Surviving Armageddon


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I just finished reading “Knowledge,” by Lewis Darnell. Darnell lives in the UK, and the point of his book was to describe in (very) encapsulated form the basics people would need to eventually “reboot” society after an Armageddon-type calamity. In some ways it’s an interesting read, but I don’t think he really understands that unless a LOT more people know how to feed themselves, the knowledge he describes isn’t going to be much help.

Darnell seems to think that supermarkets will still be available to the few survivors of something like a massive, extremely high-mortality flu epidemic. Not that the markets will be functioning, mind you, just that they’ll be sitting there with lots of food on the shelves, just as gas stations will be sitting around with lots of fuel for SUVs — it will just need to be siphoned out. So survivors — according to Darnell — will need to drive out and scavenge what they need, but they’ll be able to find enough to keep going for a long time.

In practically the same breath, he notes that cities will very quickly become major fire hazard areas because no one will be cleaning up fuel — such as paper, leaves and other flammables — and that the cities will experience firestorms because of lightning strikes and electrical shorts and people knocking over the candle that was the only source of light. The fires will be devastating because of exploding propane lines, gas lines and the aforementioned gas station tanks; Darnell says they will burn for days. And of course, there isn’t likely to be a crew of firefighters readily available to put out the blaze. Not to mention that there may be no water pressure because no one will be maintaining the pumps at the city reservoir.

Darnell also comments about the risk of gangs taking over and violence in the cities but sees that the good guys will be able to forage for food, medical supplies, etc. I don’t know how applicable his thoughts are to the U.S. If the survivors live in the suburbs, they’re going to have to travel on foot — or maybe by bike — to those supermarkets and clinics. They’ll need some sort of cart to load up with all their finds. He doesn’t seem to be considering that the gangs in the cities will be heavily armed and more than willing to do violence, while the average town-based or suburban citizen probably won’t have much more than a pocketknife or a paring knife filched from the kitchen.

The whole point of writing the book, according to Darnell, was to give people the very bare bones basics of techniques such as chemistry, printing, medicine and other technologically-dependent goodies. He notes, sort of as an aside, that OF COURSE, humans will have to have adequate agricultural skills to raise sufficient extra food so that scientists and engineers and such can focus on recreating civilization without having to worry about where their next meal is coming from. He waxes eloquent about the wonderful Norway seed bank, where seeds can be found to jump-start this agricultural Renaissance. What I don’t think he understands is that for thousands of years, growing your own food was not easy, you were not guaranteed a crop, and people went hungry in bad years. Not to mention, that was when most people actually knew how to grow their own food. And frankly, I don’t think a seed bank in Norway is going to do my California garden much good…

It’s worth reading, if for no other reason than to critique his theories, because it helps you think about what REALLY is likely to happen. IMHO, the survivors aren’t going to be in the cities, especially if Armageddon is a virulent flu — those are exactly the places where lots of deaths will occur due to crowded conditions. Nor will the supermarket shelves remain well-stocked, as people will immediately start stripping them once it becomes clear the world is in the grip of a major epidemic. Witness what happens when weather is predicted to get nasty in an area — the shelves are bare within hours. In addition, the supply chain will break down very quickly in a virulent pandemic, and those shelves won’t get stocked in the first place.

I could go on, but I think it’s much more likely that the survivors will be country folk who already know how to raise, harvest and store their own food, are used to making do and coming up with creative solutions to problems related to day-to-day survival.

Let’s hope we never have to find out.

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