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SurvivalistsIt’s funny how words’ meanings can change over time. I was browsing idly through our bookshelves the other day, when I came across an interesting little volume called ‘The Survivalists’. Nothing to do with Jerry Ahern‘s interminable macho saga, Patrick Rivers’ 1975 book is a serious review of the ‘alternative’ environmental movement in the mid 1970s. From the blurb on the back cover:

“It has become fashionable to write and talk about the environment crisis: about the Earth’s fast dwindling resources of food, raw materials and energy; about Doomsday. But it is all talk: life goes on as before.”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“Beneath the veneer of the Establishment there exists an Alternative of people ‘living the revolution now’…. Some are escaping to rural self-sufficiency, others to communes; some join non-violent revolutionary groups; the technically-minded begin experimenting in alternative technologies; some set off to fight world poverty; others do all this and more”

The people Rivers describes would nowadays be called ‘greens’ or ‘environmentalists’. Today, ‘survivalist’ conjures up a particular set of images: rugged individualists, preparing for TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) by stockpiling supplies and weapons in a remote hideout, sometimes with some form of extreme political agenda. For an amusing glance at the survivalist ‘sub-culture’, watch Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekend episode ‘Head For The Hills‘. But there’s a wide spectrum of preparedness, and a whole range of survival scenarios to prepare for, from Hurricane Katrina to getting stranded in the snow on the way home from work. There is a growing awareness that disasters don’t just happen to other people, and a realisation that our ‘civilisation’ is much more fragile and precarious than we used to think.

“A dedicated ‘conserver’ does not generate much garbage in the modern sense. Consider the following ultra-frugal conserver practices:
Kitchen scraps: Use every available scrap for animal feed or for compost.
Paper and cardboard: saved for re-use as stationary or for fire kindling, insulation.
Bottles, jars, plastic jugs, and plastic bags: washed and saved for re-use.
Candle stubs and soap scraps: save to periodically combine and re-use.
Steel and aluminum cans should all be carefully washed and sorted, for re-use as containers or raw material for various metal projects.
After being boiled for soup, most bones can be ground to make bone meal, or burned to make lime.
Scrap metal of all descriptions should be sorted and stored.
Wood ashes and fat scraps should be saved for soap making.
Twine, string and thread of all kinds can be saved for re-use.
Clothes worn beyond the point of usefulness should be saved for bandage material, quilts, rags, and insulation.
Electronics beyond economical repair should be cannibalized for their metal hardware and individual components.”

An excerpt from the manifesto of some low-impact hippy permaculture commune in West Wales? It ticks all the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ boxes. It’s actually a recent piece of advice on post-collapse garbage disposal at, a preparedness web site that claims over 55,000 visits a week worldwide. If you can see past the ‘gun nut’ discussions, this is an wonderful resource for anyone thinking about ‘off-grid’ living, growing their own food, or just planning for a winter power-cut.

A common factor in survivalist philosophy is that our present-day consumerist lifestyle is unsustainable. Where Rivers’ survivalists and today’s greens seek to modify our behaviour so as to avert, or at least moderate, catastrophe, the typical Survivalblog subscriber is planning to maintain as much of his lifestyle as possible WTSHTF. The conclusion to the above advice reads like this:

Of course, most of these extreme measures should be reserved for postTEOTWAWKI. The value of your time must be considered! Taking these measures now would probably alienate your spouse. Your family and neighbors would also soon notice your growing heap of stored “recyclables” which they would surely label garbage. It might not be to long until the fire marshal was called to condemn your stockpile as a fire hazard. Unless, of course you could convince them that all you were doing was “reducing your carbon footprint”.

Business as usual.


Written by Pete Smith

February 5, 2008 at 2:51 pm

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