Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Survival in the 21st Century (Part 2)

Recently I asked you to consider what would happen to you and your family in the event of a pandemic, natural disaster, or major terrorist attack. I ask you to imagine a scenario in which you find empty grocery store shelves, no running water or electricity, and no natural gas service. I find that most people have given some thought to this, and have made preparations, at least for the first few days following an emergency. Putting together an emergency kit is easy. However, preparations for long-term survival are not so easy. To make matters worse, people tend to believe that they’re ready, when in fact they are not. A plan, by itself, is not enough. It’s easy to say “I’ll plant a garden”, but do you have the tools and skills? Could you install a solar photovoltaic (PV) system and make it work? Do you have a plan to keep your home warm if you find yourself without utility-supplied heating fuel? Remember, in an emergency many of your neighbors will be looking for the same equipment and supplies that you’ll be looking for. The time to prepare is BEFORE an emergency.

If you have no previous gardening experience you’re likely to be disappointed with the results of your first attempt. In fact, it may take several seasons to become a good gardener. Even experienced gardeners continue to learn from season to season. Are you confident that you can grow a crop big enough to get you and your family through the winter? Do you have seeds? Can you keep insects and pests from ruining your crops? If you do manage to grow something, will you be able to preserve it for later consumption? Do you have the items needed for canning and preserving?

Solar panels, batteries, and the other components needed to build a solar electric system might be hard to find in an emergency. And, even if you can find the items you need, will you be able to build a system and use it efficiently? Unless you have previous experience, it’s unlikely that you’ll get the most out of this equipment. Beginner’s mistakes might result in damaged equipment and a system malfunction just when it’s needed the most.

I suspect that most of us are woefully unprepared for long-term survival and sustainable living, but fortunately we can do something about that. Here are a few suggestions:

Learn how to grow things now, don’t wait until spring. You’ll find plenty of information on-line. Consider plants that you can grow indoors, with limited space requirements. These might include herbs, wheat-grass, and dwarf tomato plants. Start a compost pile/bin. You’ll use the finished compost (humus), later to improve the soil. Plan your outdoor garden, and begin working the soil early in the spring. Save seeds from your successful crops. Saved seeds, from crops grown in your own backyard, will be better suited to your area than those bought from an out-of-the-area supplier. By the end of the season you’ll have plenty of ideas for doing things better next year.

If you have an acre or more of land, you might consider growing your own heating fuel. You can grow enough corn to heat your home for an entire winter on just one acre of land, but land alone is not enough. You’ll need equipment for planting, growing, and processing the corn as well as a way to securely store it for later use. You’ll have to protect your crop from insects and animals. This can be a monumental task, and perhaps overwhelming without the appropriate equipment. You might consider heating your home with wood if you can count on an abundant supply. Whichever method you choose, learn to use your stove or alternative heater efficiently and safely, and stock up on the appropriate fuel. Keep in mind that with an ordinary fireplace the heat goes up the chimney. The only warm spot in the home is directly in front of the fireplace. You’ll need a better strategy than that. If you’ve installed a heat exchanger, and if you have a dependable supply of electricity to power the blower, you’re in business.

Install and use an off-grid solar photovoltaic (PV) system. Monitor daily electricity production, and use. Shut down service from the power grid once in a while to check your system’s performance in a simulated grid power failure. You’ll learn from these simulations, you’ll adjust, and you’ll be better prepared for an actual emergency. Since your system probably won’t be big enough to supply all of your household needs for electricity, you’ll find ways to conserve. You’ll change to power-sipping compact fluorescent bulbs (cfl’s), for example. As you become more and more self-sufficient, you’ll be cutting your utility bills at the same time, a win-win situation.

Sustainable living skills need to be learned and practiced BEFORE an emergency. Unless you prepare in advance you probably won’t have the equipment, supplies, and skills needed for survival in the event of an emergency. Remember, you’re not preparing for the end of the world, you’re preparing for the future of the unknown. I hope you’ll take advantage of the information provided in this blog’s archives as you prepare. As always, I look forward to your comments and suggestions as I become more self-sufficient.


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