The first session I attended at the Mother Earth News Fair was “When Technology Fails: Self-reliance and surviving the long emergency” presented by Matthew Stein. I arrived 10 minutes early and was surprised to find a crowd outside the door; inside it was standing room only! Since I was alone I was able to slip in and find a spot in the isle, but there were people sitting everywhere. Many people even found seats behind the screen/speaker, so they missed the graphics!
Mat Stein’s session was based on his books When Technology Fails (Revised & Expanded): A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency and When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival. He started by talking about why technology might fail; 400 Chernobyls: Solar Flares, EMP, and Nuclear Armageddon. Rather than try to get it down here I will send you to his website to read more – see the link above. I couldn’t take notes fast enough because I didn’t have the prior knowledge to just get the important stuff down (NOTE for kids: this is why teachers take the time to build your prior knowledge before we read an article! YES, we teachers do it too).
In the beginning, he introduced us to the Six Trends threatening civilization as we know it. As he puts it in a 2010 Huffington Post article:
There are dark clouds gathering on the horizon. They are the clouds of six hugely troubling global trends, climate change being just one of the six. Individually, each of these trends is a potential civilization buster. Collectively, they are converging to form the perfect storm–a storm of such magnitude that it will dwarf anything that mankind has ever seen. If we are unsuccessful in our attempts to calm this storm, without a doubt it will destroy life as we know it on Planet Earth!
The Six Trends are Climate Change/Global “weirding”, Peak Oil, Collapse of Oceans, Deforestation, Food Crisis (soils/water/climate), and population/overshooting our planet’s capacity. He went into each of these in detail, explaining the problems we face. More details are available at the above link, but the basics are:
- Climate Change – barely discussed because generally people have made up their minds
- Peak Oil – this will be hitting us hard in the next few years. He had some great graphs demonstrating the problem.
- Collapse of Oceans – 11/15 of the world’s biggest ocean fisheries are in severe decline or collapse. Global acidification of the ocean’s is global warming’s “evil twin”.
- Deforestation – trees are critical to the water cycle. When it rains the water is soaked up by tree roots and is evaporated through evapotranspiration, where a “typical tree breathes out 250 to 400 or more gallons of water per day through the amazingly large surface area of its leaves” (I found this out from this website).
- Food Crisis – where the problems we have with soils, climate and water all come together to create a food problem
- Population – Every 12 years we add the same number of people as we had in total in 1800. We passed the Earth’s bio-capacity in 1980 and now we are in overshoot mode.
Next, we moved on to answer the question “How do we cope?”
First, here is a list of things to have on hand just in case. You can find specifics about all of these items in this article on the WhenTechFails Website. Your 72-hour grabn’go kit should have food, water, first aid, and emergency supplies. For the food, make sure you rotate it out so you have useful food in your kit! You need 1 gallon of water per person per day. Remember water is heavy, so having a water purifier and filter system will help, especially if you can’t take a car! Links to kits and supplies can be found at the bottom of the page on the link I posted above in this paragraph.
Another thing you can do to plan to acquire skills to use or to trade for supplies. Learning gardening, wilderness skills, foraging skills, “old timer” skills, learn to build/repair small motors, and to build machines. A hint was to go camping. By doing this now, you know exactly what you need to be in the woods for several days! Build both your first aid kit and your herbal kid – remember that the herbs may be replaced. You can also build your community. You could start or participate in a local energy co-op or find locals who grow food or meat and make friends! Trading is a possibility, especially if you develop some of the above skills and can trade. Working on creating a transition town where you live can help your whole community be better prepared. Transition communities work on re-localizing as much as they can. Think about food or energy. When both are local you are less likely to have interruptions based on some other part of the country/world. Local currency is another great aspect of a transition town.
Finally, Mat Stein talked about backcasting, or looking back in time to find the problems and the decision(s) that were made that caused it. He also gave a great example of a smaller version of what we may face. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea lost its lifeline to supplies and had nothing available, especially those who were not in government. Those who survived were the ones with knowledge of foraging. As he closed, he mentioned that using 1/6 of the world’s military budget could essentially fix most of our problems, or start us in a positive direction. He left us to think about that…