Letters to Readers
Where to Get It
Preparation for Climate Change
This is a program being put together by J. Z. Colby in response to parents, and young adults themselves, asking him what they can do to get ready for climate change. It is not, in most cases, what the enquirer wanted to hear, as it is not just something you can buy in a store, or sign up for at the local gym. Instead, the emphasis here is on deep mental preparation, as that is my field of expertise.
The free book Standing on Your Own Two Feet: Young Adults Surviving 2012 and Beyond offers a sprinkling of advice for dealing with any challenging situation in which young people have to take care of themselves for an extended period. This program is a more structured approach for preparing a family or young person to live in a world with an unstable climate, a greatly-reduced standard of living, and no social or economic safety nets. That book and this program have many points of overlap, but this program is for those who seriously want to get themselves, and/or their kids, mentally prepared starting NOW.
Because our modern society has chosen to forbid most young people most freedom of movement and action, I recognize that this program will not be possible for most youth without the support and involvement of their parents. However, I also know that some parents will want their kids prepared for climate change, but will be unable to follow the program themselves because of physical or mental limitations. Each family must make such decisions for themselves, decide what level of participation is possible for the parents, and take responsibility for their choices.
First, some assumptions and exclusions:
Step 1: Get comfortable in wilderness
"Wilderness" is any place where the environment was not designed by human beings. This includes places that were once part of "civilization," but have been abandoned and allowed to decay back into a "wild" state.
When we plan and manipulate the environment, such as in a city or park, we greatly simplify it, make it much neater with straight lines, definite boundaries, and clear, logical definitions. We remove most of its natural dangers, but add new dangers that emerge from our culture. In many ways, we mentally "digest" it in the planning process so the people who live there or visit don't have to use so much mental energy.
Wilderness, on the other hand, constantly gives us critical feedback. There are large parts of our brains that do not develop well without this feedback. There are no "safety nets" in the wilderness. It is only wilderness if you are completely responsible for yourself.
If you take a radio, mobile phone, GPS locator, or any other way to call for help, you don't really want to be in wilderness, and have not found it.
In wilderness, you must perceive everything of importance with your own eyes, ears, and other senses, and think clearly about all the information coming to you, every step, every moment. Only then will all the parts of your brain, perfected over hundreds of millions of years of evolution, kick in and get some badly-needed exercise.
Take it slowly, If you are older than about 5, and have not had much wilderness experience, waking up those parts of your brain will not be quick and easy. We have been taught to fear many things that might be "out there": monsters, the bogeyman, aliens, ferocious beasts. As a result, we live in nearly constant fear, even when we are in civilization.
When you get out into wilderness, and get your brain warmed up, you are probably safer than in civilization. Even if there are a few dangers around, you won't remain in fear of them. You will come to know them, and with understanding comes the realization that most of the fear is unjustified. You will begin to trust yourself to sense and handle the real dangers, and the result will be a deep feeling of self-confidence and personal power.
The truth is that the "monsters" out there in wilderness are very, very few, and very, very rare. Most wild creatures are scared to death of us. We are big and powerful. We humans are the most dangerous animals on the planet, and most other creatures know it. They will do anything they can to avoid us.
About the only exceptions are the big cats, and they are rare. In a one-on-one situation, with no weapons, they can certainly eat us for dinner unless we are very crafty. Bears can be dangerous, but there is usually a misunderstanding involved in the encounter. Before trembling with fear, pause to remember what people do when there's a misunderstanding: we usually start a war. Pack-hunting animals like wolves can also be dangerous, but they are also very rare, and not nearly as dangerous as people in a "pack."
Yes, we have a tiny bit of competition for Most Dangerous Animal. We need to be reminded that we, too, are part of this world. If we didn't have that little bit of danger around us, we wouldn't switch on our brains.
So the first step is to find some wilderness and get into it. It is probably public land, or private land (like a tree farm) where the owner is not concerned about people walking through as long as they don't use motor vehicles, harm trees or animals, or light fires. You are not there to do those things. You will bring little (to be discussed in Step 2), leave no trash, and harm nothing.
At first, being in wilderness will feel TERRIBLE. No one has "groomed" it for you, trimming the weeds and leveling the paths. There's no one to complain to when stickers poke you, or bugs bite. You are, for maybe the first time in your life, completely responsible for yourself.
If you are in a family group, NO PARENTING ALLOWED! If whiney voices receive help or sympathy from adults or older kids, you have lost the value of being in wilderness. True emergencies are an exception, of course.
We have mouths that close and ears that are always open for a good reason. If you are in a group, agree on silence 50% of the time at first, and aim to increase that to 75%, then 90%. You did not enter wilderness to hear yourselves talk. You came to look, listen, smell, feel, and understand the planet you live on. Only by doing that will you begin to understand yourselves.
After being in wilderness for a little while, you will probably feel completely exhausted. The first time, that could happen after only 5 minutes. In those 5 minutes, you might have gotten a blackberry scratch, a nettle sting, a mosquito bite, and a twisted ankle. That's okay. If you have the courage to keep at it, you will slowly learn how to avoid those things.
Step 2: What do you need?
That same "wilderness" gives us an excellent opportunity. Because it's only wilderness if you are traveling on your own two feet, whatever "stuff" you brought, you carried. Ice chest full of soda pop? Barbeque, charcoal, and lighter fluid? Maybe not.
As modern people, we often have little awareness of what we really NEED. The things we might WANT are nearly unlimited: a mansion or palace, our own yacht or airplane ... you know the list of things people WANT.
But climate change and resource depletion are causing the middle class to shrink quickly, the ranks of the poor to grow, and refugees or other homeless people to begin migrating in search of ... anywhere better. But the world is full -- there are no more frontiers. We can get used to a lower standard of living now, of our own free will, or we can wait until we are forced to. Knowing what we really NEED, instead of what we WANT, puts us a big step ahead in making that change, which will happen to most of us at some time.
So ... what do we NEED?
The "stuff" we haul into the wilderness with us is of 2 kinds: things we plan to use, and emergency supplies.
The things we plan to use during a short stay in the wilderness (1-12 hours) are easy to think of, and include food, water, toilet paper, trash sack, sun hat, rain coat, a little day-pack to carry it all, and very little else. If we brought something we thought we'd need, but didn't, we can leave it out next time (unless it's for weather that didn't happen, but looks likely next time).
This is an experimental process that will go on for the rest of your life. The things you actually use during a few hours in the wilderness will be different depending on where you live, exactly what sort of wilderness it is, what weather is expected, how old you are, and what kind of personality you have.
What about emergency supplies? Here's where we can get in trouble, because FEAR will be telling us to take lots and lots of stuff we MIGHT need.
I'll be blunt: if you truly NEED lots of emergency supplies, this program is not for you. You'll have to find a different way to survive climate change ... if you can.
Here's a suggested starting point: a roll of wide first-aid tape and a small pocket knife. The pocket knife might have use with your lunch, also. You might think of a few other little things you need based on YOUR life and location. Then after each trip, you can think about your list of emergency supplies again: too much? something missing?
Once you have a day pack, the stuff you expect to use, and your emergency supplies, if you keep it packed at all times (with no perishable food, of course), then you have a nearly-complete "go-bag," which you can read more about in Standing on Your Own Two Feet.
Step 3: Learn how to be still and silent
Climate change is going to be hard for extroverts (outgoing, people-oriented people) because the problems are in the realms of the hard sciences: physics, chemistry, biology, and ecology. Yes, people are causing climate change, but once caused, it cares little about what we do, and nothing about what we say. In fact, the climate change happening TODAY was caused by the pollution we put into the air and water 20-40 YEARS AGO. That means it won't respond to any efforts to fix it for another 20-40 years!
Most people (about 75%) are extroverts. When there's a problem, they naturally talk, argue, yell, growl, make lots of other noises, and do whatever will make it LOOK LIKE they are solving the problem. Climate change won't be impressed by any of that.
If you want to survive climate change, there will be many things you need to do, like get comfortable in wilderness, figure out what you need (instead of that you want), and others we'll talk about in later steps. If you are busy talking, arguing, and LOOKING LIKE you are solving problems, you might not have any time left to really get anything done.
"If you want to get something done, start by wasting time." It's an old Chinese saying. It means that if you start working on a task too soon, before you understand it and make a good plan, you will probably do it wrong and mess it up. But if you start by looking at it from every angle, pondering it, meditating, taking a nap, doodling out a plan, and other things that might look like "wasting time" to someone else, you have a better chance of doing it right the first time.
In other words, by being STILL and SILENT, you can come to a better understanding of any real-world problem. You will be listening more, both to the physical Earth, and to the small, still voices of intuition and inspiration. You will be seeing more, both what is in front of you, and the relationships and inter-connections among things.
And there are other good reasons to sometimes be STILL and SILENT.
We humans are social creatures. The first thing we think of when we need something is how to get it from other people. Buy ... trade ... steal ... all of these involve other people. Only as a last resort will we make, grow, or collect it ourselves, because that's harder.
Climate change will cause many shortages. Food, clean water, tools, machines, supplies, and many other things we need or want will become scarce, expensive, or impossible to get. People everywhere will be trying to buy, trade, or steal what they need and want.
Some preparation-oriented people think they can protect their stuff with guns. Sometimes they will be able to. But sometimes the thieves will have bigger guns!
In addition to (or instead of) guns, much can be done with STILLNESS and SILENCE. They can make you, and your stuff, nearly invisible if you give some thought to other camouflage issues, like color. You, and your stuff, will be a lot safer if the thieves don't know where you are.
Many people have trouble doing this because making a uniquely-human sound, when other people are near, is very instinctive. It is completely natural for children because they want all adult to like them and help them. Very young children CANNOT avoid the sounds that get mommy to come running, no matter how much danger those sounds attract.
A final reason to practice STILLNESS and SILENCE: meditation. If you can learn to quiet the constant motion of your body and the mental chatter of your mind, you can gain a great deal of control over your life that most people don't have, and tap into sources of information that most people will never know.
Just like with wilderness, take it slowly. One minute of stillness and silence can be challenging at first. Five minutes can seem like forever, and your mind will be screaming at you to do something or think about something. It is much better to find that amount of stillness and silence you can look forward to every day, than to push yourself too hard, dread it, and give up.
Step 4: Learn to recognize food
Yes, of course we all know what a frozen pizza box looks like. We learn that as toddlers. But that's a factory product, and climate change is going to make many factory products disappear from store shelves. That frozen pizza needs ingredients from several different countries, all brought to the factory by ships, trains, or airplanes. The factory needs electricity, water, workers with cars to get to work, and many other things. The pizza gets to your grocery store in refrigerated trucks that need diesel fuel. The grocery store needs electricity, telephone or internet lines to process your credit card, stockers and cashiers ... you get the idea.
Now lets go over to the Farmer's Market. About 90% of the business (at least in my area) goes to the big vendors who bring a truck full of stuff a hundred miles or more from the big farms in eastern Washington. A few little local gardeners have a small table, and most shoppers pass them by. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and truck fuel are turning the wheels of that food system, too.
Now imagine if the few local vendors at the Farmer's Market had the only food for sale. They could hardly satisfy even the few people who go to the Farmer's Market, and most people don't even KNOW about the Farmer's Market. If the people from the grocery stores showed up, there would be nothing left to sell them!
As climate change gets worse, we will have a hard time transporting food long distances. The reliable sources will become more and more local, and less and less "factory made" (like frozen pizza). If you want to keep eating (which is highly recommended), you will need to get to know more local, simpler foods. The day might arrive when everything will come from your own garden and animal pens, or the neighbor across the road in exchange for something, or you won't have anything to eat at all.
It's easy to start practicing, and you can make it a game. One family member picks a few simple, basic foods in the grocery store or at the Farmer's Market, and another family member has to make a meal out of them. While you eat, you can all give suggestions for improving the results the next time those ingredients are used. You might also think of kitchen tools you want to get.
Chicken or rabbit, potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, etc. This one's easy: roasted meat with "pot herbs."
Rice, beans, and almost any cooked vegetables. The human race has been living on variations of this dish for tens of thousands of years. You can too.
Wheat berries, tomatoes, fresh savory herbs (like basil), garlic, and hard cheese. Can you see the pizza? You'll need a grain grinder, which no one should be without. A little vegetable oil (or animal fat) and baking powder would be nice, but you'd get by without them.
Step 5: Learn to find food
This is a recognition process also, but in a different way. Here, you are going into your yard, or maybe your favorite wilderness, and spotting the FOOD among many things that are NOT FOOD for one reason or another.
Not food: anything that isn't alive and well when you find it. We can only eat fresh plants and animals. In nature, any plant or animal that dies begins to decay quickly, and is then poisonous. There are a few exceptions, like small fruits that dry right on the plant in a dry climate.
Not food: many poisonous plants (or parts of them), and a few poisonous animals. Green plants give us a clue: if they are poisonous, they taste bad. Mushrooms are NOT green plants and so DO NOT give us this clue. Either know your mushrooms, or leave them alone.
Not food: plants that have so little nutrition that we would use more energy collecting and chewing than we would get in return. This is usually the case with the green parts of plants, like the leaves. They may be edible, just not worth it. Grazing animals like cattle and deer have different digestive systems that can get more nutrition from green plants. Even so, they must spend long hours eating every day.
Not food: any plant or animal that has been treated with pesticides in any way. Plants along any public road might be sprayed to kill them, but the effects may not show right away. Ponds and bogs might be sprayed to kill mosquitoes or other insects. Pets and livestock animals might be sprayed to kill insect pests.
Is there anything left? Of course, but it will be different from place to place, so you need a wild foods book for your region, preferably 2 or 3. What you find will change from season to season. Remember that some foods MUST be cooked to be edible (like acorns), and it's a good idea with most foods to kill any bugs or parasites. But keep in mind that cooking does NOT make decayed or poisonous things edible, and no amount of washing or cooking remove pesticides.
Although you should get wild foods books for your area now, actually getting to know the wild foods is a long, slow process that will take years. Take it a step at a time. Sometimes the foods will be hard to identify. Some things might be edible but not palatable (enjoyable) to you.
At my home, salmon berries and thimble berries appear in early summer, and blackberries later. Dead alder trees grow oyster mushrooms by the pound, and I sometimes find princes, millers, and coral mushrooms. Wild rabbits, turkeys, and deer ...
Step 6: Learn to create food
Although we cannot "create" something from nothing, we can give our food sources a helping hand. In a "natural" or "wilderness" setting, all of the plants and animals are severely limited in their growth because of all the other plants and animals. For example, in the forests around me, each blackberry vine only grows a few small berries because the forest canopy above blocks most of the light so the blackberries don't get much. I would have to walk all day to collect a bowl of berries.
When climate change causes "imported" food (from farther than your local Farmer's Market) to become unavailable, you will need to join the ranks of gardeners, farmers, ranchers, or hunters if you want something to eat. Beware the hunting option: in most places, it's the first thing hungry people will think of, so EVERYONE will be in the woods shooting anything that moves, and all the animals will soon be gone (or hiding very well).
Gardening and farming, for most things, begins with seeds. A good place to start learning, especially for young people, is by sprouting. A quart or liter jar, small piece of mosquito net and rubber band, or circle of rigid screen and canning ring, and you're ready. Seeds packaged for gardening often have poisons added to kill fungus, so get "sprouting seeds." Alfalfa, fenugreek, clover, radish, broccoli, and mung beans all work well in a sprouting jar. Wheat and chia require different equipment. Start with a teaspoon of seeds. Soak them overnight, then rinse in cool water 3 times a day. The rest you will learn by doing.
For real gardening, if you don't know where to start, you can get assortments of seeds in a can or sealed plastic bag. Get those selected for your climate if possible, and ALWAYS non-hybrid. Hybrid seeds can't reproduce themselves correctly, so you'll have to keep buying more every year (if you can). Stick your seeds in the back of the refrigerator (in a sealed container) until you're ready to garden.
Soil is the place where the bones of the Earth (minerals), the dead (humus, organic matter), and the living (microbes, worms, and roots) all meet. It is a community more complex than any other. Without good soil, we would not be alive.
Soil is not always good, and that might be the case where you need to grow a garden. Climate change will cause much good soil to be washed away in floods, or baked hard during a drought.
You, the gardener, can be ready. Go out and play in your "dirt." Is it sandy? Heavy with clay (fine particles that stick together)? Low on humus? Too acid (most forests)? Unless you are lucky enough to have great soil, you'll need one or more of these: leaf mold, animal manure, bone meal, dolomite, phosphate rock, sand, peat moss. The leaf mold you can make by piling up leaves and letting them sit for a year. The rest you can buy. I won't try to teach you all about soil science right here. You have things to learn and try with your seeds and your soil.
Some people are more skilled at raising animals. Chickens, turkeys, rabbits, goats, cattle, pigs, sheep, and sometimes other animals are excellent food sources, especially in cold climates where plants don't grow as well, and people need more fat in their diets. If this is your way, you will probably be able to trade some of your meat for some vegetables!
Don't like getting your hands dirty? Climate change will separate those people willing to adapt, learn, and work, from those people who are lazy. The first type of people will have a good chance of surviving and finding some happiness. The lazy ones ...
Have I strayed, you might ask, from the promised "deep mental preparations" into the details of gardening? No, not really. Those who want to survive and find some happiness during climate change will need to develop a relationship with plants, animals, soil, sunshine, rain, and many other things that most of us have lost touch with. The details are unimportant. The wild and cultivated food you need to get to know are different from place to place, and it really doesn't matter what they are. Forming those relationships, that you MUST form to survive, will change you, physically and mentally.
Step 7: Build a "house"
Creating a safe space for ourselves, and maybe a few others we care about, is a basic need in every human being. Those others might be your family members, close friends, pets, or even dolls and toys, depending on your age. Whoever they are, or some combination, that's okay.
So your safe space, your "house," will be different depending on your age and abilities. Remember, we're after the deep mental preparations we all need to make to survive climate change. The important thing is that YOU do it. YOU decided where it will be, what it will be made of, and how to build it. YOU find the materials. And, of course, YOU build it.
But there's a rule. It can't be something you just go out and buy, like a ready-made cabin kit, playhouse, or tent. When climate change starts hitting us hard, we can't count on things being for sale that we want. But it CAN be made from pieces and scraps of old stuff that someone once bought. Salvaging old stuff will be something we need to do in the future, so it's good to start practicing now.
Some qualities your "house" should have:
It should be in a place that is as comfortable and safe as possible. By picking your location carefully, you can eliminate most wind, and maybe some of the rain or snow too. Your location should avoid places that could flood during a rain storm, places that smell bad, places that are dangerous, and many other factors you will discover by doing.
It should make a safe space. That means it should be able to keep out rain, snow, and wild animals. Sometimes it is not possible to have the "house" itself keep wild animals away, but a campfire close by will do that. A "lean-to" is a simple shelter with only one sloping wall, under which you sleep, and a campfire.
It should allow you to spend the night. That means it needs something to protect you from the ground that is usually wet, cold, hard, and buggy, probably a tarp and pad of some kind. It might also need some way to keep flying bugs out, like screen or mosquito netting. When you spend the night in it, you will bring whatever blankets or sleeping bag is right for the weather.
Your first "house" should be simple and within your ability to make. There will be others as you gain age, strength, wisdom, and skills.
Step 8: Take civilization with you
Before jumping into this topic, we have to think about what it means.
"Civilization" is whatever separates you from mere brute existence. Most living things spend their lives being born, eating, running from danger, mating if they're lucky, and dying. More complex forms of life, like us, can live at that level, but we usually prefer more: a social life, meaning and purpose, learning and personal growth, long-term intimate relationships with others, and maybe even a spiritual life.
So civilization includes things like social customs and rituals, professions and hobbies, technical knowledge, family life experiences, and spiritual practices. It might be possible to keep enough of this in your head for just you, but not so for even a small community of people. For that, we need the inventions that have allowed us to send our civilizations across time and space: writing and art.
With writing and art, civilization can be transmitted from one person (or community) to another even if they never meet, and even if they aren't alive at the same time. There are advantages to learning directly from a person who already has the knowledge or experience you want, but that is seldom possible in a complex civilization. Most of the time we must settle for the written words of a teacher, and the drawings, diagrams, photographs, videos, or other art media that help explain the teacher's words.
But before you begin to think about what books and other records of civilization you want to have with you as we enter the turbulent years of climate change, you should pause to consider what your goal is. That goal will naturally be based on what you think is going to happen in the future in your location, and other locations you might be able to get to.
1. Do you believe that climate change is a very temporary thing, that the "bottleneck" (the bad times) will be very short and you will soon be able to go back to a civilization that's still there?
2. Do you believe the bottleneck will be longer, and you will have to re-start civilization from scratch?
3. Do you believe the bottleneck will be very long, and only a small fraction of the civilization you bring with you can be squeezed through?
4. Do you believe that climate change will lead to the extinction of the human race, and so nothing of your civilization will survive?
5. Or do you believe something else entirely?
I cannot tell you which of these to believe. I have my own opinion, but I could be wrong.
If you believe number 1, then you will probably choose to just keep the records of civilization that are special to you. You would have to be the one to preserve these things even in good times. These might include your photo albums, family records, and your own writings and art works.
Number 2 means choosing the knowledge and records of your civilization that you think are most important. Slightly out-of-date text books can usually be found in thrift stores for little money. Good stories and picture books of special places may already be on your bookshelf.
Number 3 is like number 2, but with an emphasis on practical skills like gardening, hunting, preserving food, and first aid.
Number 4 might cause you to just select the books and pictures that would bring you comfort during your remaining time alive. But just in case that time is longer than you think, or doesn't lead to complete extinction, you might want to have some things from numbers 3, 2, and 1 also.
So, after pondering what you think is going to happen, you can begin putting together your own "ark of civilization." As you do that, here are some things to consider:
I hope this section has given you a glimpse of how important your preparations for climate change might be. In a world where most people are running around scared, the few people who have thought it through and prepared themselves may find that they are needed as leaders and teachers, regardless of their ages.
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