Sunday, 17 July 2016

07:48 – An email from a reader prompts me to suggest an interesting thought experiment. Assume that you are sitting reading this blog one morning when a catastrophic event occurs. All of your utilities fail–electricity, municipal water and sewer, natural gas, landline and cell phones, TV and Internet service–and there’s no prospect that any will be restored anytime soon. It’s the worst possible time of year for this to happen. You’re just entering the cold days of winter (or the scorching days of summer, depending on which type of extreme temperatures is the threat where you live). The stores are closed, if not looted and burned down. Gas stations are no longer operating. Your garden is dormant, so you won’t be getting any food from it for months to come. Assuming for the sake of simplicity that your family are all at home, that there aren’t any bands of roving looters, that neither you or any of your family have a sudden medical emergency, and that a bunch of family or friends don’t show up at your door expecting you to share your supplies with them, how long could you survive in your own home without any inputs whatsoever?

You’re limited to whatever you actually have at home at this moment. No running to the store for groceries or to the gas station for fuel. If you’re on well water, you’re limited to whatever water you have stored, can pump without outside electricity, or can capture from your downspouts. If you’re on utility water, it’s just what you have stored plus whatever rainwater you can capture. The only food you have or can get is whatever is on your pantry shelves. If you’re dependent on prescription medication, you’re limited to whatever you have in the house right now. So–no cheating here–how long could you survive without any outside inputs? What is the limiting resource?

I suspect that most US citizens would be able to make it on their own for three or four days, if that. Most of the readers of this blog would probably be able to make it for anything from a couple of weeks to a month. Some longer.

I sat down and tried to think things through for Barbara, Colin, and me. For us, my answer is one year plus, although things would become increasingly uncomfortable as time passed. At the moment, our most pressing shortage is of toilet paper, which is why I just added a couple of 36-roll packs to our Costco list. Of course, that’s not really critical because I have plenty of personal cloths for us, and plenty of bleach to sterilize them between uses. Yucky, but not critical. Another thing we lack is firewood. We have about half a cord sitting out back. But if it came to it, we wouldn’t need to heat the whole house. The woodstove is in the unfinished area of the basement, and half a cord of wood would keep that area reasonably warm for a long, long time, as well as providing a flat hot surface for cooking. And there’s lots of wood around us, including probably 20 cords or more of growing trees on our southern property line. Green wood isn’t great for heating, but it’ll do in a pinch.

So, where are you in terms of personal readiness level? What’s your limiting resource? And, whatever your answer, are you comfortable with that amount of time? If not, are you going to do something about it, or are you just going to keep thinking about doing something? Honest answers, please.