Scenario Planning

Sharon August 7th, 2008

One of the things that is helpful when we talk about adaptation strategies is to do some scenario planning - that is, to consider what future we are actually planning for.  And because none of us has crystal balls, and none of us is perfect, it makes the most sense to plan for multiple possible scenarios, and thus to put our energies in the places that get us the most bang for our buck, the most resilience and best possible responses for a range of possible scenarios.  I’m going to list five scenarios that I think are possible, running from the most unlikely to the most likely, and then we can explore this question of what the future is going to look like, not from our single bet, but from the perspective of trying to maximize utility for multiple scenarios.

Now not only do I think we should be planning for multiple scenarios, but I think that different people at different times and places will EXPERIENCE different scenarios.   Some of this may be regional or national - different countries will certainly go different ways, and different regions may as well.  But it is perfectly possible for you and your neighbor to experience totally different realities in a time of collapse - think of the difference in the experience of ordinary Jews vs. ordinary Germans, or Hutu vs. Tutsi.  In the depths of the Depression there were still rich people.  Right now there are hungry people in most of our neighborhoods - the experience of the crisis will vary dramatically.  There will always be people who say “that wasn’t too bad” and those who are living unmitigated hell.  My hope is that part of coming to understand what we’re facing means that none of my readers will allow their neighbors to live in that hell if they can help - that instead of waiting for the collapse of society to be universal, people will recognize that even if they are insulated, they are part of a moment. 

But more practically, I hope people will recognize that there is very limited certainty about how each family or community will experience things.  That is, it isn’t sufficient to look at the world scale and say “this is how it will play out” - because it will play out differently for different people in different circumstances. A single woman living alone with her kids in a neighborhood that experiences a lot of violence, or a member of an ethnic group that gets targetted may well find themselves cursing me for saying Mad Max wouldn’t happen.  It probably won’t on a world scale, but that doesn’t mean no one will feel like they are living in a disaster - at the same time, there will probably be people out there doing great who are cursing me for wasting their time on food storage and preparation ;-).  There will be no one, universal experience, and it is a huge mistake to imagine that there will be.

 Ok, here’s my list - yours may be different.  I’ve named each scenario, a bit tongue in cheek, and discussed why I think them likely/not likely and what parts of them you really might want to think about.

1. “Fluffy bunnies, Utopia and the new Green Economy”  Ok, there are two versions of this.  The first one is the one where we find a magic new technology, implement it rapidly and head on down the street of the perfection of the human race, rolling our eyes at those stupid people who thought peak oil was a problem, and things just get better and better.  This one is straight out impossible - it will not happen and we might as well get over it.

The scenario that is remotely possible is that the some new energy or combination of resources comes along and it turns out that climate sensitivity isn’t quite as acute as it looks like, and we get to grind along, destroying the earth a little more (because even if we had more wind turbines, we’d still be an environmental disaster - we tend to forget this), and then get to defer the crisis for 10-20 years until the disastrous unintended consequences of *that* technology come home to roost, whatever they are - and there will be some - we have never yet had a large scale techno-solution that didn’t create more problems than it generated, and while one is technically possible, I wouldn’t put my money on it in Vegas. 

 IMHO, the problem with this option is that it is a. unlikely and b. immoral - it puts the problem off on our kids.  But it is technically possible, and I include it.   

2. “Zombies with Uzis” -  the next most unlikely possible scenario I can think of is the Mad Max, complete unravelling of society with massive die-off.  I find this unlikely for a host of reasons, which I’ve discussed many times before - among other things, the universal world crisis, in which billions die quite rapidly and everyone who survives retreats to their bunker to fight it out with the zombies.   What is flat-out impossible, barring massive meteor strikes or something is the idea that everyone might have this experience uniformly.  On the other hand, a government that authorizes the zombies (not literally of course) and gives them uzis is not so terribly improbable, I’m afraid.

There are plenty of non-zombie versions of this scenario out there - societies that have descended into violent chaos for a time - often an extended time.  And there are plenty of examples of societies in which targetted groups have this experience for a very long and terrible time.  I think it is foolish to deny the possibility that your world could descend for a time into chaos and violence, or to avoid commonsense preparations for such a scenario - including community organizing, basic self-defence and security measures and political organizing to resist pressures to target victim groups.  What I think is most likely, however, is that these problems will be local, regional or national, but not world-scale.

3. “Wait a Minute, Weren’t Things a Lot Better Once?” - I actually consider this one fairly unlikely, simply because we already seem to have skipped over slow grind.  Had you asked me a few years ago, this probably would have been my most likely scenario, but I think while present trends may not be the best possible predictor of the future, they are probably better than many other tools we use to predict the unpredictable.  And many of those tools - for example Jeffrey Brown’s export-land model - suggest that the rapidity of our decline may be greater than we expected.

This scenario would involve us slowly and steadily getting poorer, having less energy, and getting warmer, and potentially losing political power as well.  Instead of dramatic single events, there would never be one thing that we could point to as “the” moment it all went to hell.  We just woke up one day and realized things were bad, and getting worse. 

I suspect that right now, things feel like a slow grind to many Americans who still don’t see the current situation as one whole problem - the confluence of our fossil fuel crises (too much (climate change) and not enough (depletion)) and our economic crises (in part driven by too much fossil fuels (our insane ideas of endless growth) and not enough (rising prices, housing collapse, etc…)).  But in fact, things are unravelling quite quickly - particularly in the poor world, but in the rich as well.  It all depends on how you look at it, of course, but I think we’ve moved past slow, and there are solid indications that change is accellerating at both the level of depletion, in the climate and in other situations.

4. “Certain Stars Shoot Madly from their Spheres”  I still consider this scenario substantially less likely than #5, but I’ve had to move up “an event of some magnitude occurs and things change fairly rapidly” to 4.   The scenario I’m most concerned about has to do with geopolitics - I can think of several things that could result in a very drastic reduction in energy availability.  Of course, you can go nuts listing all the crappy things that can possibly happen - meteor strike, bird flu, tsunami, currency collapse, megavolcano, the sun goes dark…but the thing is, it isn’t just that lots of things, some more probable than others can happen - we’re creating scenarios in which these things are enabled.  We are working hard at making them more likely with the government we’re stuck with, rapidly accellerating climate change, etc… etc….  Every statistical analysis suggests that disasters of every kind are striking more frequently - because we are enabling them.  And while comparatively few of these disasters affect everywhere at once, I am constantly reminded of the World 3 scenarios run The Limits to Growth team which pointed out that what happens isn’t that X factor causes a problem -what happens is that we run out of the ability to cope with new pressures.  I think it is possible that we are not very far from the ability of the system to cope. 

 It is worth noting that a major event will likely eventually subside into one of the other scenarios, but it is also worth giving this its own arena simply because very rapid changes that then subside into another scenario often mean that broken things don’t get fixed at all - so we imagine “X scenario with Y region still underwater” or “Z scenario, but with a vastly greater rate of depletion.”

 5. “Ordinary Human Poverty- The Great Depression, Plus Climate Change, Plus Peak Oil” - Kunstler has a better name for this of course, but my version doesn’t have asian pirates in it, and in my version, not all southerners are dumber than Jethro Clampett ;-).  Seriously, this is my bet.  And I don’t think I’m in the minority here - I think what we’re facing is a massive, probably worldwide economic depression, a very extended one from which the magic of fossil fuels will not lift us.  I think we are facing using a lot less energy without the money and resources to make that easy on anyone.  We are likely to see large scale unemployment, lots of poverty, people unable to meet very basic needs, and a very mixed level of response - some places doing better than others at helping people, some places essentially on their own, some places becoming very violent or unsafe, some places doing better - rather like the world we live in now, where some places are violent and some aren’t, hunger is increasing, access to basic necessities going down….

This is the scenario I believe in - the one where the grid may or may not go down, but you won’t notice anyway because the power company turned out the lights months ago, when you couldn’t pay, the one where you have two other families in your house, and 11 people sharing the bathroom.  That is, this is the reality for most of the world, and I think it will be our reality. 

Ok, what about y’all?  What are you planning for?


39 Responses to “Scenario Planning”

  1. Annaon 07 Aug 2008 at 11:42 am

    I’m preparing for subsistence living my way. Being self employed with a wide variety of skills makes it relatively easy for me to make as much or as little money as I need day to day for my needs. I’m debt free so I will not add debt. I have slowly prepped with consumer goods to take me through 10-20 years of not buying stuff in various categories such as footwear, clothing and a few other things.

    I am in the process of purchasing a small home with adequate land in an area rich in natural resources, low in population with thriving community pride and spirit.

    I’m probably not prepared for MZB invasion but I’ll do fine with all the other scenarios.

    Day by day, year by year my husband and I will continue to do what we do, grow our own food, harvest and use the resources we have available and enjoy life, whatever it may bring.

  2. Adrienneon 07 Aug 2008 at 12:05 pm

    I suppose you’re right. I guess what I really fear is being in one of those violent/unsafe places…. and depending what happens in the presidential election in November, #4 might move up to the top spot IMO.

  3. Rosaon 07 Aug 2008 at 12:18 pm

    I’m preparing for 5.

    Mostly because there’s nothing at all I can do to prepare for 1-4.

    I do think the lack of control is what is keeping my partner firmly in happy bunny la la land - even though our values would lead us to make less money, spend more time at home, give more to charity, and invest in green improvements for ourselves & other people, he’s so attached to the idea that good parenting means financial stability that he’s unwilling to step off the treadmill. A situation where that’s not a choice might destroy his self image, and I really worry about that.

  4. Mrs. Greenhandson 07 Aug 2008 at 12:20 pm

    I’m preparing to live like Little House on the Prairie!

    Great post!

  5. Shambaon 07 Aug 2008 at 12:22 pm

    these are not cheerful thoughts! But I’ve thought of most of them but I can’t decide which would be the one I really think will happen. My worst thought for about 2 years has been that my brother, who seems completely unable to hold a job or find anything to keep him “above the radar”, will land on my doorstop expecting big sister to fix his life as she’s tried to a few times before. However, big sister, myself, has stopped doing that and I’m not sure how little brother is doing these days. And if my Mom ends up living with me that’s a lot of people to feed on my income these days.

    Hoever, a six foot, not small, very loud voiced male who can talk to anybody about anything might be very useful at times to have around!

    Anyway, these scenarios of yours, Sharon, have to be thought of at some time, so it might as well be before they happen.


  6. […] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Scenario Planning One of the things that is helpful when we talk about adaptation strategies is to do some scenario planning - that is, to consider what future we are actually planning for. And because none of us has crystal balls, and none of us is perfect, it makes the most sense to plan for multiple possible scenarios, and thus to put our energies in the places that get us the most bang for our buck, the most resilience and best possible responses for a range of possible scenarios. I’m going to list five scenarios that I think are possible, running from the most unlikely to the most likely, and then we can explore this question of what the future is going to look like, not from our single bet, but from the perspective of trying to maximize utility for multiple scenarios. […]

  7. AVon 07 Aug 2008 at 12:47 pm


    This is my first post on your site by I am a frequent reader and occasional poster on other sites. I liked the way you put the question and I liked the way you answered it even better. So using your structure.

    1. (least likely) Global warming is a hoax or the system naturally stabilizes, peak oil is overcome by a mix of technologies and what do you know deficits don’t matter (or at least not much). I have a solid background in Business Development, excellent financials and plan on living in a city that I love (hopefully) with the woman I love and an excellent child. It’s all good.

    2. (highly unlikely) The economy collapses, Ghwar collapses, particulate matter drops from the sky in three weeks and the temperature of the world shoots up a degree in a year. The resulting catastrophes lead to governmental collapse, and zombies in the streets. Maybe this does not happen everywhere but there is no reasonable way for me to get to a regions that is safe (even if I knew where that was). I have no option for this. I guess I give the woman and the child a final kiss, grab a chainsaw and start taking out the zombies while laughing maniacally. I know what I would like to do. I would like to have invested some of my energy in a library of knowledge that might survive the hordes. But really all I can say is that I will keep a sharp ear out for the quite groan of “braaaaaiiiiiinnnnsss”.

    3) (unlikely - I hope) The geniuses in charge decide that the solution is to launch another war in the Middle East. The resulting mass protests, both active and passive, result in mass arrests and interment camps. I think this is not very likely but it is still likely enough to mention. Having the gift of gab I will try to get the people I love out of the country ASAP and I already have the connections and resources to do that. They head to Switzerland - I learn how to dig tunnels using standard cutlery.

    4) (Fairly likely - I hope) Using the resources we have we manage to patch together solutions that may not work long term but at least will slow things down enough to allow for some transitions. To this end I am moving to a community that I believe has a better chance of surviving long term. I have used what I knew was going to happen to make some very appropriate (and very profitable) investments so I should be able to set myself up reasonably once I have relocated and take care of my loved ones.

    5) (possible - but pointless) This is the Mark Lynas “six degree” scenario or the Lovelock “we are a few 100,000 living near the poles” scenario. Well if that happens I hope I go quick and with little pain. I would still like to have that library available for humanities descendants when in 10,000+ years they begin to spread across the globe again.


  8. Cathyon 07 Aug 2008 at 1:18 pm

    What really warms my heart is all of you that mention a devoted person (my husband, my wife, my partner, etc) with whom you currently share your life. This person is definitely a part of your survival plan today. But please think about how your survival plans would have to be modified if and when that person is no longer in your life.

    Would you be able to continue to live in your present home on one (or no) income? Would you be able to do the heavy part of gardening and preserving food? Raising animals - and children? Who would cut and split your firewood? Who would repair things that break?

    Welcome to “Widow’s World”. I’m terrified that I would not be able to stay warm, have food to eat, and be able to stay safe without a partner. I have no family that can help — and, in fact, I am responsible for an elderly parent. My late husband and I chose this location to live because it was away from the cities and there was room to raise animals and to garden, but we always counted on being together to meet the future adversitiy.

    I urge you to keep this possible scenario in your mind when you making your plans. You never know when your partner will die from accident or illness — or will just leave you. And then what?

  9. risa bon 07 Aug 2008 at 1:33 pm

    The widow thought has occurred to each of us many times. We’ve been together a zillion years, so the actuarial chance of loss increases daily. I’ve almost died three times in that time and ran away from home for a year, once, when I had my mid-life crisis. So, we’ve both had the training. One of our preps has been to get the empty nest bedrooms back in shape. Another is to sit, over coffee, comparing people we know:

    “What about the H___’s? They know how to do this stuff!”

    “Yes, but they just bought that RV and are spending six months in Arizona, so maybe they’re ‘bunnies’ after all?”

    And I suspect each of us holds candidates in reserve — those unspoken names compatible with one of us, but not both, who might be promoted to first choice should the worst happen.

    It’s scary being that practical!!


    “Certain stars” — wow!

    Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew’d thee once:
    The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
    Will make or man or woman madly dote
    Upon the next live creature that it sees.
    Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
    Ere the leviathan can swim a league.

  10. Sarahon 07 Aug 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Cathy — I have a somewhat more nebulous version of “in place” than many, because I’m in a rented apartment, but if Ben were abducted by aliens tomorrow, I do make enough that I could pay the rent on my own salary if I budgeted very very carefully, and I’d start looking for a roommate or two. I’m at least slightly more employable than he is in a economic-collapse scenario, so I think it’s more likely that we’d end up in a situation where I was supporting him for a period rather than the other way around. The issue of hypothetical offspring, of course, may change that. Or we could always end up in a world where computers are run on magical pony dust, making computer geeks much more valuable ;-) In the hypothetical future where we own our residence, I would optimally like to be sharing it with another family, to pool resources and minimize the amount of financial or practical burden on any one person.

  11. Green Assassin Brigadeon 07 Aug 2008 at 2:03 pm

    I also think that 5 is the most likely scenerio, but I think with this scenerio there will be short term and/or regional outbreaks of zombie-ism, hopefully not zombie asian pirates!

    I’m trying to prepare to live with less, aquire land and spead the message of self sufficiency to those I might tolerate sharing my space with. I expect the economic depression to hit well before freezing in the dark state of energy depletion(gov debt, bank crisis, failure of several fiat currencies) so I’ve also gone to precious metals in a crap shoot that their appreciation will allow me to buy the land I want between the two peaks of crisis.

    The mere possibility of occasional zombie activity is reason enough to put aside a few extra boxes of 308 Winchesters for Dad’s old Lee Enfield. If I’m going to build up supplies for hard times $100 bucks diverted from food to ammo will make little difference in my ability to eat but not having any bullets certainly could.

    We’ve certainly had the who could you live with talks.

  12. Jennieon 07 Aug 2008 at 2:26 pm

    I too am planning for a prolonged period of poverty. (yay alliteration) Hee hee.. I’ve been practicing preservation of produce and home production of products.

    Seriously though, Sharon, and anyone else who wants to chime in on this, what do you see happening when a fair chunk of our population in this country finds themselves in more debt than they can earn in a newer poorer American economy? I count myself in that catagory because of student loans. It’s feasible I can pay them back as long as I can pull in a Computer Engineering salary for the next 40 years, but paying them back through a depression? There are millions out there who will find themselves in this position either due to poor debt management choices or, like me, through debt deemed SOP during infinite energy times. Is this country going to send an entire generation of college grads to debtors prison when we default on student loans?
    Just something I haven’t figured out yet.

  13. Shiraon 07 Aug 2008 at 2:41 pm

    I look at it as major economic reorganization. More relocalization in everything, more economic value from the vernacular arts, an active informal economy.

    Economic reorganization is already occurring. It’s fascinating to watch. Tiny little wisps of activity are occurring at every level. Some farmers have started spreading manure (we have this in abundance due to the dairy industry) instead of buying fertilizer. The cost of leasing and transporting a shipping container has gone from $3000 to $8000 and the word from the furniture industry is that some of the smaller manufacturers are discussing bringing manufacturing from China. The layoffs in construction have reoriented a lot of guys in the trades toward handyman jobs and remodeling.

    Some of my friends have found jobs close to where they live. There is a slow sorting and contracting going on, as some people move closer to family. Others have moved in with family. The farmer’s market is ever popular and the food bank is pushed to its limits. On the north side of town, food gardens are sprouting in front yards.

    Bellingham has imploded economically many times, starting with the Big Bust in 1890. This is a town that lost population on every census from 1920 until 1990. We are surely in for some interesting times, as housing prices went berserk for ten years, 98 pc of the farmgate is exported out of the county or out of the country, and a major economic pillar is providing medical services to Canadians who are under-served by their national health system.

    One of the strengths of Bellingham is its strange submerged economy. The formal economy is a wasp waisted hour glass where the middle should be. Many people are underemployed, which leads them to get creative and start things on the side. There are a lot of farmlets, and folks who take side jobs or have little businesses.

    We could easily have a national, local or regional disaster. A new conflict, a prolonged trucker’s strike, even Washington Mutual going belly up; there are many challenging events and an excellent chance that at least some of them will occur.

    However, my guess is that barring disaster, we will just keep downshifting and reorganizing. The living memory of an economy that was lower energy, more local, and less wasteful resides with people who are not even that old.

    Shira in Bellingham, WA

  14. Sharonon 07 Aug 2008 at 3:06 pm

    Carol, good question. Well, if Eric died I would, like Orpheus, chase him to hell, and drag his carcass back to the land of the living since he is NOT ALLOWED to leave me with four kids and a farm to run ;-). Sorry, I have to joke about this, because the idea of Eric’s death makes me think hard about throwing up.

    Honestly, I’d need help - either I’d go to my family or some of them would come here, depending on the circumstances in which it happened. Same for him if I died. It would suck so bad I can barely stand to think about it, but not so much because we couldn’t keep doing what we are doing as that I don’t know if I know how I’d keep breathing - I’m truly sorry for your loss, I can’t imagine it. I do have a backup plan, but it involves a rapid change of scale, driving the relatives crazy and a lot of making do.

    But I’m glad you bring up the point.


  15. Crunchy Chickenon 07 Aug 2008 at 3:30 pm

    I’m preparing for “Fluffy bunnies with Uzis shooting madly at Kunstler”.

    Frankly, I think I’m confused about a couple of the choices. But you know that I’m always talkin’ Happy Times. So, I’m probably somewhere between #1 and #3, which is to say that my preparations are somewhat minimal.

    In either case, if shit hits the fan, I won’t be able to afford my house so what good is stockpiling and creating an enormous garden? I can’t take it with me. There won’t be any trucks available to rent or gas to drive it and where am I going to take all my supplies to? If I recall correctly, the accommodations at Hooverville aren’t very spacious.

    As for Cathy’s comment on losing a partner, well, if you are more in the #2, #4 and even #5 camp, you best be ready to consider that as part of your planning. Throwing up is optional, but believe me, you will keep breathing. Albeit sometimes only in short, panicked breaths. But then something urgent or even mundane will come up and the feeling will pass and you will buck up. But, seriously, if you are doing planning this needs to be part of your plan.

  16. Sharonon 07 Aug 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Deanna, I think that some people will be able to keep their places through a combination of things - one is that I think that if the crisis becomes widespread enough, many localities will do as they did in the Depression, and refuse to foreclose, or hold penny auctions or otherwise simply rebel at the idea that people can lose their homes. I also think that the recent court decision that suggested that repackaged mortgage holders may not actually own the house opens up the possibility of a widespread reallocation of housing wealth under legal criteria - that is, I think the banks may not end up owning them - and some of the banks may sink first. I think it is also possible that a government response might arise, offering banks pennies on the dollar and people 50 year mortgages - which might not be good for those who bought high, but would be for some people. It isn’t an automatic thing, but I think the Depression suggests that enough people losing homes might be enough to move people to stop the loss.

    More reasonably, I would expect people who could get a lot of food from their houses to want to hold on to them if there is the possibility of that - it really depends on how much you paid, how much you can earn, etc… and probably most of all, how many people you can bring into your house, but a house that is untenable for a one bread-winner family might not be out of the question for a 3 breadwinner extended family or community.

    You do have a point, of course - if there’s no one nearby, you’d have to abandon your resources - although in scenario #2, odds are against the government having enough authority to kick you out of your home. But I don’t necessarily assume all pickup trucks will disappear and so will all gas - I think part of the issue is what assumptions people actually have. For example, in scenario 4 or 5, people might still have some gas for a bit - particularly if they store some - and so they might well be able to pack the kids, the food, the pets and some extra blankets for the drive to Mom’s. Or put some of your stuff there ahead of time.

    I’m sorry Cathy that I called you Carol - and I’m glad, Crunch for the reassurance, although I wish you didn’t know this stuff. But yes, this is a weak point in my own thinking that deserves more attention.


  17. risa bon 07 Aug 2008 at 4:25 pm

    >I won’t be able to afford my house

    Crunchy, if it comes to that, move here and we’ll give ya a chicken tractor to manage!

  18. Wendyon 07 Aug 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Number 5 seems the most plausible, and as Rosa pointed out, is really the only one we can “prepare” for. The others require no action, only reaction “if” they happen.

    But it doesn’t have to be all apocalyptic, fear, we’re-all-gonna-die! Millions of people survived the Great Depression, and millions didn’t, but MILLIONS did!

    It’s kind of like the glass is half full. Are you preparing because you’re afraid, or are you preparing, because you want to feel empowered? I’m preparing, because I want to take control of my life, and if something happens, we’ll have food to eat and very little debt, so we can work to earn the few dollars we need, but we won’t lose our house. If nothing happens, we’ll have food to eat and no debt and we can stop working and start doing more of the kinds of things we enjoy … like gardening ;).

  19. Rosaon 07 Aug 2008 at 5:36 pm

    I think what’s happening here is the people who lived in a house - tenants or former owners - are squatting it after it’s foreclosed. In some cases still paying the water bill, because the city condemns houses for not having water as a way of reclaiming abandoned buildings (though if your neighbors have water, you can have full water pressure in your house with a garden hose over a short distance - it worked for us at about 12 feet between houses).

    We keep getting tidbits about squatting in our local news, mostly police commenting on it, and the PTB seem to be assuming that putting up foreclosure notices invites random poor people to squat, but it mostly seems to be “live here and send the kids to school” squatters, not “set up a meth lab in the basement” squatters, which I’m told in Minneapolis means mostly people who already lived in the neighborhood, at least. And there are whole blocks in some neighborhoods that got foreclosed because of a few specific fraudulent lenders/flippers who are being prosecuted.

    Also, has anybody seen any news about Rubie Curl-Pinkins? She’s a Detroit resident who was losing her house to a combination of predatory lending and Countrywide being stupid (she found a new lender, but Countrywide wouldn’t accept the money & were foreclosing anyway). There were community protests and Countrywide decided to stop foreclosure proceedings. I got a press release about it, but I haven’t seen news stuff.

  20. Leila Abu-Sabaon 07 Aug 2008 at 6:28 pm

    My planning ought to involve planning not to read this stuff, since I’ve got a very serious cancer that can only be staved off by lots of high tech modern medicine. I am likely to be the spouse who leaves this plane first, leaving my not-peak-oil-interested hubby to cope. My plan is to keep living for today and let tomorrow take care of itself. OK so we have food and water stockpiled. THat’s the quake/sudden supply shut-off emergency plan.

    Regarding what to do about peak oil scenarios? I’m practicing “consider the lilies of the field.”

    But I did show hubby where i keep the printout of the “instant survival garden” article from Oil Drum. The one that tells you what to plant to give you the most calories for the buck. Here it is, honey, in case you ever need it. Ok? Ok.

  21. Miaon 07 Aug 2008 at 10:18 pm

    I want to believe in #5 and plan for 5– but– I can’t stop thinking about the other grimmer scenarios. I work with refugees– from Bosnia, Rwanda, Congo, Somalia, Sudan— and well, listening to their stories makes the scarier scenarios seem way less abstract. These people were just living their lives, going about their business (and many of them were maintaining a degree of self-sufficiency which would put us all to shame), and well, when their society or economy collapsed, or resources became scarce, having a garden didn’t help one bit. — It didn’t take much, really, for those horrible, unthinkable things to happen– neighbors turn to enemies, soldiers/ thugs/ warlords come and rape and murder your family, enslave your children, burn your house, steal your land…
    I am sure you have all thought of these horrifying scenarios. The hope I have managed to wring out of these desperate stories is that my friends, the refugees I know, survived. They went through hell, but they survived. Some of them, after years of searching, even discovered family members they thought were dead , were actually alive. All of them have gone on to make new lives for themselves.

    So , I think this is another scenario– or maybe just the dark side of Sharon’s #5– that things might get really really bad, but its not the apocalypse. The only way I have prepared for this possibility (other than listening to stories, and learning) is to try to learn more about wild edibles. I know some Sudanese people have told me thats the only way they survived, was by knowing about wild edibles.

    Otherwise I prepare for the Depression, which is how I want to live anyway, a big garden, chickens, sheep, bread oven, a cow. But at times it seems a pretty slim hope in the face of our violence– addicted culture.

  22. e4on 07 Aug 2008 at 10:24 pm

    First, congrats on the impressive use of parentheses in #3.

    My biggest fear is that the banking system will lose / forget about my retirement account stash but not my mortgage. Actually if I could withdraw my retirement account, I probably would have by now.

    Ok, maybe not my biggest fear. But I *really* hope we can stay in this house. I don’t want to start again.

    I see this thing as a slow motion train wreck. I don’t think we’ll wake up one day and read the headlines and say “Oh crap.” I think it will be a bumpy ride, with “normal” days interspersed with soil-your-drawers moments. But we’re so far off track at this point, I don’t see an easy way to correct it.

    As for preparations, well, we’re covering a variety of bases and focusing on areas where we have the most control & influence.

  23. Texicalion 07 Aug 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Yeah, planning for Scenario 5 is the only feasible option at this time; however, in the case of Scenario 4 there are a few things to look out for (i.e. distance to sea level, are you behind levees, do you live in the desert, etc.). There is nothing actually wrong with living in the desert (the Apaches did just fine), but it is not great for settled living with minimal air conditioning. I am not counting on folks actually doing anything about global warming, so i am not inclined to buy anything within 100 feet of sea level, or next to any water body that will have ponding effects from a rise in sea level. I am young enough that even in the optimistic scenarios I will likely live long enough to see the effects of global warming (No trick that, we are already seeing them).

    We bought our house not far from the peak, but we bought what we could afford as opposed to what they would qualify us for. I am counting on being able to hold on to the place until foreclosure resistance is firmly in place. I work for a private firm doing city planning and environmental review. Either we will get more work as cities lay off staff, or we will go out of business. If so I hope to work with a non-profit organic farm/food education outfit that is located a couple of miles from my house. I can bike there. My wife is a hydrologist, working with hydro power. I think she is pretty secure for scenario 5. For the loss of help-mate scenario I would walk away from the house (couldn’t afford it) and join on at a farm. If gas really gets expensive there will be a lot of land needing more hands. Just need to find a location where I would be a partner not a serf.

  24. PKSon 07 Aug 2008 at 11:54 pm

    I like the inclusion of the “nothing much happens for 20 years or so” scenario.

    I hate to gloat, but it’s one of the things i like about living in Canada. We’re a net exporter of food and oil. (Although, if the glaciers dry up faster than expected, the former could change, I guess…)

    Canada is, in many ways, like “the USA lite”. Poverty isn’t so bad, if you look at historical examples like the depression, things were bad here, but not so bad as they were south of the border, mostly ’cause we had almost zero bank failures.

    Not unlike, um, right now, FWIW. Housing prices are due for a major “correction”, but we’re unlikely to see ‘tent cities’ in Toronto or banks failing as a result.

    Overall, the most likely scenario is the ‘poverty plus peak oil plus global warming’.

    If you wanna picture what that looks like already, we don’t need to prognosticate. Just look at Sub-Saharan Africa. There’s still some rich people, and the power might be off more than not, and some people are getting killed by bandits in the rural areas. Look at marginal or conflict zones like say, the west bank/gaza strip, Lebanon, or Africa. Be prepared for that.

  25. Anion 08 Aug 2008 at 6:43 am

    I’m glad you have posted this Sharon. I thinnk this is important to consider when we discuss our future “plans”. This is actually I think a difficult subject- I suspect that mostly we all have underlying agendas in place that steer us towards one scenario or another. Thus those that favor the “fluffy bunnies/Amory Lovins we’ll all be zooming around in high tech carbon composite cars” approach may well be unable to handle the thought of anything else. Those who are prepping for “Mad Max” may have their own reasons for favoring that scenario. I am guessing that there are quite a few disaffected folks out there who wish society to fall and anarchy to reign in order to create change in the world. As well there are those, mostly guys I think, who aren’t making it too well in the current society- unemployed or low level jobs- basic redneck types- who are hoping for total anarchy as they will then be able to play the hero with their guns and ammo, live like “real men”, rescue the “little woman” who will then reward them gratefully in bed and so on…..

    So what I am thinking is that we not only have to imagine which scenario we are favoring in terms of what we think will happen, we need to look even deeper as to why we think this will happen- what are our underlying agendas and fears?

    That said, where am I? I guess somewhere between your #3 and #5- slow descent versus not-so-slow- not sure which. Or maybe it will be slow descent in some locales and not-so-slow in others? Kind of reminds me of that old saying that a recession is when your neighbor loses his job and a depression is when you lose yours!

    Given what I envision, how am I planning? Well I guess I’m not really planning for Mad-Max- not sure that life is worth living at any cost- at present I think quality of life is more important than just sheer survival- of course I might change my tune if the situation emerged but I can’t know that at this time. So given #3 or #5, what am I doing?

    I guess in someways I am lucky that being frugal is part of my nature and I love the homesteader lifestyle. My house is owner/friends built and paid for- still a work in progress- I farm and love it(mostly, although 13 hour days like yesterday picking sopping wet and doing market in a thunderstorm…….) My skill-set really is one of a couple of centuries ago- don’t ask me to design a web-site but candle making, spinning, preserving, herbs, whatever- no problem……

    I guess I will proceed to try to keep on living as I am at present while keeping my nose to the wind- I want to keep on doing what makes life worth living and getting up for each day, so I’m continuing to try to do what gives me joy such as playing music and learning new instruments.

    Re: Cathy’s concerns about living on one’s own- I’ve been doing this. I’ve raised a child here as a single mom and am now living here on my own- it can be done at present. If things get much worse it would be harder-if I had to do it all especially as I got older I would imagine it would be rough but I will face that if it comes. I have extra bedrooms and would likely be open to having housemates live here to share the work. I would imagine this situation would become more common in the future as more people were looking to find housing who have lost theirs and want to be closer to the land, although I shudder to think of how out of shape most people are and how difficult it would be to turn them into useful housemates and not just a drag on my own energy…. Have to admit I think about my friends from HS and college days who all live urban/suburban lives and try to imagine them living here and working the land- shudder at the thought given how out of shape they are- not knowing anything is ok- I can remedy that- but no stamina or condition- yikes…… Wonder what that would be like as they all joke that if everything falls to hell they know where to land ;)……

  26. Green Assassin Brigadeon 08 Aug 2008 at 7:01 am

    PKS, don’t get too cocky about Canada being better, I probably live in your neighbourhood and know for a fact that CIBC, Laurentian, and National have all taken enough write downs and probably have enough more required to endanger their existence. Don’t be lax, make sure you have your accounts in more than 1 bank, no account larger than the Insured max(;for U.S. folks we still insure each account to a max $ amount unlike your plan where they changed it to 100k per person not per person per account)

    Also have some cash at home incase the something crashes the ATM network, Canadians on average supposedly only carry $40 in cash because we love our debit cards so much.

    Finally yes we have oil but under that piece of shit NAFTA we are obligated to export a fixed percentage of our oil to the U.S. and cannot hoard it for our own use. Our west to east pipeline goes through several States to avoid the great lakes and then enters Canada through Michigan I believe, which means we can’t fuel Ontario without transporting through the States who could just take the share they want.

    If the U.S. collapses and burns we will get hurt badly too!

  27. Greenpaon 08 Aug 2008 at 8:15 am

    I’m more afraid of #2 than you are. And I’m afraid it’s actually already happening. Not universally of course; and not always as obviously as a Hollywood slasher flick.

    But- the impression I get from news and friends is- Russia, right now- is very close to being in scenario 2. Truly brutal organized criminals run almost everything. And there’s real doubt about the “almost”.

    Can I add a #6? Something Utterly Unforeseen.

    The movie “The Day After Tomorrow” drives me crazy, as a scientist; there are SO many holes in the logic, and even common sense. (Eg- they “have to” burn books, in order to keep warm. While surrounded with oak library tables, chairs, and bookshelves… SO dumb. And anybody who’s ever burned a book knows they’re lousy heat…)

    Anyway. The one truly sound aspect of that movie was the premise that something no one ever imagined - could happen. The unprecedented storms that brought down super cold air… is not, actually, impossible. Just not ever on our list of stuff to worry about.

    We’re pushing all kinds of global parameters over edges. It’s not at all unlikely, I think, that we’ll hit problems no one ever, ever, thought of. Hard to prepare for those.

  28. Sharonon 08 Aug 2008 at 8:22 am

    Honestly, I think much Canadian oil may turn out to be unextractable in a 4, 5 and maybe even 3 scenario - the sheer quantity of water, and natural gas require a functioning, high tech infrastructure - I don’t think it is logically self-perpetuating - that is, you can’t just use the oil to get it. Still, I do think Canada is better set than we are - any chance you all want to invade and liberate northern new york ;-)?


  29. Green Assassin Brigadeon 08 Aug 2008 at 10:40 am

    While I’m not sure it could happen peacefully, Kunstler believes we will both break up and reform into smaller , more logical regional nations. I would think northern NY, Vermont would be good additions for us but since any U.S. State probably has more automatic weapons than our army I don’t think it would be prudent for us to try until the internal strife is over.

    I do think the Vermont Secessionist movement is a rather interesting phenomena which supports his belief, 13 U.S. states have a Secessionist movements of some kind be it the Azteca movement to reunite greater Mexico to the Libertarian small gov independance movement in Vermont.

    If there is an invasion it will the U.S. taking Alberta and Sask and leaving rest of Canada to freeze in the dark and if there is zombie pirates it will be people from Michigan raiding us, the Asians will prey on each other.

    There are a lot of wild cards out there that can cause and “Accident” and bring on the Zombie times, just today Georgia’s break away province Osseita is the battle ground for Georgian and Russian troops. Did they collect all the nukes when the USSR broke up?

    I prepare for number 5 because most of the others are too scary to consider on a daily basis

  30. Sharonon 08 Aug 2008 at 11:47 am

    Greenpa, I think #6 is a possibility - I particularly dislike the idea of DAT scenarios, because I’m *so* not ready to go to Mammoth Hunting Hunter-Gatherer mode. I can butcher a chicken, but giant furry sloths look harder -and I don’t even know if they are kosher. And while the dogs are great at keeping out ‘coons, they probably would have a tough time with saber-toothed cats (heck, the non-saber toothed ones the house keep them in line pretty well).

    Seriously, I do know what you mean - I just keep hoping that if something weird happens, it will be something good, since there’s not much else I can do.


  31. Rosaon 08 Aug 2008 at 11:49 am

    GAB, it wouldn’t take much change in resources or ideology at the federal level to let the states devolve to mostly governing themselves, without the messiness of rewriting any laws or having a power struggle. Laws are only unconstitutional if they’re challenged in a functioning court system, right? And they only exist if they’re enforced.

    For instance, for speed limit and drinking age laws, Congress has used the carrot of highway funding instead of the stick of federal law. Lose the money, you’ll see road laws diversify. For drug laws right now, the states have passed a wide variety of legalization/decriminalization laws, and federal law enforcement has chosen to enforce federal laws where they are stricter than state law - but all it would take is the FBI to decide they have more important priorities, and looser state laws would prevail.

    Americans have a deep attachment to the concept of the United States, but not a lot of love for most of its actual agencies. As long as we’re still theoretically governed by the Constitution, the actual behavior of the government doesn’t seem to matter much to most people.

  32. Donalon 08 Aug 2008 at 11:51 am

    Jethro’s last name was Bodine. I particularly like the recognition that things will happen differently in different parts of the world. I agree with the worldwide depression/resource scramble, but I think the third world is starting to experience it now. In parts of Africa, they’re cooking and eating dirt. In other parts they’re ethnically cleansing.

  33. Kation 08 Aug 2008 at 2:19 pm

    I think scenario 5 is the only sitch that I actually have the ability to plan for. The space to plan for, and the money to plan for. The rest are certain possibilities (with varying levels of certainty) but for the most part, the outcome in any of those is largely out of my hands. The fifth situation is one that on a small, personal level is something I can prepare for. And, though it’s a bleak future out of a brilliant past, it’s less bleak than the others and therefore my hope. As for the 3 families in one home and 11 folks sharing the bathroom…. *wry smile* I don’t know that 3 families would fit in my little home, but maybe one or two singleton friends who don’t mind sharing space with an “old married couple” and our spoiled-rotten (yes, she is) daughter….. The back yard is slowly turning garden/constructive space. The front yard will hopefully be turned garden as soon as the hubby sees it’s for the best. Ideally I’d love to build a workshop out where our cars park now that can be used both for animal housing (rabbits, my main thought) and a space for the hubby to do some bike repair or wood-working or other such productive and constructive hobby. (He’s currently a nascar fan who collects hats from his favorite driver as a “hobby.” *rolling eyes*)

    In the meantime, learning how to garden (though having varying levels of success at it), improving the security and weather-safeness of my home, working toward a job in the community, and working on strengthening my ties to my neighbours is all the more I can do to prepare. That, and pray.

  34. MEAon 08 Aug 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Sloth, no hooves…no cud…no scales…no wings …

    but it does’t eat carion.

    I’m betting it’s not.

  35. Davidon 09 Aug 2008 at 2:36 pm


    Jethro’s last name was Bodine.

    Nice one.

    I don’t know what I’m preparing for. I’m really concerned about the majority of folks here and everywhere who are not preparing — who don’t even think about preparing (like, for what?). Along with our own preparations to put our own houses in order, we all have an obligation to try to put other people’s houses in order, since we’ll need strong communities. And that’s where the head-scratching comes in for me.

    I guess it’s all incremental work. Slowly more and more people will start to understand that we’re not living in Business as Usual anymore. So we all need to be like the Catcher in the Rye, making sure that those kids don’t go off the cliff.

  36. Toddon 09 Aug 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Great conversation. This topic was nicely framed by John Michael Greer in his essay The Long Road Down: Decline and the Deindustrial Future from about four years ago. That’s well worth reading for anyone that hasn’t already.

  37. Leanne Veitchon 11 Aug 2008 at 8:10 pm

    I’m expecting the unexpected ;-)

    In the meanwhile, we’re doing what we can to make our community as sustainable as possible through the Transition Towns movement.

  38. Chileon 12 Aug 2008 at 9:55 am

    Mia - you brought up an interesting point about countries where economies collapsed or wars/fighting broke out quickly. I’ve talked with a friend that has lived in areas like that. He mentioned that he had to leave everything and flee in the middle of the night to avoid being murdered three times. He also pointed out that Americans have no concept of life like that. It really made me stop and think.

    We prepare for the last scenario listed because it does seem the most likely and, as others have said, it’s hard to prepare for the zombies. One thing I have changed, however, is being more prepared when I’m out and about. Should something happen rapidly, even a natural disaster, I don’t want to be stuck away from home in flip-flops with no cash. I wear good walking shoes for even brief errands and always keep a bit of emergency cash on me. At first, this made me feel like I was being paranoid, but now I just see it as common sense.

  39. Joeon 21 Aug 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Interesting overlap between the scenarios you describe, and Permaculture co-creator David Holmgren’s recent

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