Prepare for Peak Oil without looking like a nutjob?
March 4, 2008 7:01 AM   Subscribe

Best way to mitigate effects of potential peak oil and global warming issues without looking like a nutjob? CYOA in a realistic manner?

So I am trying to think of ways to cover my butt in case any Peak Oil or rapid Global Warming societal collapse issues come to pass. I tend to think society will figure out ways around much of this but it never hurts to prepare just in case...I wasn't too worried about Y2K but I did have about a weeks supplies just in case.

So what can I do to prepare but also benefit me in case nothing happens (for example I ate the food and drank the Y2K water)?

An example might be: Get one of those instant water heaters to lower your electrical costs in case the price of electricity goes way up...or get solar panels...or get the following camping books that would also serve you in case of complete societal breakdown...make sure your house has a fireplace...etc...

I should maybe note we are in the 'burbs south of Boston and will likely be having a home built in the next year so I will have a lot of options coming up to set up my life in the best way possible for such things....without my wife or friends thinking I am a nutjob!
posted by UMDirector to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: One simple way is to get a backyard barbecue/grill. There are dozens of kinds out there so do some research on this and make sure you get one. You'll want to pay careful attention to the type of fuels it CAN use.

Getting a tiny butane stove that you can keep in your house isn't a terrible idea either as butane is pretty cheap. This means you can cook up loads of canned foods, boil and fry if things get too expensive.

Solar panels might be ok depending on where you live but they generally cost several times more than your regional electric company. One possible solution is to get smaller solar panels that work for things like laptops, cell phones, gaming consoles so you can keep your smaller devices powered by these.

Home insulation is a must. This will help you with your bills immediately and increase value in the home itself I believe. With that being said, get lots of warm clothing ready in your house, those shiny emergency blankets and keep some of this stuff in your car as well.

If you are worried about the cost of fuels you can store small amounts in a safe fuel container, not just any old drum. But you can buy a real fuel storage tank, bury it in the yard and set it up so you can pump fuel in and out of it. Pump fuel in when cheap and out when expensive. This would require getting some specialists in to help you with I imagine for legal, zoning and safety reasons. But keeping a few cans of butane in the the shed/basement is pretty safe.

Other than that I think the most important thing to do as prep is to get mentally prepared for it as a possibility (never as a certainty!). You'll begin to cut back your use of energy in all areas and reuse materials more which will generally means you'll be more compatible with a situation that you described above.

Worst case scenario for a place near Boston would be that you suffer brownouts or have your lines cut because you can't afford to pay which means you simply have to stay at home more, keep warm and maybe operate a small vegetable garden in your back yard when the seasons are right. If you are truly worried you could keep some water purification tablets and heat-packs that instantly heat up using a chemical on the inside. LED lanterns/lamps. I feel that all of these won't make you look like a nut job and will keep you well insured mate.
posted by Jack Feschuk at 7:27 AM on March 4, 2008

If you're really talking complete societal breakdown it seems like you ought to try to buy a plot of land in far Northern Maine (cheapest) or Western Mass / Upstate NY to serve simultaneously as a vacation place and post-holocaust retreat. I would think that in general anywhere near a major city is a bad place to be after societal breakdown, given the population density you end up needing to compete with for food, water, energy, etc.
posted by XMLicious at 7:27 AM on March 4, 2008

I think that your concern about not being viewed as a nutjob is a big roadblock on the highway to apocalypse preparedness. Suck it up, come clean to your loved ones, and get to work building that grain silo.
posted by 1 at 7:31 AM on March 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I should add its not just a nutjob thing...I don't want to spend thousands and thousands of dollars that could very well just be thrown away...hence no grain silo :)

My family does have a bunch of acres in the boonies of NH...unrelated to this stuff but I am glad we have it.
posted by UMDirector at 7:40 AM on March 4, 2008

Learn from Katrina - if social order in Boston were to collapse (seems unlikely), the best idea is to have already evacuated. Don't try to ride it out with desperate people, be long gone to go visit your parents.

That leaves the economic repercussions, which are more probably what you will be contending with, as you and your area's wealth (relative to the rest of the world) will likely shield you from the worst of it. Did you see this question the other day?
posted by -harlequin- at 8:34 AM on March 4, 2008

One note -- What good would a fireplace do? Where are the forests? Are you gonna burn other people's houses?

Constructively, I'll point out that you need a way out, a way to grow your own food, and a way to survive the winter. Think pioneer stuff. The more society unravels, the more land you're gonna need to feed yourself.
posted by sleslie at 8:46 AM on March 4, 2008

Don't necessarily value gear over skills. Why not take up some hobbies that have useful positive implications? Anything from gardening to hiking can be quite useful and seem entirely nutjob-free. You should definitely have an understanding of first aid, for instance, with or without a 900-piece kit.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:50 AM on March 4, 2008

Try reading "Lucifer's Hammer." Besides being a good story about a giant meteor hitting Earth, it has several interesting ideas about preparing for the end of civilization. Books and guns would be on the top of my list.

Where I am (far west from Boston, for sure), the 'burbs means a few minutes by car from completely rural. Completely rural out this way means "society" is a tenuous concept. Guns, ability to get your own water, and stores of food are the norm. Not having those things or the knowledge to use them makes you a nutjob.

I say this as a frame of reference for a few suggestions that might make you a "nutjob" in New England: take a gun safety class; learn about local sources of fresh water (rivers, digging a well, etc.), get some books about growing food. Of course, these are ideas about the *collapse* of civilization. Most folks will be totally unprepared. The initially expedient course will be taking from others. You'll need to be able to protect yourself or get the hell away. As mentioned above, Katrina shows a good example of getting the hell away in a timely manner.

To that end, a small gasoline reserve would come in handy. Maybe you should plan some room in the garage for a modest tank. Maybe design the pantry a little larger for extra food. Hide a "panic room" somewhere in the house.

Stuff that's fun and useful, whether civilization ends or not:

Learn how to fish. Brew beer, mull wine, and distill liquor. Build a boat. -- you need a workshop
Keep warm. Learn how to start a fire without matches. -- build solid fireplace and a fire pit in the back yard.
Start a gold coin collection. -- you need a library with space for a big safe.

On preview, butane is a great idea and skills are indeed more important than stuff.
posted by GPF at 9:07 AM on March 4, 2008

You mention having a home built. There's where to put many of your ideas.

1. Build it biking distance from the important stuff to reduce your reliance on cars or other gas power. Bonus points if the zoning allows for chickens--fertilizer for your veg garden; protein for you.

2. Build it small and super-efficient. Lots of insulation. Passive solar design (sun warms the house). On-demand water heater. Roof designed for good rainwater cachement, uphill of your food garden. Tight, efficient windows & doors. Good placement of windows for power-free lighting and ventilation. Under deciduous trees so you're shaded in the summer but sunny in the winter. Efficient wood stove, as clean-burning as possible. Near a reliable & sustainable source of wood. such as 5 acres of your own trees. (This describes my house, and not only is it super comfortable, it's super cheap to live in.)

3. Reduce your "need" for powered doodads of all kinds.

4. Find a way to support yourself that doesn't require commuting. I have an online business, and I guess if the economy tanks 100%, I'll be in trouble, but actually recession worries are helping me, as my clients shift more stuff online to avoid travel & production costs.

You have strong financial reasons to take these steps, because they'll make saving a lot easier. My quality of life has also improved immeasurably, so you could tell people you're downsizing, getting back to basics, whatever to have a simpler life. They'll be jealous. They won't think you're a nutcase.
posted by PatoPata at 9:19 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've recommended this before, but all five parts of "Are YOU Ready for Disaster?" have excellent, practical advice in the stories and in the comments.

Tell your friends that you've been reading things like "Omnivore's Dilemma" and start your own garden (look into "Lasagna Gardening"). Learn to can or otherwise preserve what you grow and then invite your friends to share in the bounty. They won't laugh when they try your homemade jam or spaghetti sauce!

Tell friends you're on a self-improvement kick and then learn to garden, can, make a fire, whatever -- check out homesteading books for ideas.

Start a compost bin.

Get rid of what takes up space and serves no purpose. More room for useful stuff. Learn to use it up, wear it out, make it last or do without, as the old saying goes. If everything implodes (which I doubt), you won't be as shocked by the loss of instant gratification.

If you buy tools, make most of them hand tools, rather than something that requires power.

Just tell everyone you're concerned about sustainability, self-sufficiency and simplicity, and then follow through. Is that so crazy?
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:27 AM on March 4, 2008

Put in a big vegetable garden and learn to cook and preserve what you grow. Raise a few chickens, if local laws allow. Try seed saving. Above all, make friends with your neighbors.

I wouldn't count on good health care in a societal collapse, so I'd strongly consider working on health and strength. Floss regularly. (Seriously -- who wants bad teeth when TSHTF?) Get a useful bike and ride it a lot. If you're done having kids, get a vasectomy. Learn some emergency medicine.

I'd forget fireplaces; a woodstove is the way to go. If you don't have a woodlot, then a woodstove might not be so great for weathering complete societal breakdown, but it's great if you lose power for a few days or weeks in mid-winter.

For water heat, I'd look into passive solar.
posted by sculpin at 11:52 AM on March 4, 2008

I think there is a long, long way to go before we get to an end of society situation.
Peak Oil is more likely to mean financial pressures, which lead to declining infrastructure, higher prices for everything, and a bunch of recession style issues.
Take a look at Russia or Argentina after their financial collapses or present day South Africa to get a handle on what a prolonged financial downturn brought on by peak oil might result in.
The financial pressures aren't going to be consistent, however, and the problems can be mitigated or exacerbated.
If you live a long drive from everything, you will exacerbate the cost of fuel problem, if you live a short walk/bike ride you will be mitigating that issue.
If you have a well insulated house with possibly a few heating options (electric, gas, wood?) you can mitigate the costs of higher energy prices, if you live in a huge McMansion you will be making it worse.
If you grow some fruit trees or raise chickens you can avoid price rises due to transporting these, but it is likely that the cost of staple foods will remain comparatively low while some premium foods will rise substantially, and I suspect meat will become a premium food. Even if the price of flour trebled, it would still be quite affordable, but if the price of steak trebled it would be much more of a luxury.
Consider some solar energy in a new house. If energy prices rise you will win two ways, firstly by avoiding the higher prices, and secondly by sinking capital up front now when it is comparatively plentiful, rather than in a more financially constrained time. It would be a shame if when solar power is finally cheaper than fossil fuels nobody has the cash left to install it!
Consider getting a motorbike or scooter, you can retain high mobility with low energy use.
I would shy away from storing liquid fuels, except perhaps an emergency container of gasoline. The costs and practicalities of storing a meaningful volume are quite tricky, with safety and fuel degradation over time to be considered. Plus, what happens when it is used up? Better to seek sustainable alternatives like biking if you suspect long term fuel supply disruptions.
Storing gaseous or solid fuels is a possibility. Wood and coal store indefinitely. Propane will last until the container rusts away. If the societal infrastructure declines as it has in South Africa then power blackouts, utility interruptions and fuel shortages may become frequent. Having a buffer on hand would be sensible.
Consider a water tank to store rain water for the same reason. If the water supply is unavailable or questionable for periods of time a local water reservoir might be useful, even if just a few hundred liters or so.
In the USA, security and healthcare are big issues that are less major elsewhere, but if you feel security protection is needed, I suppose you should take steps, as it is unlikely crime would decrease in a more desperate time. Similarly, preventative healthcare now would be a good idea (like the flossing mentioned above) and potentially setting up a buffer of any regular medication would be sensible, if services became unreliable.
Finally, if peak oil's main manifestation in the developed world is indeed financial, it would be a good time to put your finances in order. Pay down debt, build up savings etc.
posted by bystander at 7:15 PM on March 4, 2008

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