Thursday, April 4, 2013

Advice for Parents at the End of the World

Douglas Spence -
Software Engineer and
concerned citizen
by Douglas Spence

The state of things today

We are in the early stages of an abrupt climate shift, driven initially by the disappearing Arctic albedo from sea ice and land snowpack. There are multiple other positive feedbacks set to come into play in the near future. We may have passed the point of no return where not even an immediate decision to deploy geoengineering could buy more time - and even if we did manage to buy more time - the prognosis for it being used to prevent the problem still looks very poor.

There is every chance that this will lead to the loss of global civilisation - widespread conflict and famine and general unpleasantness on a global scale. It is likely that this process will start in earnest sooner than it is comfortable to contemplate and be far worse than most people are capable of imagining. It is likely most people will perish.

While I think one should not entirely give up on averting catastrophe I think a realistic world view requires that one accept the possibility of failure and work on handling it. So what to do?

Simple Steps

The first thing to do is to stop being a passive observer. I encounter an increasing number of people who seem to intellectually grasp that we're in a very serious mess but who change nothing in their lives. Instead they either push it to the back of their mind as a tomorrow problem, or passively consume information on the internet or television and stare transfixed as the crash unfolds. So the first thing is to start - today, not tomorrow. Even today is really a bit late, but tomorrow is to declare your future not to be worth your effort.

The second thing is to arrive at a basic strategy. I can't tell you what form that will take as it depends a great deal upon your situation - where and how you currently live. I can say that there is plenty of straight-forward survivalist advice out there that will give you a good starting point. The hierarchy of needs - food, water, shelter - and so on. You need to determine how you will achieve those in a collapse scenario. Be careful to be realistic in determining how you will achieve them. If your plan is to travel into the mountains and hunt wildlife remember millions of other people will have the same idea. It may not be a realistic plan. The basics of surviving are a pre-requisite to anything else. In my opinion the ideal is to get into a remote region where the ratio of population to natural resource is favourable and where it is effectively inaccessible to most other people.

The third thing is to understand the limitations of the usual survivalist type information. Much depends upon the specifics of the situation you are preparing for. Climate change is unique in two ways that are unhelpful in terms of common survivalist thinking. Firstly it is a long duration problem (for many thousands of years at the very least) and a lot of the survivalist thinking equips you for a short duration problem. Secondly climate change means that the very environment we depend upon may change radically around us. That means that even if you already knew how to live off the land for your area right now (for example which plants are safe to eat) that is not necessarily going to give you a longer term strategy. Do remember that no matter how much food you store and how many tools you own - all these things are finite and will wear out. It is better to be excellent at problem solving than at hoarding tonnes of gear. It is also selfish to your children to predicate your existence upon short term answers, leaving them to solve more problems later. Sound familiar? That's because that's the sort of thinking that led to the climate crisis - and we must change it!

Accordingly once you are happy you have planned for the initial collapse episode, you need longer term plans. I suggest learning about the earth system and understanding what is likely to happen in the areas you are likely to be inhabiting. You also need to consider how your children and grandchildren will live into the indefinite future. I think you should think about the even longer term future:

Seven generation sustainability

Unfortunately it's easy to be lazy and short term. If our ancestors had cared about us seven generations ago - I am certain we wouldn't have these problems today. Accordingly, we must change this attitude if we value children. Those who do not will consign their descendents either to death or to the most primitive and brutal of existences.

Finally I strongly suggest you make sure you're on very good terms with your neighbours wherever you end up. The importance of community and social cohesion cannot be overstated. Make friends, not enemies.

A diverse range of seeds is essential - above examples scale up rapidly from low seed
On Children

It is beyond my comprehension at this point how anyone with children can NOT be preparing.

I would suggest that if you have children you start to help them become prepared - in ways that would make sense anyway. For example I believe children should know where food comes from. That means growing plants and raising and killing animals. They should also understand that if they value the ability to eat they should respect not only the world that provides those plants and animals but also the plant and animal itself. If one cannot respect something how can you look after it and in turn yourself?

I do not think you should lie to children, but on the other hand the truth should not be forced upon them either. Children usually have more flexible minds than adults and can arrive at their own understanding in their own time - if given as much truth as they reasonably ask for. We don't live in utopia and you can definitely be too protective. Particularly with younger children - make sure not to tell them things you don't want them to tell other people.

Make sure your children do not depend upon electronic gadgets and toys for emotional satisfaction. Help them to understand the simple beauty of nature and the real world. If they are old enough teach them the basic survival skills that count most. Perhaps the importance of clean water, how to make fire and how to respond to environmental stress in the form of dangerous heat and cold.

You and your children should be in good physical shape. That doesn't necessarily mean being a toned athlete but a basic standard of physical fitness is essential. A little stored body fat might actually be a good thing but certainly not enough to affect your fitness or mobility. A little of it could help you when you are starving. I would however note to all those who think an answer is to hoard lots of food - if you are obviously well fed while those around you starve, expect them to kill you and take your food. A modest stockpile is arguably a substantial advantage but only if used wisely.

It is essential to cultivate a practical and optimistic attitude. Instead of encouraging the all too common passive mindset of waiting for someone else to solve a problem (or of saying something is simply too hard) perseverance should be encouraged, and willingness to try. Ability to learn from failure is also important.

One of my pet peeves about how most people view the end of the world is they necessarily think the loss of civilisation and the descent of the world into violent conflict is a hopeless situation. They automatically think it will be dreadful and not worth trying to survive in. I can only say that I think the collapse itself will be a finite duration event (until the population is back within carrying capacity) and that the most important thing about being civilised is how people treat each other.

One can find happiness in small simple things if one is willing to accept it! Those things will never go away for those who value them.

What if you cannot survive?

Firstly, survival is mostly in the mind. In many cases your mental attitude is the biggest factor - not your physical limitations. A couple of examples:
Secondly, if you genuinely think yourself unable to survive in a collapsed world, I can only suggest the following:
  1. Do your absolute best to try to stop things from collapsing - this is by definition your best survival strategy 
  2. Help someone else - if your good deeds can live longer than you, why not try to help future generations? 
Good luck.


  1. thanks for these very wise words. unfortunately very few people realize that we are on the verge of a collapse, and that it will be a fast one. I am old, sick and I cannot venture to Patagonia or Northern Finland - if I were 20 I would surely do it, the industrial mass civilization is madness and there is everything to gain by quitting it.

  2. I agree that all the evidence indicates nothing is likely to be done that is capable of reversing what is in store now.

    On the collapse, I think it is going to be much harder than we realize because of the huge level of destruction of bio-diversity and pollution. What worries me though is that there are approximately 450 nuclear reactors and the quantity of radiation these could release if essentially abandoned, could if conditions are right, release an aerosol of radioactive hot particles which would wipe out any remaining humans through general illness and genetic damage so that any future generations would be impossible. I think Fukushima which is not solved yet has been illustrative of this potential.

    Thus I think survival is going to be very hard indeed and I can see that most people will do nothing, possibly including myself, to prepare because there is a fundamental disconnect between the human mind scale and planetary scale in terms of the enormity of what is unfolding and an inability to take this onboard in an emotional capacity.

  3. Thanks for this Article.
    after talking to my friends who have children,i was thinking about the whole "What to Say to People" subject...

  4. I am the preparedness business (food seller) and have been writing about collapse and climate change for over ten years (Survival Acres - Sustainable Living and Common Sense) with several thousand articles. Here is what I've seen:

    Americans are motivated by fear (not by reason or scientific explanation), despite the best evidence given. Oh, some will prepare through reason and commons sense, given adequate levels of information, but the vast majority simply will not. Nothing in their experience or worldview has prepared them to accept the fact that the good life is about to end globally.

    Many are like lemmings (herd animals) that will only respond when they're "told" to do so (such as by a public popular figure). This has happened many times, which always causes a massive run on food supplies each time. But then things "settle back down" again - even though collapse events continue to accelerate and increase, and climate change catastrophes accelerate and increase with severity and frequency, and humanity edges ever closes to the terrifying abyss.

    Planning for the seventh generation is wise words, but it will mostly fall on deaf ears. Most will not plan for their own children, caring little for what they will suffer. They can see no real point to being concerned about the future when "today is all they have".

    I think this attitude is worse then ever, much more advanced then it was just ten years ago.

    The number of people who prepare is less then 1/10th of 1%. The number of people who really care and are trying to plan ahead is significantly less then that. These numbers are based upon 17 years of experience and contact with thousands and thousands of people. Many have come to me with personal stories of how futile it has been to reach out to their own family, including spouses and children. In exasperation, many have simply quit trying.

    Counteracting the disinformation, media deceptions and all the hype and hucksters out there is very hard and exhausting. It's nearly impossible to find quality reliable information that isn't after the money in your pocket.

    Americans want to "buy their way" towards preparedness (and comfort) and invest nothing of themselves. My last article, "Making the Right Investment" discusses this briefly.

    Many are burned out, after years of effort. Personally, I've come to realize that trying to convince other people to do what is good for them, or their children, let along the "seventh generation" is pretty futile (but very good advice). (continued)

  5. (continued)

    I'm now persuaded that nothing short of severe suffering will "work" and get people on board with what they need to do - what they should have done twenty years ago when it was cheap, possible and giving them enough time. It takes over a decade of serious hard work to really be prepared, experienced and ready to take care of yourself. Almost nobody will even discuss this point.

    They won't believe it, finding it impossible to counteract the propaganda and decades of brainwashing they've been subjected to, until they have it all fall apart in a very personal way.

    I call this type of collapse "personal collapse" and have spoken with hundreds that have had this happen to them. They're "believers" now, belatedly and far, far too late.

    Making the "right investment" in oneself NOW is the ONLY answer there is to a world that is splitting at the seams. Relying upon our just-in-time delivery system to constantly feed you, provide for you and even employ you is insane. It cannot last forever. It cannot sustain itself. It's certainly not healthy.

    But the biggest reason to be prepared is staring us in the face. Climate change will have an impact like nothing humanity has even imagined. Food shortages will be extreme and worldwide. Being able to raise your own food, take care of your sick, and stay healthy and alive will become the #1 priority for billions of people. But almost no one is gearing up to do this properly. Quite a few fools think "running off into the woods" is their ticket to survival (suicide).

    I suppose I've seen it all. From the rapture ready religious nutters to the Y2K doomsayers and "Mother ship" escapees, patriots, preppers, conservatives, peak oilers and climate change refugees. You hit the nail exactly on the head -- FOOD is your BIG worry in the days ahead. Learning "how" takes time, effort, skill, practice and experience. It's a big, big deal, far bigger then hardly anybody realizes.

    "Thus I think survival is going to be very hard indeed and I can see that most people will do nothing, possibly including myself, to prepare because there is a fundamental disconnect between the human mind scale and planetary scale in terms of the enormity of what is unfolding and an inability to take this onboard in an emotional capacity."

    Exactly right. It's going to be very hard indeed, largely in part because people will not listen when they had the time to do something about their own future. It's sad, it's tragic and is proving to be unavoidable.

    Doing nothing is easier. Cognitive dissonance is actually more comfortable then staring the harsh reality of the future in the face. The enormity is of such magnitude that it boggles the mind.

    Surviving the future is going to be exceedingly difficult. A mass die-off is very likely what will happen. Not because it has to happen, but because people refused to listen.

    The whole climate change "debate" is a case in point. People are still stupidly arguing against the facts as if that will make it all just "go away" somehow. This is escapism, the refusal to see the forest for the trees and will solve nothing.

    In the end, those of us who really have tried have now gone off on our own, unable to "cure" much of the ignorance that has continued to grow. I write very little these days, spending my time on preparations instead. Those who can be convinced already are, those that won't refuse to budge no matter what.

    It doesn't matter. Everyone will sleep in their own bed. Not my problem, and not your problem either. Do what you can, but when you've done enough, realize that as in all survival situations, it's going to come down you deciding your future, not theirs.