Like my title? Never let it be said I’m not ambitious.
A student in my class asked me for a list of skills we need to get ready for peak oil, prioritized. I admit, it took me about a day after she asked to stop thinking “Holy Crap, how do I figure that all out!” But it is an interesting question. And while it isn’t all just about food preservation, I thought I’d take a shot at it. I will, of course, be relying on my fearless readership to point out gaps in my thinking.
Now I’m not going to get everything, but it did occur to me that we could break it down a bit, and then subcategorize. So what the heck, here goes. In order of priority - the main categories are numbered, and the skills in each category are lettered. I’m going to do this in several posts, so that I don’t go mad. But here’s the beginnings of my list.
1. How not to panic.
- This is probably the most important skill set - when stuff gets hard, you need to focus and do what needs doing. In order to do this, you need:
a. To feel like you are able to handle things, because you have mental contingency plans and you have built trust in your own competence. The best way to get this skill is to plan, to talk and think out scenarios so you would know what you would do, and to practice doing things until you are reasonably confident that not only can you do familiar things, but you can learn new ones as you go.
b. To have the skills to control your own reactions - these may be strong. You need to be able to put your anger, or grief or fear to the side long enough to make everyone safe and to meet immediate needs. Meditation, biofeedback or simple compartmentalizing may help with this. It is also extremely useful to develop the ability to accept that sometimes you will make mistakes and fail at things, and that that isn’t the end of the world.
c. To help other people remain calm, respond appropriately, and find a role for themselves. Some kind of leadership training, Community Response training or just practice organizing people. Some folks are not good at this - if you can’t be a leader, that’s ok - maybe your job is to find someone who is totally losing it and help them stabilize. Certainly, knowing how to help your immediate family and neighbors, thinking about how they may respond and how to help them. For children, it might be helpful to give them some training, or plan out specific jobs for them to do to help them feel powerful and useful.
2. How to learn things - and how to teach them
You are never going to learn every useful skill. It won’t happen. It is very helpful, though if you figure out how you and members of your family learn, and think about how you might make it easy for you and your family to learn more things as you need to - if you are a book person, get books. If you need diagrams, get diagrams. If you learn best from people, find out who knows what in your area. But the basic skills of learning things are all pretty much the same - most of us can learn to do almost anything. So learning how to learn - how to research an issue, how to pick up a physical skill, how to help another person do that, how to analyze a problem and find a solution, how to avoid major errors of logic, and what the necessary basic tools are will really help you expand your skill set.
3. How to get along with everyone else.
I sometimes get emails from people telling me that everyone around them is an asshole, and that they can’t possibly get along with their neighbors. Now once in a while that is actually true - there are horrible places and circumstances in the world. But if someone tells me that there’s no one in their whole town who they can be friends with, that everyone is ignorant or mean or self-centered - the most likely scenario is that the person talking isn’t very good at getting along with others. Now I don’t mean that people who are content without a large community are necessarily bad at this - some people are just introverts. And some people who are bad at getting along in the course of things either can do better in a crisis, can find one role they can fit into, or can be protected by their families, who can get along with them. But if you aren’t great at getting along, learning to be tolerant, learning to listen, learning to like other people even when they seem weird, and perhaps most importantly, learning to judge them gently (and I am not the natural master of any of these skills either) is really, really important. Do it now. This is especially important if you have trouble getting along with your relatives, and might end up with them.
4. How to deal with an immediate medical crisis in an emergency.
a. Basic hygiene, safety, self care and nutrition. How to make a balanced meal, and to provide a balanced diet, how to make a rehydration syrup, how to wash hands, how to sterilize things, how to cook safely, how to keep water from being contaminated, how to deal with contaminated water, how nutritional needs vary by age, sex and medical condition. How to care for teeth, skin, etc.. without commercial preparations. How to prevent pregnancy and disease. How to use tools, including any weapons safely and keep children and others safe in their presence. Sounds obvious, will kill people if you don’t know it.
b. Basic first aid and triage of a situation - everyone needs to know these things - period, no discussion. Maybe you’ll never use it, but you should be able to stop bleeding, do CPR, help a choking victim, evaluate whether someone can be moved, help clear an airway, and decide whether medical treatment is necessary. This comes up all the time regardless of whether there’s a crisis on.
c. More advanced medical care, when to use it, and when not to. This is particularly likely to come up in a localized disaster, an epidemic, or a transport crisis. If you can’t get someone to the hospital, if the emergency rooms are overflowing with people, if the hospitals are closed or evacuated, or if there’s no way to get someone somewhere because of a gas shortage, snowstorm, ice storm, hurricane, earthquake… You need to be able to meet emergency medical needs - to observe a concussion victim, make a temporary splint for a broken bone, birth a baby, ease the pain of a dying person, etc… At least one person and preferably everyone old enough should get some or all these skills per household.
5. How to feed yourself.
1. How to cook simple foods, and make them tasty and appetizing. How to adapt your cooking to changing availability of ingredients. How to deal with special diets that you might likely encounter.
2. How to grow and forage simple, easily accessible foods. These vary a lot by climate and culture, but generally the indigenous foods of your region will give you a good idea of what grows well. Includes how to save seeds of these plants, what kind of soil conditions they need, teh basics of soil science, and how to harvest and preserve them, as well as how to recognize safe wild foods and how to use them. I will discuss foraging and gardening later in this, but even if you imagine you won’t have to garden, or you have very little land, learn these very basic skills.
3. How to store your food so that you will have minimal losses from predators, mold, bacteria, theft, etc… Includes security, hygiene, good storage practices, rotating, maintaining, checking, managing stores.
4. How to secure your food from predators, and if you are interested, how to be a predator - how to hunt, trap, fish and butcher wild and tame livestock. Even vegetarians may want this skill set to feed their pets, if the cost of food or its availability becomes prohibitive. Includes understanding the rules of hunting, gun, bow, dog and trap safety and humane practices, when not to take animals, and the best strategies for predator removal.
Ok, I’m about to have mega-thunderstorms, so I’m on my way offline. More on this - next - storing and cleaning water, growing food, preserving food, growing medicinals, and much more.