A Time of Seven Generations

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 16, 2017

Discuss this article at the SUN Table inside the Diner

I am going to put off publishing another chapter of How I Survived Collapse for another week to publish instead this compilation article from posts made Inside the Diner on the topic of developing self-sufficiency.  We had a lively discussion on this topic this week, and I would like to share it while it is still fresh. We discussed what self-sufficiency really means, and what that entails both short and long term.  Many different opinions were expressed on this topic, in terms of what is or is not possible and what the long term outcome will be from the Collapse of Industrial Civilization.

Most of the Diners do not buy into the concept of a Near Term Human Extinction, so the debate is not about whether all Homo Saps will be dead in 10 years or even a 100 years.  It's about what technologies we might or might not be able to maintain through this time period, and what are the most important things to be learning now both for the near term of a likely "Scavenging Civilization" which operates by taking many of the materials leftover from the Age of Oil and fixing and repurposing  them, to the longer term after those materials have mostly rusted away and been turned to rubble.

There is a wide variety of opinion on this topic, from some Diners who believe it is possible a high tech society like our own can be maintained for a much smaller population; to some who think that we can be sustainable at a 17th Century level of technology (pre-Steam Engine); to those like myself who believe the only truly sustainable society utilizes only Stone Age technology.

Below you find a selection of the posting made to this thread. It comes from only the first page of this thread, which is now at 4 pages long and climbing. For a complete reading, I suggest going to the thread itself, which is open for non-members to read.  If you wish to contribute your thoughts to this thread, you will need to register on the Forum and become an official Diner.

Now, on to the 7 Generations debate! 🙂

RE

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From RE:

Over on Knarf's Knewz in a link post about the Black Rose Anarchist Party, JDW put up a couple of quotes from Bill Mollison about becoming Producers rather than Consumers, with the implication that this was the real productive form of Anarchy to be undertaken.

In this one, Bill asserts that if just 10%of the people of the world undertook this form of self-sufficiency, we could feed the world.  I'm assuming he means doing it without Industrial Fertilizers as well.  Not sure how he felt about big combines, harvesters, tractors and so forth though.
 


My first question here for this thread is whether this is really true?  Could 10% of the population feed everyone else, all 7.3B people currently walking the earth?

Next question is that of self-sufficiency to begin with.  Before you can feed 9 other people, you need to feed yourself of course.  Is anyone really self-sufficient enough to feed himself?

In all my years of talking with various Doomsteaders with various levels of prepping and various sized properties, not ONE of them has ever said to me, "I am 100% Self Sufficient with Food Production".  Most of the time, they give me a number somewhere between 25% & 50%.  "But I am working toward being fully self-sufficient, and hope to get there in 5 years".  Or some timeline anyhow.

Now, if they have NOT achieved 100% self-sufficiency in food, then if/when TSHTF, they're still gonna starve to death, just a bit slower than the folks who are 0% self-sufficient.  If you're only getting 50% of the daily calories, protein and vitamins you need to live, you are gonna die!  So anything less than 100%, you are also going extinct.

This is only the question of self-sufficiency on your food production ability given the tools you buy to do this stuff.  Even if those tools are just horse drawn plows and the tack necessary for strapping them up, most if not all people including the Amish BUY this stuff, they don't make it themselves.  It does wear out of course, but if you are well prepped with spares and so forth AND are food self sufficient, now you may have got up to 20 years, but the next generation of your kids growing up on the farm are not going to be able to buy this stuff, so then they will go extinct.  No farming tools, no farming.

So of course, this is why we at SUN☼ always talk about the importance of Community, in order to have some people who know how to MAKE tools necessary for farming, as well as those who USE the tools to do the farming.  This sort of community really doesn't exist AFAIK*, except perhaps in some Amish communities.  However, even they buy most of their tools from the industrial economy, the only ones they make themselves are the ones the industrial ecoomy doesn't make any more.

So, the whole idea of becoming self-sufficient in time for the Collapse of Industrial Civilization seems like a tough goal to achieve.

Going back in history of course, there certainly were people who were entirely self sufficient, but they were all Stone Age Hunter-Gatherers.  Once the transition was made to Agriculture and Metallurgy to do that with, self-sufficiency was lost.  Even the Pioneers weren't really self-sufficient, they brought with them tools and implements with which to get started, mostly shipped over from Europe at the beginning until forges and blacksmith shops were built on the East Coast and mining operations began to get iron ore and coal locally.  Then they traded the food they grew using these great tools to get new tools when they needed them.
 


Now, moving into the future here,the likelihood of being able to acquire coal and iron ore to make new tools seems quite small moving say 100 years down the line.  For those of us alive today, not an issue, we probaly can scavenge a lot of material and repurpose for a while, like taking sheet metal off carz and using it to sheath a plowshare, or sharpening to make a Scythe.  But by the 100 year mark, all that old metal will be rusted and brittle and not useful anymore for making such tools.

So eventually of course, returning to full self-sufficiency means returning to H-G and Stone Tools.  It ALSO means getting to that point within about 100 years.

Now, on the upside here, the population is likely to decline quite a bit over that century time span, making H-G living theoretically possible again.  However, within that time span, those who don't know how to knap stone tools, hunt in primitive fashion will have to acquire those skills if they don't have them already.  How will they do that if you as Patriarch/Matriarch of this group of intrepid Survivors of Collapse aren't spending at least some of your prep time on gaining Primitive Skills?  Who will teach them if they grew up as farmers with tools to do farming made of metal, but no longer have metal to work with?
 


I would like to hear Diner Opinions on many of the issues I brought up in this post.  Can a farmer be completely self sufficient?  Are any, even the poorest subsistence farming Indian farmers self-sufficient?  Could you continue farming (or permaculturing) with no metal tools?  Do you think spending some prepping time on gaining primitive skills is necessary, or a waste of time?  If not a waste of time, how much time should be spent on this so you will have the knowledge to pass on to children and grandchildren?

I am hoping to get enough responses to this post to make a Diner Compilation article out of the thread, so post up!

RE

*AFAIK- as far as I know

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From Lucid Dreams

I think going back to stone tools is a bit of a stretch RE.

A good quality hand tool made of metal and wood can be used for lifetimes pending it is cared for.  Metal that is kept clean and dry does not rust.  The tools they sell at the big box stores are mostly shit that don't even last one lifetime.  There is plenty of metal to scavenge for a long time to come.  Take a modern day dumpster for instance.  How long would it take one of those things to rust back into the Earth?  So going back to stone tools is not going to be necessary. 

As far as the self sufficient farmer myth goes, that's a load of bollix.  No such thing, and there never has been.  It's theoretically possible, and I'm sure some people have done it.  I think you could survive pending you had enough hands and the weather helped you (which is unlikely these days). 

The best templates we have are the current ecovilliages, and as far as I know none of them are 100% self sufficient.  If they were 100% self sufficient, then they would not need money would they?  Of course one could argue that it's just easier to buy the stuff you need, like fencing for instance, if you have the money.  In the absence of money a lot of things could be accomplished in other ways. 

The "self sufficient farmer" is not a reality.  That farmer needs farm hands.  I think then you can produce a human diet that could keep people reasonably healthy.  The Easter Islanders did it, and so did the Vikings, and so did many other peoples before our time.  The best answers I've seen to our problems comes from Permaculture.  Permaculture has aggregated a lot of knowledge under it's umbrella, and it provides a system of design principles to help in the thinking process. 

I have no doubt that if the money was made available a Permaculture system could keep a lot of people alive and healthy.  If the goobermint were to throw billions of digibits at Permaculture like they do for the MIC, then we would have an excellent chance at saving a lot more than as many as we can.  Restoration agriculture combined with the biointensive methods from the Ecology Action folks and a strong emphasis on bamboo culture would create a very stable system of food, fuel, fiber, and medicine production.  It is possible to manage these systems sustainably and therefore provide self-sufficiency, but that sufficiency is really provided by community. 

The cabin in the woods is a farce.  It will take community to survive.  It will take a community with rules and a chain of command, and it will likely be very similar to feudalism due to necessity because nobody in goobermint is addressing any of this.  All of our "leaders" are asleep at the switch, incompetent, blind, and servicing BAU for their own personal interests.  Nobody in goobermint is taking any of our once problems, now predicaments, seriously. 

Restoration agriculture takes time.  We are talking about trees and land that's been mostly denuded of topsoil.  That topsoil has to be regrown, and that takes time.  It takes lots of time.  It can be done relatively quickly biointensively, but it still takes time.  Years.  Most nut trees take 20, 30 years to mature and produce nuts.  Orchards take years to mature.  None of these systems will mature in much less than 10 years.  I'd say 20 years is more likely how much time you need to get mature Permaculture systems in place that would be capable of supporting a large population. 

It's simply too late in the game to save all 7.5 billion of us.  If we had a Manhattan Project level event that got going with Permaculture in the driver seat today, then we might be able to save half of the current population.  That's just my guess. 

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From Eddie:

Metal tools are not going away. They were around before modern BAU, and they'll persist afterward, in my opinion. They will become extremely expensive. Things like plows and hand tools will be very precious when they have to be hand made out of dead cars, though.

Food is tricky. I know a big family with everyone working the fields can be self sufficient, because that's the way it used to be. As in LARGELY self-sufficient, 90% or better. You always need some things. Salt, seeds, sugar, etc.

Transition is the hardest part. You can't go from BAU to self-sufficient overnight. I would expect a fast collapse to create a serious famine.

The best case would be if you can get some of your protein from hunting or fishing, and some food from gathering. People in low population areas would have an advantage there, of course.

Very few people are in a position to even try living self-sufficiently. It would be a huge stretch to assume I could get there in time, even with my modest preps to tide me over. If BAU continues until I reach retirement status, I'll be able to get better at it. Otherwise, I'll have to wing it when push comes to shove. Won't be at all easy. I know that.

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From RE:

As I said to LD, not going away in this generation or even the next one in all likelihood.  But in your grandchildren's generation, where will they get the coal and iron ore to smelt the metal and fabricate new tools?  There sure won't be Home Depots to buy them at. I am looking 100-200 years out in time here.

If they cannot fabricate new metal tools, then how do they keep farming/permaculturing?  Can you do this without metal tools?  ???  :icon_scratch: If so, how?

If you postulate in the generation of your grandchildren that metal tools will NOT be available for them to use, then don't you need to prep them up for that time by teaching them stone tool knapping?  How else will they learn it? Maybe they will figure it out on their own, but would it not be better to pass this knowledge down so they are prepped and ready for this day?  How can you pass such knowledge down if you do not have it yourself?

RE

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From K-Dog:

Making metal tools?  Is there an APP for that?  Metal shop, wood shop, home economics?  High schools don't bother with such things anymore do they?

As time's arrow shoots forward the social direction moves more and more away from self sufficiency and self reliance.  This will mean mass death as soon as the wheels can't turn from lack of cheap oil.  There is no way around it and those who imagine themselves self sufficient will be pulled down in the social quagmire of those who are not.

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From JD Wheeler:

The best templates we have are the current ecovilliages, and as far as I know none of them are 100% self sufficient.  If they were 100% self sufficient, then they would not need money would they?  Of course one could argue that it's just easier to buy the stuff you need, like fencing for instance, if you have the money.  In the absence of money a lot of things could be accomplished in other ways. 

 

Are you familiar with Gaviotas?
http://www.friendsofgaviotas.org/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaviotas
http://amzn.to/2mkBLgO

They are fairly well isolated from the rest of the world, so they probably do come close to providing 100% of their needs. If you count net impact and consider the 1.5 million trees they've replanted, they might be over 100%.

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From JD Wheeler:

In this one, Bill asserts that if just 10%of the people of the world undertook this form of self-sufficiency, we could feed the world.  I'm assuming he means doing it without Industrial Fertilizers as well.  Not sure how he felt about big combines, harvesters, tractors and so forth though.

My first question here for this thread is whether this is really true?  Could 10% of the population feed everyone else, all 7.3B people currently walking the earth?

 

I've addressed this before as Permaculture's Dirty Little Secret.  I agree with Bill Mollison's assessment that using permaculture methods, 10% of the population could GROW enough food to feed 100% of the population; they could not, however, HARVEST enough food to feed everyone.  Even on my little blackberry patches, well over 50% of the berries go unharvested, even by the birds!  Permaculture's Dirty Little Secret is that, after you have set the systems up, 90% of the work is harvesting.

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From David B.

My first thought would be that the iron age did not start with the fossil fuel age but ran on charcoal made from wood.  The roman legions had iron swords, tools, armour all forged on biomass.  The plows of the middle ages were mostly wood but the leading edges were iron.  All before the first piece of coal left the mine.  Huge collapse sure but iron is here to stay.

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