Preparing for Collapse: Three Things You Can Do, A Book Review
By Carolyn Baker
Mick Winter, host of DryDipstick.com and BeyondPeak.com, has written an extremely practical guide entitled Peak Oil Prep: Three Things You Can Do To Prepare For Peak Oil, Climate Change, and Economic Collapse. Before I launch into a review of this no-nonsense handbook of sustainability and survival, I need to address two things: First, Winter's book is not exclusively about Peak Oil and its consequences. Individuals who understand the daunting realities of climate change and global economic meltdown will find this handbook instructive because it offers suggestions for surviving in a world where utilities, services, and products that we now take for granted may not be available at all or where access to them may be greatly diminished.
Secondly, those readers who seem hell bent on confronting me with how 'deluded' and 'hoodwinked' I am for 'believing' in Peak Oil must understand that for me, Peak Oil is axiomatic to all of my writings and activism in the current milieu. However, I do not view it as a phenomenon unconnected with the other two issues Winter's book addresses because these three which I have in the past referred to as the Terminal Triangle, unequivocally travel together from my perspective. If readers 'need' me to disavow Peak Oil, they should not waste their time reading the contents of my site nor waste my time with their emails intent on forcing me to 'see the light.' The science is clear, the research has spoken: Peak Oil is a fact of the twenty-first century, and its prophets have now become historians. That said, I would not presume to argue which of the three aspects of the Terminal Triangle are more formidable, more lethal, more likely to annihilate Western civilization, if not the human species.
Peak Oil and climate chaos appear to be in a dead-heat (no pun intended) for ending the world as we know it, all the while playing out against the back drop of long-term, protracted economic catastrophe. All three influence and are influenced by each other at different times and in different ways, or as James Howard Kunstler might say, they are interdependent shitstorms. In this review, therefore, I will use 'collapse' as the umbrella term which encompasses Peak Oil, climate chaos, and global economic meltdown.
Winter offers some explanation of the Terminal Triangle in Preparing For Peak but for the most part, jumps right into survival techniques and introduces them with a brief mention of the issue of scapegoating, or as he writes, 'When the effects of Peak Oil are truly felt and the economy collapses, the result will be a very upset populace that will likely look around for a scapegoat; some person or group in which to blame everything.' Implicit throughout the book is the suggestion that collapse will happen suddenly' a notion with which I no longer concur.
When we imagine collapse, certain images leap to mind, such as a stock market crash, miles of glacier suddenly plummeting into the sea, or gasoline prices that spike to $10 a gallon overnight. As formidable as these images are, they are nothing less than ghastly if we imagine collapse occurring over a longer period of time. In other words, what I conceive as much more realistic and likely is death by a thousand cuts to middle and working-class individuals and families, to the ecosystem, and to hydrocarbon energy systems. Therefore, if Winter's hypothesis is accurate' that people in crisis look for scapegoats, it is likely that the creation of scapegoats will occur over a longer period of time and impact many more marginal groups. First, the protracted adversity may appear to be 'caused' by a particular ethnic group or by a particular nation, then when it becomes less clear that that group is the culprit, another group is chosen for scapegoating, and on and on ad infinitum. Unless individuals are informed on the deeper issues behind the Terminal Triangle, scapegoating will be very tempting' and very dangerous.
Early on in the book, Winter offers 'The Big Three' things that almost everyone can do: 1) Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs, 2) Walk or bike instead of driving, 3) Plant a garden. While I applaud this practical, do-able formula for creating almost immediate change in one's own world, it hardly addresses the macrocosm of collapse, and it is there that individuals and families have less power to make significant changes.
While Preparing For Peak provides guidelines for re-locating inside or outside the U.S. and suggests action for changing the face of education, media, and reliance on the global economy by relocalizing on every level actions which individuals may or may not be able to significantly take, one of the most powerful and in my opinion, necessary, are Winterâ's tools for 'Meeting Together.' Whether living in a compact urban environment or in suburbia, the reader can benefit from Winter's suggestions for organizing one's neighborhood. I hasten to add that 'organizing' in this context is not about political organizing, but organizing logistically in terms of the eventualities of collapse. One's neighbors may be clueless about collapse and its causes, but one might suggest a neighborhood meeting to discuss disaster preparation or ways to explore getting group discounts and bulk purchases and in this way get phone lists and create a phone tree. Another excellent option is working with neighbors to create a community garden and setting up carpooling arrangements for those open to the idea. With ever-increasing gas prices, this should not be terribly difficult.
If a neighborhood is sufficiently organized, it can then work to change its zoning laws to mixed use so that more businesses can be incorporated into residences, and living units and telecommuting centers can be set up in shopping malls. Organized neighborhoods can also work to convert schools into community centers.
Preparing For Peak offers excellent suggestions for composting and gardening, as well as the recycling of everything. The author includes specific options for cooking, kinds of foods to eat and avoid, food storage, and beer and wine-making. Everything you could possibly want to know about energy conservation in every room of your house, cooling, lighting, heating, and power is addressed, as are issues of money and finance. I was particularly impressed with Winter's suggestions for bartering and creating barter networks with neighbors or friends. Indeed, the author provides several pages of possible items for barter and emphasizes that in the face of collapse, barter will become essential when innumerable items may be unavailable or so highly-priced as to render them beyond one's ability to purchase.
Also emphasized is the need to develop skills and a list of skills that might be essential post-collapse. Richard Heinberg often asks his audiences how many people know how to make shoes. No single individual can develop all the skills that he/she needs in a collapsed society, but everyone can develop one skill which is likely to be extremely valuable.
While the reader of Preparing For Peak is likely to know much about cutting expenses and getting out of debt, most are less familiar with the items on which we should spend money such as bicycles, seeds, fluorescent bulbs, classes and training that will increase our knowledge and skills. Additional suggestions include investing in local businesses and buying precious metals. Another issue on which we must educate ourselves is holistic health and techniques for relaxation and meditation.
In the light of the current scare around the safety of pet food, I was delighted to see in Preparing For Peak a recipe for homemade pet food (which my dog absolutely loves) and resources for healing pets naturally. And, speaking of animals, Winter suggests raising, if possible, small animals for food such as chickens for eggs and meat, and rabbits or goats.
The author concludes the book with a discussion of how Cuba survived Peak Oil and the ensuing crisis. Those who have not viewed 'The Power Of Community' documentary will glean from it not only historical information on Cuba's transformation in energy and food production, but are sure to be uplifted by the transformation of its population by the spirit of community that evolved from the crisis.
The section on Cuba is followed by an excellent collection of resources on Peak Oil. An extensive list on the other two parts of the Terminal Triangle climate change and economic collapse would be useful as well. Nevertheless, Winter has provided us with a superb manual containing the basics of preparation for a world which seems both inevitable and not that far in the future.
What feels equally urgent at this point in history is more writing on psychological and spiritual preparation for such a world. In my 2006 article Navigating The Collapse Of Civilization: A Spiritual Map I endeavored to put the issue on the table and received an overwhelmingly positive response from readers. Tim Bennett and Sally Erickson's documentary 'What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire' beautifully and poetically emphasizes the crisis of meaning and purpose that collapse presents and will present as it deepens.
From my perspective, anything we can do to build lifeboats for ourselves and our loved ones as we move closer to collapse is essential. Mick Winter's Peak Oil Prep is a powerful and practical guidebook for doing just that.