When Technology Fails: How to Survive the Long Emergency
The following is an interview with Matthew Stein, P.E., author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability and Surviving the Long Emergency, from Chelsea Green.
Brianne Goodspeed: A lot of people are now really concerned -- or even hopeless -- about the state of the world and what our future holds. Peak oil and climate change, the global food crisis, the war in Iraq, a weak economy and a number of recent devastating natural disasters give us real reason for concern, but many of those things weren't even on the radar -- or were, but to a lesser extent -- when When Technology Fails was published in 2000. What was your original intent in writing the book?
Matthew Stein: My original intention was to provide a practical handbook to help people to plan for, and deal with, the difficulties that most of us will face as we pass the peak in global oil production and experience the consequences of escalating ecological decline exacerbated by catastrophic climate change. It is my hope that many millions of people will wake up to the realization that making the shift to sustainability is a matter of economic and ecological survival. If enough people awaken to this understanding, we will be able to force our governments into making the radical changes that are needed to change our course and avert economic, social and ecological collapse.
BG: You write, "Emergency preparedness isn't about a bunch of survivalists crawling around in the woods, preparing to fight off the starving hordes in some grim post-9/11 apocalyptic fantasy." That stereotype does exist, but given a rising level of alarm, do you think more middle-of-the-road folks are beginning to think about emergency preparedness?
MS: My book is quite unusual in that it appeals to eco-green types, survivalists and all the average folks in between who simply want to be able to help their friends and families in times of emergency. Emergency preparedness is kind of like car insurance -- you hope you never need it, but when a real emergency does arise, you thank God that you had the foresight to spend a few dollars and a few hours of your time on basic preparedness supplies and planning.
BG: When Technology Fails is -- at its root -- a comprehensive handbook of survival skills. Those skills range from building an emergency shelter and purifying water to foraging for food and dealing with medical situations at home. Obviously the future is uncertain, but can you give us a list of your Top 10 most crucial survival skills?
MS: OK. Here's 10:
- Be Prepared: I strongly suggest that everyone put together a basic 72-hour "grab-and-run" survival kit (see page 51 for full list of items). This kit should cover the basic food, water and survival needs for you and your family for at least the critical first three days after a disaster. Most of us could survive for a month without food, but a single day without water in extreme heat is enough to kill a person.
- Develop Your Intuition: Most survivors credit their instincts and "gut feel" with saving their lives. Natural selection has bred the most incredible survival mechanism into man. It is called "intuition," and primitive man has relied upon it for untold millennia to help him to make life-and-death decisions in a split second.
- Disaster Plan: See the Short-Term Preparedness Checklist on page 50. Discuss a plan with your family for communicating and responding to a disaster when phone lines may be dead (select a predetermined local meeting area and out-of-town contact; know how to shut off your home's gas and electricity supply, etc.).
- Learn First Aid: In the back country, as well as in most natural or man-made disasters, knowing fist aid (including CPR) saves lives.
- Go Camping and Backpacking: Most people have not camped or backpacked since they were a kid, or perhaps never at all. If you are in this category, start with some car camping for a few weekends. I suggest you get comfortable with car camping before graduating to overnight backpacking trips. Backpacking will accustom your body to hiking several miles at a time and carrying whatever you need yourself.
- Know How To Start a Fire: Being able to build a fire is important for cooking, purifying water, preventing hypothermia in cold climates, keeping wild animals away at night (in some areas) and signaling potential rescuers. Starting on page 76, my book gives illustrated instructions for building fires including: starting a fire with matches; using a flint-and-steel; starting a fire with a primitive fire drill; using a "fire plough;" etc.
- Learn How To Find and Purify Water: Unless you are in a cold climate, a single day without water will make you quite miserable, and three days could kill you. Bees and birds can lead you to sources of fresh surface water. A primitive solar still can collect enough water for survival from plants and ground moisture.
- Survivor Personality: Developing the mental traits of the "survivor personality" will help you to navigate and thrive in spite of life's challenges. The best survivors are flexible, tend to keep their cool in stressful situations, don't give up, have a playful curiosity, have a good sense of humor, don't tend to "cry over spilled milk," follow their "gut feelings" and are often "bad patients" and poor rule followers.
- Learn the "Plant Edibility Test": Most people will not happen to have a guide to wild edible plants on hand when they are thrust into a survival situation. If you know how to perform the "Plant Edibility Test" (see page 81), you will always have a safe way to test local plants for potential edibility.
- Learn How To Make a Primitive Shelter: Learn how to make a "Scout Pit," "Squirrel's Nest," snow cave and other primitive shelters. In severe weather, a shelter could save your life, and at other times it will make your life far more comfortable.
BG: Has your life ever depended on any of the skills in this book?