Preparing for the future, while living in the present

What does it mean to be prepared? About ten years ago, I served a term as an AmeriCorps*Vista in rural NC, doing disaster preparedness. Pandemic was the big fear at the time. Preparedness basically meant having a disaster kit and enough food and water to keep you alive in your house for a few weeks. Your kit should have sources of heat and light, some basic medical supplies, surgical masks, batteries, can opener, communication devices, etc. Fine, for what it’s worth. Let’s say the power went out tomorrow and stayed out for a week. You’d probably be ok. Unless you froze, that is. That emergency heat pack is good for hours, not weeks. But regardless, if the emergency was the sort of thing that could be waited out, you locked your doors, put duct tape around the cracks, and waited it out.

I’ve poked around on various survivalist blogs and it feels like mostly the same approach, albeit on a larger scale. Buy/build a cabin 100 miles from anywhere and stock it with 300 cans of beans and 400 boxes of ammunition.

I’m not sure we can wait out climate change. Or the world running out of oil. No matter how many boxes of Mac&Cheese you pack away, you will eventually run out.

In my mind, being prepared means being able to live self-sufficiently off the grid. It means being able to generate locally anything you absolutely need.

This isn’t me. To clarify, this is where I’d like to be, but it’s a million miles from where I am now. I’m on city water and city power. National Grid powers the freezer where we put up so much of the food we grow in the warm half of the year. I have two wood stoves, but most of our heat comes from natural gas. National Grid powers the fan that circulates the heat generated by these stoves. It heats the water for my shower and fuels my oven and stove. Gasoline in my car enables me to drive to work each day, earn a paycheck, and pay my mortgage.

So I’ve got a ways to go. And I don’t know that I’m going to get there. The barrier is buy-in. Something could come down the pike next year that fundamentally alters the paradigm. Or it could come fifty years from now. Or never. If I could know for a fact that change was coming, I could sell my house, empty the kid’s college fund, buy 10 rural acres for cultivation, and build a passive solar house on it. Easy answer. Unfortunately, I can’t know what’s coming, so instead I have to hedge my bets. If the oil crisis doesn’t hit for thirty years, emptying the kids college funds will seem like pretty poor planning when it’s time for them to go to school.

And so I have to play both sides. I have to live in the World-As-Is, while slowly moving the family towards self-sufficiency, disguised as economic efficiency. Which isn’t all bad. Food security and economic efficiency at home are very closely related. For example, we have 50 or so raspberry/blackberry vines. The girls eat gallons of the berries over the summer. Raspberries sell for $3-$5 per ½ pint. For us to buy an equivalent volume of berries to what the girls will eat this summer would be prohibitive. That we should grow raspberries is therefore an easy argument to make.

On the flip side, for me to power my home with solar/wind/micro-hydro etc would involve convincing my wife that it would be more cost efficient over the long term than the cheap energy we energy now. That argument will become easier as solar technology improves, but doesn’t hold a lot of water in the current economy.

Something in the middle – What am I going to do about coffee when it is no longer shipped 3000 miles to my local grocery store? The obvious answer would be tea. I can buy a Russian tea plant that would probably grow in my zone. I’m not really much of a tea drinker, so it’s harder, but not impossible, to justify buying a plant that I would have little use for in the current world order.

For those of you out there heading in the same direction, how do you get buy in from your friends and family?

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