There are two topics I am very interested in: collapse and survival. I believe the collapse of civilization is underway, but I also believe we should try to survive it.
Many people see this as a contradiction. If everything is going to get worse and worse from here on out, why bother trying to survive? Eventually, we’ll all either starve to death or be killed by marauders, disease, floods, heatwaves, radiation, or any number of collapse-related threats.
So is trying to survive a futile effort? Are all my survival supplies a waste of space? A pathetic attempt to escape the reality that my family and I are doomed?
The answer is no. In fact, I believe emergency preparedness is more important than ever.
The problem is that most people are thinking about collapse in the wrong way. They imagine it as a future event that hasn’t happened yet.
But collapse isn’t an event; it’s a process—and it’s happening right now. One could argue that the collapse began when the human population first went into overshoot, and that was over 50 years ago.
Still, it seems like most collapsniks have this idea that someday the collapse will happen and nearly everyone will die in a short period of time. They’re imagining civilization as a person who will suddenly drop dead from a heart attack.
But unless there’s a nuclear war or some other apocalyptic event, it’s not going to be like that. It’s going to be more like a person dying from cancer. The process could be long and drawn out, with good days and bad days.
Civilization is a self-adapting system. Like a body dying from cancer, it will keep attempting to heal itself, even though the long-term prognosis is terminal. As it runs out of energy, it will find ways to function with less energy. As it runs out of food, it will find more efficient ways to produce food.
This isn’t hopium. As I said, civilization is still doomed in the long run, but barring some black swan event, the population will probably decline more slowly than you’re expecting.
So how quickly will the population decline? To answer this question, let’s start by looking at the famous Limits to Growth book, first published back in 1972.
In case you don’t know, Limits to Growth is a study commissioned by the Club of Rome and performed by researchers at MIT. The goal was to find out how long natural resources would last before the growing economy starting reaching planetary limits.
To answer this question, they created a computer model called World3 based on five variables: population, resources, pollution, food per capita, and industrial output per capita.
Using this model, they mapped out several scenarios for the future of civilization. In some scenarios, birth rates decline. In other scenarios, we discover unlimited resources. The standard run scenario is where we continue with business as usual, extracting finite resources as quickly as we want.
Recently, several independent researchers have gathered empirical data from the last several decades and compared it to the scenarios laid out in Limits to Growth. They all found that the scenario we are following most closely is the business-as-usual scenario.
Take a look:
Under this scenario, the population doesn’t begin declining until 2030, and notice how it declines somewhat gradually until the end of the century.
However, it should be noted that the authors of the original study didn’t take climate change into account. When you consider crop failures and supply chain disruptions due to climate disasters, the population will likely decline much faster than this scenario suggests.
But even if the population declines twice as fast—or even three or four times as fast—we’re still talking about a scenario where 30 years from now, over half the current global population remains. Granted, most of them would be living in third-world conditions, but they would still be here.
My point is that if you’re expecting to die in the collapse in the next 5-10 years, don’t be so sure. If you’re middle-aged or younger, it’s very possible that in a few decades, you’ll still be scratching out a living.
And you should start preparing for that possibility.
As the collapse unfolds, there will be many temporary disasters along the way. Floods, heat waves, hurricanes, blackouts, food shortages, civil unrest, and so forth. You could potentially go through dozens of disasters before the collapse takes your life.
It would be silly to be unprepared for all these temporary disasters just because you expect to die in the collapse someday. That’s like neglecting your physical health because you won’t live forever. None of us will live forever, but that doesn’t mean we should just give up on life.
I’ve heard some people say they would rather die than live in the third-world conditions that the collapse will bring, but that’s a very privileged, first-world perspective. Should everyone living in a third-world country right now just lie down and die?
Believe it or not, there are people in third-world countries who experience love, laughter, and moments of joy on a regular basis, despite how difficult their lives are. To them, the idea of just giving up and dying because they can’t live a comfy, first-world lifestyle would be ludicrous.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that as the collapse gets worse, countless people will be living in situation where life becomes unbearable. As with a cancer patient, I’m sure there’s a point where the suffering becomes so bad that it’s no longer worth living, but I don’t know where that point is.
All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t assume you’ll hit that point the moment the grid goes down. Don’t give up on living as soon as daily life gets really difficult. Persevere for as long as you can. If not for yourself, then for your loved ones.
As Victor Frankl, survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Now let me be clear: I am not saying that you should assume you’ll still be alive several decades from now. No one knows when they will die, and as the collapse accelerates, your chances of dying in some sort of disaster will rise dramatically.
Therefore, you should still prepare for the possibility that this will be your last decade. Get your affairs in order, make peace with estranged friends and family, and live your life to the fullest. By that I mean getting in touch with nature, working on your favorite hobbies, or spending time with loved ones—anything that brings you joy.
However, you should also prepare for the possibility that this won’t be your last decade, and that you’ll witness as the global population declines and our way of life rapidly changes. But how does one prepare for that? I have three suggestions:
1. Stockpile Supplies
I understand that if you’re on a tight budget, this is easier said than done. You’ll have to find ways to lower your expenses. For example, cooking meals from scratch, cutting out overpriced drinks, turning the thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter, and anything else that can save you money, even if it’s only a few bucks.
Then, use the money you save to buy more of what you already consume. I’m talking about the things you go through every day: food, water, soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, medications, and so forth. Focus on foods that don’t need to be refrigerated, and keep at it until you have two weeks’ worth of supplies.
You’ll also want to get some basic survival gear such as:
There are hundreds of other survival items you could get, but just having these along with two weeks’ of supplies should be enough to get you through temporary disasters like severe weather and supply chain disruptions.
Depending on your finances, it could take you several months or longer to acquire these things, but once you do, you’ll be in a better position than 90% of people.
2. Learn Basic Skills
I already mentioned cooking from scratch, and that will be essential as food becomes more expensive, but there are many other skills worth learning such as:
- Raising chickens
- Mending damaged clothes
- Fixing things around the house
- Building and maintaining a fire
- Cooking without electricity
- Identifying wild edibles
- Collecting and purifying water
- Treating basic injuries and illnesses
You don’t have to become an expert at all of these, but having at least some experience with these skills will make a huge difference. However, it’s a good idea to pick at least one skill to specialize in.
For example, let’s say there comes a time when new clothing is unavailable or unaffordable to most people. If that happens, they’ll have to fix or modify the clothes they have, but most people don’t know how to do that.
If you’re the one person in your building or neighborhood who is great at sewing, then people might offer you supplies in exchange for mending their clothes or making new clothes. And that’s just one example. Any skill that involves creating or fixing things will be very valuable, and that leads me to my third suggestion.
3. Make Friends In Your Local Community
One of the worst things about the modern world is how it has separated us from one another, dividing us by class, race, religion, politics, etc. No matter our differences, we’re all going through the collapse together, so it’s time we start connecting with one another.
And the more people you know, the better chance that you’ll find someone who can help you when you need it.
For example, if you know someone who can fix a water heater but you can’t afford a repairman, maybe they will fix it in exchange for some food. Or if you know someone who can make herbal remedies, maybe they’ll make you one in exchange for some supplies.
These are countless other possibilities. The point is, knowing lots of people with a variety of skills will be incredibly helpful.
So how do you meet more people? Here are some suggestions:
- Join a book club
- Join or start a Meetup
- Join a gym that offers group classes
- Volunteer with a local non-profit
- Start going to church (if you’re an atheist, try a Unitarian Universalist church)
- Sign up for an in-person class or workshop (especially one that teaches one of the skills listed above)
I understand that it’s difficult to make friends as an adult, and it’s something I’m still working on myself, but I believe anyone who is patient and persistent can create a circle of good friends. Just remember that friendship is a two-way relationship. You need to be there for them if you expect them to be there for you.
Maybe all of this is hopium. Maybe the idea of a local community where neighbors work together and barter with one another is a fantasy, and we’ll all be dead by 2030. I regularly remind myself of that possibility so I can remember to appreciate each day.
But I’m also preparing for the possibility that I will live several more decades. If that happens, they will be very difficult decades, so I want to be as prepared as I can be.
I refuse to give in to despair. Rather than being just another panicked citizen when things fall apart, I want to face what’s coming with courage, dignity, and some commonsense preparations, that way I can be a source of strength to those around me.
Of course, that is easier said than done, but I have to try. The only other option is to give up and wait for the end, and that is no way to live.