is not going to end pretty.

5.) So, look to the places that are still wild today. We're at peak, so the places being exploited are going to shrink from here, rather than grow. There are still plenty of pockets. Settle down there, learn the ecology, what lives there: become native to that place.

6.) And remember, that ecology is going to move. Be prepared to move with it.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:34 PM on September 6, 2006 [22 favorites]

When I'm feeling despondent about the future, I console myself by thinking that Portland OR, with nearby farmlands, ample drinking water, a culture that is already working towards sustainability, and a functional communitarian network, will probably be as good a place to be as any.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:36 PM on September 6, 2006

why would you want to survive the apocalypse? are you that bothered by the lines at ikea or did you watch dr. strangelove one too many times?

You cant survive the Apocalypse. It the Literal end of the world!

well, in that case the international space station should make for an interesting observation point.

also, might I recommend the divine comedy for some more fair and balanced reading? amazon has a couple very nice translations.
posted by krautland at 2:40 PM on September 6, 2006

Canada, the north shore of Lake Superior.
posted by JJ86 at 2:41 PM on September 6, 2006

Please do not move to New Zealand. We are full. Thank you.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:16 PM on September 6, 2006 [3 favorites]

from the arctic to the Kalahari, foragers have usually lived happier lives than us, and usually just as long and healthy.

Could you provide some sources for this? This is entirely contrary to what I understand to be true (though I realize that back-to-nature people do often make this claim.) By "long", do you really mean that the average life-expectancy for a member of a member of a hunter-gatherer group is around 80 years? This wikipedia article suggests the opposite. What metrics of happiness does this kind of statement use?

Also, doesn't the replacement of an agricultural food source with hunting and gathering assume a rather more significant die-off of the population than is necessarily likely (as agricultural food sources allow for much more population density)?
posted by advil at 3:38 PM on September 6, 2006

So is all this an interesting thought experiment / hypothetical futurism exercise / no-impact backpacking adventure, or are there really people out there teaching themselves how string a bow with deer ligaments with the idea that they'll actually have to use it in order to survive some day? Or is it one of those things like gun collecting or the militia movement or trekkies that people say they are doing for fun but secretly are doing because they take it all very seriously?
posted by ChasFile at 3:49 PM on September 6, 2006

I can't speak to life expectancy per se, and happiness is a hard thing to quantify to everyone's satisfaction. Although, I have read in numerous places of documentation of hunter gatherers living in what could easily be described as content conditions.
posted by edgeways at 3:58 PM on September 6, 2006

Cincinnati -- According to Mark Twain, you'll get an extra twenty years.
posted by jknecht at 3:58 PM on September 6, 2006

I'd love to write a helpful answer, but I don't have time, so I'll just offer a random suggestion of being highly self-sufficient somewhere quite remote in Australia, with the proviso that this sort of thing will reduce your chances of surviving, because history has shown that the breakdown of civilization causes pretty much no deaths compared to myriad other normal hazards of life - I'm pretty sure that any money beyond a couple thousand dollars on sensible emergency preparedness is actually making you more likely to die because of the opportunity cost - putting that same money into vehicle safety features is much more likely to save you (trading up to a car with side-door airbags, and stuff like that).
posted by -harlequin- at 4:21 PM on September 6, 2006

You guys are all off your rockers. I mean it. You really expect this to happen?

But to play along ... with what someone said above ... you need a community. With pervasive, shared, binding values. I'm not talking about a commune. I'm talking about religion.

Yes, that's right. If there's really going to be a worldwide breakdown, the ones that really thrive will be the ones with a zealot-like ability to work together. And in the history of the world, nothing has done that like religion. Forget namby-pamby communes. You're looking for old-timey, fire-and-brimstone, if-you-don't-harvest-the-wheat-you're-going-straight-to-hell religion.

I recommend the Mormons. They're used to the us-against-the-world vibe and are perfectly positioned to survive your fantasy apocalypse. Get thee to Utah.
posted by frogan at 4:38 PM on September 6, 2006 [2 favorites]

frogan - I like your Mormon plan - but to go one further, surely the Amish are the boys you need for this job. Already unreliant on most modern conveniences, excellently versed in agriculture and self-sufficient crafts and a very supporting community. If only you could motivate them to be a bit more aggressive, so they could defend themselves after the whatever happens happens, you would be sorted. Admittedly a bit of an imposition, in terms of lifestyle change, to join them in the meantime, assuming they let folks in at all...
posted by prentiz at 4:53 PM on September 6, 2006

Kennybunkport Maine comes to mind for some reason.
posted by hortense at 5:56 PM on September 6, 2006

I've always thought that of all the major American cities, Chicago stands the best chance of weathering an economic/environmental collapse. It's elevated and inland, so the swollen seas wouldn't flood it: it's far enough north that it wouldn't become too uncomfortable if the climate heated up; and it sits at the center of the rail network that could support an economic infrastructure when our gasoline-based transportation fleets fail.

Sure, you could buy a cabin in the remote wilderness and maintain it against the collapse of civilization. But the danger there is that vicious squatters would claim your shelter while you were away and attack you when you came back.

Disclaimer: Author is from a railroad suburb of Chicago.
posted by Iridic at 6:12 PM on September 6, 2006

Could you provide some sources for this? This is entirely contrary to what I understand to be true (though I realize that back-to-nature people do often make this claim.)

Rather than derail with a full discussion, I'll simply link to my own thesis #25, where I wrote about this in detail. If you'd like to continue the discussion, it would be better to continue it there than to pursue it here.

Also, doesn't the replacement of an agricultural food source with hunting and gathering assume a rather more significant die-off of the population than is necessarily likely (as agricultural food sources allow for much more population density)?

Yes, it implies a very significant die-off, which will be caused by the inability to continue pursuing agriculture. The Green Revolution overcame the final exhaustion of most of the world's arable land through the application of petrochemicals and fertilizers. When that ceases to be a viable alternative, agriculture will become an exceptional thing as well. For a fuller discussion, see Richard Manning's Against the Grain. A shorter version can be found online in the form of his classic Harper's article, "The Oil We Eat."

... or are there really people out there teaching themselves how string a bow with deer ligaments with the idea that they'll actually have to use it in order to survive some day?

Well, I certainly am. Most of my rationale is laid out in "The Thirty Theses," the first draft of what will become a book.

You really expect this to happen?

Yes, I think that the established science of global warming, and the application of diminishing returns to things from petroleum extraction to social complexity are fairly sure bets.

But, to try to side-step these tangents, I think there's a consensus that there are two important elements here: (1) you'll need a community, and (2) you're best off in some place that's already fairly unexploited. If it's still unexploited, there's probably a very good, logistical reason that will only make it more difficult to exploit as energy diminishes. Land that's useless to agriculture can be rich for hunting, gathering, or even permaculture, and most importantly, is much more likely to go unnoticed.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:18 PM on September 6, 2006

This kind of stuff is just like the religious fundamentalists who have been screaming for centuries, "The End Is Near!" However, some people are so frightened about the "Apocalypse" talk that they allow a few fringe science nuts to scare them into believing this new bizarre brand of theology. Yes, theology.

I'd stay where you are (if you like it) - and quit listening to the "last days" crowd who are - when it comes right down to it - only looking for some kind of purpose in life. Does that explain why I said, "theology?"

posted by Gerard Sorme at 8:17 PM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yes, it is mythology. But then, the notion that technology will save us is mythology, too: the myth of the savior, rather than the myth of the eschaton. The mythological element here is the frame we organize our facts with, not the facts themselves, and we all have one. Will the various crises we face end our civilization, just as it ended all the civilizations that preceded us, or will our technology rescue us like a deus ex machina? Gentlemen, choose your myths.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:22 PM on September 6, 2006

A farm with a plow.

At least that's what Connections said in 1978. Apocalypses were so much simpler then...sigh...
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:41 PM on September 6, 2006

the midwestern great lakes region ... which, by the way, kunstler thinks will do as well as any region in the usa ... the reason? ... except for chicago, detroit and other major towns, not too crowded ... good climate for farming, good land for farming and more than enough water ... enough people who still retain the skill sets necessary for survival ... fairly sane political climate ... and once you get out of the major metro areas, not too suburbanized

by the way, apocolypse does not mean the end of the world, it means "revealing" ... the word you're looking for is armageddon
posted by pyramid termite at 9:25 PM on September 6, 2006

My first thought was squatting at Biosphere 2, but apparently that's out. Backup plan: Hangin' with Mr. Cheney.
posted by rob511 at 12:41 AM on September 7, 2006

Kennybunkport Maine comes to mind for some reason.

I agree. we rich people can get out of anything.
posted by krautland at 1:08 AM on September 7, 2006

I was totally going to suggest New Zealand - the South Island needs new blood. Plus in the movies, while the rest of the world collapses (see Independence Day, et al), NZ thrives and prospers (ignored). If you believe what the media say is true, that is.
posted by teststrip at 2:18 AM on September 7, 2006

Problems with New Zealand:
- we are a long way away from anywhere. Once air travel and diesel/coal powered shipping are off the menu, you will never leave these islands again, unless a passing sailing ship comes by, or you are prepared to risk a hazardous journey in a small craft.
- much of the best land for agriculture is coastal and vulnerable to inundation if there is a sharp sea-level rise. There's plenty of high country, but even assuming that feral livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, deer) aren't hunted out quickly there won't be much to eat
- unless you plan on marrying in quickly post-arrival, you as a foreigner will be lacking in strong family ties which as noted above are essential to your post-apocalypse security
- and I'm kind of not kidding about being full. There are already 4 million of us here. If we are all reduced to subsistence agriculture/hunting/gather/whatever, then there is just enough land for those of us already here. Please die quietly in your current location. If you would kindly cache valuable artifacts for my exploring descendants we would appreciate it.
- you'll notice that while teststrip says the South Island needs new blood, there's no mention of what for...
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:02 AM on September 7, 2006 [2 favorites]

It isn't where you live, it is how you comport yourself.

Study the Assyrians or the Mongols, stockpile cheap surplus rifles, make a lot of friends, breed horses. Recruit army stragglers. Make sure the kids you father with the prettiest refugees learn how to make longbows.

Learn how to make dramatic position statements with bagfuls of rivals' heads.

Never forget rule one of human history: those who mine gold or farm end up doing it for those who can handle steel.


I know we're supposed to limit wisecracks so *cough* take this as you will.
posted by codswallop at 6:31 AM on September 7, 2006

I don't think it's really where you should live but where you can. With citizenship laws being what they are, what I have done has investigate my eligibility for citizenship in countries based on my parents and grandparents. I'm not talking fiction here, but I've considered it in terms of oil, the most sustainable countries who are the most prepared; least likely to catch bird flu; and being able to just get out of America since we're such a target and the government (federal and state) is not prepared to take care of the people in a disaster. I think it is worthwhile to have a real exit plan.

I don't think studying past civilizations is going to help on a practical level. Emergency preparedness information, having lots of savings, valid passports, etc; and knowing yourself: what has to happen for you to know that you need to act and leave the country right now? What first signs are you looking for? How bad does it have to get?

(Oh, and mine is NZ. I have dual NZ/US citizenship. I think being far away from everything is an advantage if you're trying to survive a world war or epidemic. Anyway, people can try to go wherever they want to, discouraging them is beside the point. We know NZ doesn't want more people, the laws speak for themselves.)
posted by scazza at 8:18 AM on September 7, 2006

The suburbs wouldn't be that bad a place if everyone gardened. Using biointensive gardening techniques you can build the soil and grow all the vegetables needed for a family of four in a space of 1,000 square feet. Google "John Jeavons" for classes on small scale agriculture, or buy his books on the topic.
posted by jefeweiss at 8:28 AM on September 7, 2006

Yeah, or move to Willits, CA, where John Jeavons lives, along with Jason Bradford and a bunch of people with whom he's been working to make Willits self-sufficient (energy, food, etc). I think the city government adopted a self-sufficiency plan already. Willits is inland, plus there's a river nearby. And by moving there you might actually reduce your cost of living, money you can use to buy side impact airbags as -harlequin- suggests. Better yet, get your own city government to follow Willits's example (building up that "community" people keep mentioning).
posted by salvia at 9:46 AM on September 7, 2006

Response by poster: Good stuff guys. The John Jeavons information looks interesting and considerably less eschatological than some of the other writers I've been looking at.

Willits CA remind me of an article I just read from Mother Earth News about 12 great places to live in america for some of these reasons.

I've never heard of crashblogging before, this is a new internet subset I'll have to look into.

That Harper's article looks interesting, I'm about to read it right now. The ubiquity of oil in everyday products is something I think most people are completely ignorant about. What is going to happen to the cost of produce when our fertilizers, pesticides, refrigeration and transportation all become significantly more expensive?

Of course, a well planned garden won't protect you from the inevitable zombie outbreak.
posted by Telf at 1:13 PM on September 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Call me a nutjob, but if you're in the US, don't be in California. Our ass backwards firearms laws will just ensure that the hordes of already criminal looters overpower you.

Otherwise, Montana sounds like a nice place.
posted by drstein at 2:34 PM on September 7, 2006

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