Rob Hopkins -- Energy Bulletin/Transition Culture
Sept. 4, 2006 -- I have very little time for the survivalist response to peak oil, and on the back of a new article about it, Preparing for a Crash: Nuts and Bolts by Zachary Nowak, posted recently on the ever indispensible Energy Bulletin, perhaps it is time to deconstruct the whole survivalist argument, which is still a strong theme in the peak oil movement.
Imagine you and a number of other people are in a house and the house catches fire. Do you look around the house for other people and help those out that you can, or do you bolt out of the house at the first sniff of smoke? The survivalists are like the latter, like those who were first off the Titanic in the first lifeboats that were launched half empty. I deeply question the morality of responding to a crisis by running in the opposite direction and leaving everyone else to stew. For me, peak oil and climate change, and the challenge that they present, are a call to return to society, to rebuild society, and to engage society in a process that can offer an oil free world as a step forward and an improved quality of life.
According to the survivalist philosophy we are about to witness the inevitable and horrible disintegration of society, where the rising price of oil will lead to us all rushing out and bashing each over the head. In order to avoid this, they argue, we need to get away from everyone else and sort ourselves out in such a way that we will be able to see out these perilous times. We will, they argue, be able to get by, in utter isolation, up a dirt track somewhere, seeing no-one, with no external stimulus, eating borage and 3 year old baked beans, and attempting to be entirely self sufficient, despite having little previous background in the way of gardening, farming and homesteading.
The first question that springs to mind is where exactly are we supposed to go? Where is this rustic utopia? Nowak offers a checklist of what the aspiring survivalist should be looking for in what he calls a “place to retreat to”. It is “relatively isolated, out of view from roads, with large woods and a swamp, land for gardening and an existing structure”. Sounds like exactly the kind of place that many a wealthy suburbanite with the dream to keep a pony is also seeking out as a second home. How many such places remain? How many existing communities in such places are going to be delighted to see the aspiring survivalist? In the US such places might exist, but in the UK, such places are at a premium. Nowak also doesn’t address the issue that financially the buying of a second home and the equipping of it is financially outside the realm of possibility for most of us, who struggle to even afford one home.