Saturday, 23 June 2007

21st Century Survival Manual

(Illustration is taken from the HMSO leaflet Protect & Survive on how to build a nuclear shelter)

James Lovelock has a great suggestion at the end of Revenge of Gaia. We need a book in circulation, very commonly owned and widely distributed which carries simple instructions for living in emergency situations. Beyond first aid, how many people know what to do in a cholera epidemic, how to collect rainwater to drink etc? You have to bear in mind that he assumes a century when only 20% of the population will survive. Based upon a model that says climate will switch to a new higher steady state temperatute - as it did in the Eocene period - if carbon exceeds 500ppm (ie by about 2050). Scary stuff indeed. Above a 5 degree increse most of the planet (and ocean) would be desert for a start, leading to massive food and water crises.

I think the reason he included this in his book, and the reason I think it is a seriously good idea to actually execute, is that as a green propaganda project is it will force people to confront the very real possibility of catastrophe before it happens.

I remember the 'protect & survive' type information materials having exactly the same effect looking at nuclear war. The very existence of education materials telling you how to look after you and yours during a pandemic, flood, major terrorist strike, 4 week blackout, water shortage and so on (and very possibly all of the above) is sobering & should incline people to reaximine their lifestyles. If people's lifestyles and lack of political will werent one of the key factors in averting these disasters I'd say let them enjoy pampered, convenient modern life while it lasts. But we need to wake up.

Knowing the worst case scenarios is why people in power are so scared of what is to come. We as a species generally assume it will 'never happen to me' but when politicians and business leaders say this is the biggest crisis to face the human race, possibly ever, it is because by virtue of their position they have been forced to consider such scenarios in detail. Many of my corporate clients for instance have been through global pandemic preparation exercises; what to do when 60% of your workforce are sick, when international transport system is shut down by quarantine and so on.

How to produce such a book? By the Wiki approach of course. Articles could be sourced from existing sources, or contributed by experts. i reckon NGOs working in refugee camps would be one treasure trove of such info. Although a publisher (or government publications department) involved to handle the mass printing of such a book.

I think this is something well worth doing & while it wasnt my idea I probably have some of the skills & contacts to help it along. I will ask around, but i thought I'd check if anyone reading the blog would be up for this. It's worth reading the last chapter of the Revenge of Gaia (and indeeed the rest of the book) if you havent already.


Charles Frith said...

I was playing with the idea the other day if a property with a nuclear shelter would be an advantage just in case things get ugly through climate catastrophe. Its not hard to imagine a scenario where food distribution is down and hoarding of dry goods gets ugly.

Of course this is extreme planning but I find it a lot more soothing than thinking of the next fashion phone I should be getting.

Andrew Smart said...

I think I may have mentioned a book I read a couple of months ago called 'The Long Emergency'. In it the author outlines some future scenarios for us all. Not pleasant reading but as it says on the cover notes 'ultimately hopeful'. I read through chapter after chapter of disease, war, hunger and pain in the hope of a happy ending. And there was one.

Through real hardship we will have adjust the way we live dramatically. We will have to learn to live in communities again. We will have to learn to help and provide for each other locally. We will need to re-discover many of the skills we have lost over the years. We will be doing more manual work. Modern illnesses like obesity and depression brought about by our messed up society will slowly disappear. Extreme sports and self absorbed art for the bored middle classes will seem ridiculous one hundred years from now. It is more likely that my children's children will not die in some sterile hospital but being cared for by their family. We will discover what it is like to be human again.

Like Charles, I find all of this strangely comforting too. However, I would recommend a windmill with a machine gun post mounted high up rather than a bunker :-)

On the subject of handbooks, I have just bought The Concise Guide to Self Sufficiency by John Seymour. It's really accessible and beautifully illustrated. It doesn't really cover maleria or an invasion from China but it's a start :-) I've made it my personal mission to be somewhere near self-sufficiency before I kick the (hand-made wooden) bucket.

The 'surving the twenty first century' wiki is a great idea.