Economic collapse and survival

Dimitry Olov

People have commented about how frightening current economic and energy conditions are and on their efforts to reduce their sense of vulnerability. As one friend put it, it was fun being middle class for the last few years. Others talk of having enough income for the rest of the year to continue making their house payments. Some point to the dramatic loss of wealth in their retirement accounts as a reason to continue working. Recipients of state and municipal pensions wonder if their retirement checks will continue coming.

Dmitry Orlov, an American citizen who witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Empire (Union), assumes the American Empire is collapsing for similar reasons. They include a severe, chronic shortfall in American production of oil, a severe, worsening foreign trade deficit, a runaway military budget and escalating foreign debt. One condition unique to America is the continuing abandonment of its manufacturing base and loss of jobs.

In a collapse, the old ways of conducting business no longer work. Orlov sees government efforts to stimulate economic growth, jobs and financial stability as misguided and believes we should be implementing emergency actions on food, shelter, transportation and security.

Many Americans are trying to protect themselves against what they fear will be extended hard times. They are eating out less often, taking vacations closer to home, planting gardens and raising chickens to increase their sense of security. If economic conditions worsen, such efforts could be readily expanded.

Shelter can be met in a variety of ways. Homeless people live in cardboard boxes, abandoned buildings, under highway overpasses and in tents, cars and shelters. Others have moved in together to share living expenses. Abandoned malls, office buildings and empty college dorms could be converted into housing for many who can no longer maintain mortgage payments or property taxes.

Walking, biking, cargo bikes, small boats and sailboats are non-fuel-consuming options for transportation. Hitchhiking, ride sharing and car rental clubs could gain acceptance. Public transit could be expanded. Garage sales, recycling, equipment repairs and local production of goods and services could offset the loss of distant transport.

Security might prove to be our biggest challenge as theft increases when people become desperate. To save money, states are increasing the early release of prisoners. If no jobs are available, criminal activity is likely to increase. With limited local funds for policing, neighborhood patrols could expand.

Orlov’s dismal forecast, and others like it, may never become reality. But the essence of his message is to prepare ourselves for the possibility by changing our expectations and preferences to improve our chances of adapting to what he sees as increasingly difficult times ahead.

While more optimistic scenarios exist, the historic record is filled with examples of societies that have collapsed. Designing a personal survival strategy can create a feeling of confidence at being able to handle the situation while the larger society is being reorganized. A plan should address the essentials of how to secure food, water and shelter, and meet security and medical needs.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail

from the Aug 12-18, 2009 issue

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