Thursday, August 20, 2009

camping as a way to plan for change


Those of you who enjoy recreational camping are probably familiar with the ritual of packing up all the gear you’ll need for a camping trip. Perhaps some of you keep a list to help the process of packing go faster and more smoothly and to keep you from making mistakes that might prove disastrous like forgetting to bring the matches.

Most of the items on your camping preparedness list probably help to meet one of eight basic human needs:

Water
Food
Shelter
Energy
Health Care
Communication
Transportation
Other Tools

For instance, campers will need to carry enough water for each member of the group or some way to purify water. Food is another necessity as is some sort of tent or other shelter to keep the campers warm and dry. It’s likely that the group will need a form of energy to cook their meals and they’ll need basic first aid equipment since the campers won’t have easy access to professional emergency medical responders. Campers would also be wise to carry at least one cell phone as a way to call for help in case of a more serious emergency and they’ll need a way to get around, even if it’s just a sturdy pair of boots and a backpack for hauling all this gear through the woods.

The guys I regularly camp with would probably include other items on the list of camping necessities like a shovel, a bottle of whisky, a deck of cards and a sharp knife. I’ll lump this last group into a category called “Other Tools.” Embodied within this category is a debate about which of these is a necessity and which is more of a luxury. For now let’s just suggest that there are other very helpful tools that humans need on a camping trip.

In many ways, planning for a future in which change will be constant and less energy and fewer resources will be available is like planning a camping trip. A decline in the availability of petroleum and other fossil fuels will mean less energy available to most of us in the future. This fact will bring on its own set of unexpected changes even while climate change provides another source for surprise. Meeting basic human needs becomes a more complex problem when other dynamics such as finance, time and politics are factored in against a backdrop of rapid change and unfamiliar situations. This might be the kind of camping trip Hollywood makes movies about.

It is impossible however to plan for such a camping trip while keeping all of this in mind. For sure the need to stay flexible should be considered but there are too many possible problems to account for them all. You can’t take a backpack big enough to weather every possible storm. That’s why we make a list of items to pack. It’s helpful to step back and revisit the list when preparing for a camping trip and in much the same way it is helpful to revisit the list of categories that describe basic human needs when making decisions about how to plan for your future during the era of energy descent, resource depletion and climate change. So let’s examine each category and consider our own needs in terms of how much we use in our daily lives and what sort of resources are available to us at this point in time.

1. Water. Healthy human beings need to drink between ½ and 1 gallon of water per day depending on the level of exertion. Add more for cooking and basic hygiene and daily water use could easily exceed 40 gallons of water per person. In the US the average is about 80 to 100 gallons per person per day. There are many ways to calculate this but what’s important for you is to understand how much water your family currently uses and how much is available in your area.

Those of you who draw municipal water will have a monthly bill you can use to calculate the amount your household uses on an average day. Those of you with your own well may find this calculation more difficult. It’s important though to have an idea about how much water you’re using. Here’s a calculator that will help.

http://www.csgnetwork.com/waterusagecalc.html

Now take a look at how much water is available in your area. Here’s a list of monthly and yearly rainfall totals for cities all over the US.

http://www.met.utah.edu/jhorel/html/wx/climate/normrain.html

This site is easier to use and also lists average temperature highs and lows. It doesn’t list annual totals though just monthly totals.

http://countrystudies.us/united-states/weather/

Of course rain is not the only indicator of the amount of water available. Are there streams or rivers near by? Do you know the condition of the groundwater in your area? How many people are drawing from these streams and rivers or from the ground water in your area? Water is an essential human need and a better understanding of how much you have and how much you need is important.

2. Food. The USDA estimates an average daily intake of about 2000 calories. This varies widely though depending on age, sex, and level of physical activity. How much do you eat each day? How much food does your family eat? You can save receipts from food purchases or better yet, keep records of your meals and use that as a way to gauge how much you eat.

For starters here’s a food calculator.

http://lds.about.com/library/bl/faq/blcalculator.htm

Here’s another.

http://www.coolcontent.com/familyfun/FoodStorage.html

It’s important to remember though that food storage is a complicated topic. Rather than use the estimates suggested by these calculators it would be better to understand how your family actually eats when examining your needs.

Then take a look at how much food of that food comes from your yard? Your neighborhood? Your greater community? How about your region or your state? Obviously the closer to home the more control you have over a particular source of food. It’s unlikely any of us will be eating totally out of our gardens in the future. What is the local food scene like where you live? Do you see local eating as a possibility for your family?

3. Shelter. I’m guessing you sleep in your house most every night. It’s obviously one of your most important needs. This particular need is pretty complex though. It’s probably easy for you to ascertain whether or not your house keeps the rain from falling on your head. But there are more multifaceted questions like how well your house keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Are there issues that will need to be addressed in the near or mid term like roof replacement, plumbing or electrical work? How about the exterior? Are there flooding and drainage issues? Windows? Insulation? How air tight is your home? In what condition is the mechanical system that heats and cools your home and bring fresh air indoors? Are there other unique features that warrant attention?

And the big one, do you own it? If you have a mortgage you don’t really own it. You are entitled to stay in your home only so long as you keep paying your mortgage. Is that likely to be the case? I know that’s a big question but some of the projects you might entertain will be worth it in the short term and others will only be worth it if you plan to stay in the house for a long time and can afford to do so in the future.

4. Energy. OK generally speaking energy use can be divided into three categories. A) Electricity B) Home heating and cooking C) Transportation. We’re going to address C as it’s own category later on. To gauge your use of electricity open up your monthly utility bill. For a better understanding of how you probably use energy take a ook at this website.

http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/howmuch.html

Here are a couple of examples.



If you really want a clear picture of your use by appliance I recommend a kill-a-watt. It’s a device that will tell you exactly how much electricity each appliance in your home is using. You can buy one online for less than $20

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16882715001&nm_mc=OTC-Froogle&cm_mmc=OTC-Froogle-_-Electronic+Gadgets-_-P3+International-_-82715001

The next question to ask yourself is where does you electricity come from? The cost of generating electricity is very likely to increase in the future as fossil fuel resources are depleted and some sort of carbon tax or cap and trade system is put in place. What would happen if the cost of your electricity doubled? Triple? Went up by a factor of 10?

Home heating and cooking energy will differ from one household to another. What is most important is to understand how much heating oil or natural gas or electricity or how much wood you use to accomplish these task and where that resource comes from. Those of you dependent on heating oil to stay warm in Maine will use this information differently from those who burn wood in cook stove in Alabama. I haven’t included home cooling here because for almost all of us that’s a function of electricity but it’s important for those in the southern portion of the US to understand what it takes to keep our homes cool in terms of energy use.

5. Health Care. What are your health care needs? The answer will obviously be different for men and women and people of different ages. And of course there will likely be unforeseen health care issues in the future for all of us. At this point in time though what are your specific needs? How well can you meet them yourself? What resources are available in your community? We all tend to think of the nearest doctor’s office but are there other options- a friend who is a nurse or a midwife, an herbalist who might offer alternatives to the medications you use, a retired dentists who lives on your block.

Remember this is the part of the discussion where we’re making a list of our needs and a list of the resources that might help meet those needs. You’re not likely to invite your neighbor the retired dentist to go camping with you just in case you get a tooth ache but knowing he’s there and having him on your list of resources is an important step in the process of planning for your future in a changing world. So list out all your health care needs, including medications and then list all the local resources you can think of.

6. Communication. Now we’re getting into the grey. Some people might argue that communication isn’t necessarily a basic human need. In a certain sense that’s true. If you can meet all your other needs adequately on your own you don’t technically need to communication with others. However as I mentioned before, it’s handy to have a cell phone on your camping trip in case anything goes really wrong. Cell phones will probably continue to prove useful in certain circumstances in the near future but do you also have a land line phone in your home? Is it the cordless kind whose battery will one day wear out? Who about a CB radio for emergencies or a short wave radio? How about just a regular Am radio for news during a blackout. Can you crank it for power or does it also run on batteries? Can you charge those batteries using solar power? How reliant are you on email? How about correspondence over snail mail? The point here is that you want to be able to communicate with people and you want overlapping system for doing so that are available in a variety of circumstances.

7. Transportation. Take stock of your transportation needs and your resources. 97% of transportation worldwide is powered by petroleum. How much transporting of yourself and your family do you do on a regular basis? How energy efficient is your form of transportation. That is, how much fuel do you use? This is a critical number to know. What resources are available to you? Can you walk? Bike? Take a bus or a train? Ride a horse? Again at this stage we’re simply taking note of the amount transporting we do and the amount of energy we use doing it. Then we’re making a list of the options available to us.

8. Other Tools. OK this one is really ambiguous. What might make sense is for you to list the tools and appliances you rely upon. In most cases there are many tools that do the same job. For instance you might rely on a refrigerator to keep your food from going bad. Other options you might rely upon when planning for the future include root cellaring, canning, freezing, smaller refrigerators or refrigeration systems that run using other energy sources, etc. The idea here is to become aware of all the tools you use and would need to take camping or do without if you were going camping for a really long time.

While you’re making your camping list of your needs and the items available to you, resist the urge to make projections at this stage. The extent to which energy descent, resource depletion and climate change affect your life and manner and the timeframe in which you feel those effects is impossible to accurately predict. We can make some basic assumptions but this is mostly about reviewing where you are, what you need and what you have available at this time. Actually I think that with the proper preparations any individual, family or community stands a pretty good chance not just of surviving the coming changes but thriving in a new era.

2 comments:

kopter said...

Thanks for this great post - I will be sure to check out your blog more often.

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