Thursday, June 08, 2006

What are the Foundational Technologies?

My working list, with some overlap between disciplines:

1. Agriculture and Animal Husbandry
2. Chemistry
3. Engineering
4. Metallurgy
5. Security
6. Medicine, surgery, and dentistry
7. Fibers and Textiles
8. Electronics
9. Economics
10. Morale

Eschaton Awareness: First Considerations (or, Locate the Potatoes)

Recent posts have focused on initial survival considerations after an Eschaton event. A major reason to have an Eschaton management plan is to avoid a situation where irreplaceable items or irreplicable technology is lost early on. Therefore, items whose acquisition may not be critical to immediate survival, but which may be quickly consumed or destroyed beyond hope of recovery if not saved, may take precedence over other important items. For instance, if all chickens starved to death or were eaten in the months following the Eschaton, or if all seed potatoes were eaten or rotted, they could never be recreated by survivors later on. Technologies that could be sustainably practiced by a group of survivors, but which require initial technological inputs to be practicable, may exist; for instance, it may turn out that we need a few heat-tempered glass beakers in order to produce the substances that enable us to produce more heat-tempered glass. I am interested in researching and cataloging a "scavenging list" of the most important examples of necessary inputs for potentially extinguishable technologies.

Bruce Beach, in his writing on survival after an Eschaton event, suggests the following rules:
1. Get out of the cities
2. Get out of the cities
3. Get out of the cities

I would propose rules of the form:

1. Get out of the cities
2. Locate the potatoes
3. Locate the potatoes

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Eschaton Awareness: My Proposed Survival Kit

My proposed survival kit, prepared to provide for retreat from urban centers and to ensure initial physical survival after a civilization-ending event, is presented below. Note that this kit does not yet include items necessary for the long-term survival of civilization (e.g., seeds and potatoes to plant, chickens, books).

Excellent backpacking boots
Well-balanced frame backpack
Layered clothing
Warm, waterproof clothing layers (e.g., poncho)
Sun protection gear (hat, light long-sleeved shirt, sunblock)

Firestarter (magnesium/flint type or other)
Water bottles, some water, purification tabs (iodine)
Bandana cloth (filtration, etc.)
Cordage in varying weights and lengths
Saw and/or axe
Paramedic scissors
Handgun, ammunition, and carrying apparatus
High-calorie and high-protein food (shelf-stable), e.g.:
* Macademia nuts - 960 cal/134 grams (one cup)
* Honey - 1030 cal/339 grams (one cup)
* Dehydrated potatoes - 170 cal/48 g (one cup)
* Dried figs - 496 cal/ 199g (one cup)
* Fat (e.g. olive oil) - 1900 cal/205 g (one cup)
* Velveeta cheese spread - 680 cal/224 g (one cup)
* Peanut butter - 1545 cal/258 g (one cup)
* Lifesavers - 1000 cal/200 g (100 lifesavers)
* M&M's - 1023 cal/208 g (1 cup) (or other candy)
* Jerky - 928 cal/226 g (1 cup)
* Sweetened coconut - 351 cal/74 g (1 cup)
* Dry whole milk - 635 cal/128 g (1 cup)
* Lentil flour - 560 cal/160 g (1 cup) - and 44 g protein
Fishhooks & line
Unscented soap
Bandages, moleskin, wound cleaning material
Blanket (for warmth, for catching insects for food, etc.)
Plastic bags in varying sizes
Needle & heavy-duty thread
Pan for cooking
Tent, tarp
Stun gun, pepper spray, less lethal defense methods
Sleeping bag and pad may be considered for comfort
Water purifier may be considered

Edible plants and foraging techniques
Water purification
Destination and route plan
Defense (including handgun use)
Medical first aid

Eschaton Awareness: Survival Kits, Part II

The American Red Cross recommends that a survival kit include the following:

Battery-powered Radio
Plastic Sheeting and Duct Tape (for shelter construction)
Food, including
* Ready-to-eat canned meals, meats, fruits, and vegetables;
* Canned juices; and
* High-energy foods (granola bars, energy bars, etc.).
Water (at least one gallon)
Medications (a three-day supply of prescription medications)
First Aid Supplies, including wound dressings, antibiotic ointment packets and antiseptic wipe packets, aspirin, a pair of non-latex gloves, scissors, and instructions

They recommend additionally:
* Paper plates and cups, plastic utensils
* Non-electric can opener
* Personal hygiene items, including a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, brush, soap, contact lens supplies, and feminine supplies
* Plastic garbage bags, ties (for personal sanitation uses)
* Change of clothes and shoes, including a long sleeved shirt and long pants, as well as closed-toed shoes or boots
* Extra pair of glasses

Red Cross goes on to specifically discourage the inclusion of "weapons, toxic chemicals, or controlled drugs unless authorized by a physician."

I feel that the Red Cross recommendations are excellent - for a minor, regionally localized disaster. People sitting out a hurricane might need only have three days of medication, a few bandages, and a gallon of water. However, for a civilization-ending event, the weight of some of that gallon of water would better used for iodine tablets, a firestarter, and a metal pot, equipment which could be used to purify unlimited amounts of water, given access to fuel. This kit also does not help the city-bound survivor escape the urban areas safely, which is unnecessary for a minor disaster but of critical importance during an Eschaton event. Heavy canned food is emphasized, giving the impression that the survivor will be staying in place until things return to normal or he is "rescued."

Finally, the specific injunction against weapons could prove extremely misguided in a civilization-threatening event. We have very little information on human behavior during Eschaton events, but the data from regional disasters (troubling enough on its own) probably underpredicts the willingness of humans to resort to violence if they perceive that society is over and their survival is endangered. Consider also the groups that have invested in Eschaton preparations (survivalists). I do not want to be at their mercy when the world ends.

Eschaton Management: Desired Knowledge

I am interested in connecting with people with knowledge and experience in the following areas:

Biointensive and organic agriculture
Microscale synthetic chemistry
Microscale metallurgy
Surgery and dentistry
Weapons use and manufacture
Engineering (small-scale construction with hand tools)
Telegraphy and radio construction and communication
Military security - low-tech defense of small village areas
Electronics, electricity generation, and construction of electronic components from base materials
Village economics
Small-scale sustainable animal husbandry (poultry, sheep, goats, pigs, horses)

Please contact me if you are such a person and are interested in the project.

Eschaton Management: A Catalogue of Ignorance

In a sense this is a project of cataloging ignorance: my own, my community's, and my civilization's. The knowledge required to continue civilization under relatively pleasant circiumstances is vast, but few of us individuals have a grasp on even a framework for it.

Some important knowledge is widely dispersed. Even schoolchildren are familiar with the germ theory of disease. And some technology foundational to applying it (manufacturing soap from hardwood ash and rendered fat, for instance) is also widely known and easily replicated. Indeed, good hygiene has probably prevented more suffering than antibiotics and vaccinations put together. But antibiotics and vaccines are clearly desirable technologies. Unfortunately, the knowledge required to replicate them are simultaneously do dispersed (among people) and so concentrated (in a few industrial organizations) as to be virtually lost in the event of a civilization-ending catastrophe.

What knowledge and technologies (a) are foundational to a relatively pleasant, ethical life, and (b) can be preserved so as to be replicable by a group of Eschaton survivors?

Unfortunately, this requires us to first answer the question, what is "a relatively pleasant, ethical life"? This project requires a series of judgments about what constitutes the Good Society. I am choosing to limit research and preservation efforts to material technology so far as possible, but even doing so, a choice must be made as to what technology has primacy.

Almost any moral system can justify choosing technology consistent with itself on grounds of efficiency or suitability to future conditions (future conditions which are necessarily impossible to measure). Consider the choice of whether, as a society, to be vegetarian. Vegetarians may point out that their solution is a more efficient use of soil and space, and that killing livestock would be bad for fragile post-Apocalypictic morale. Non-vegetarians may argue that every calorie will count, and all food sources should be used; prevention of kwashiorkor (protein-deficient malnutrition) comes before considerations of space and morale.

A priori, it is impossible to know whether morale or calories will be at a greater premium, and whether agricultural efforts will be strained or aided by livestock. One must constantly look out for unwarranted assumptions about untestable future conditions. One solution is to look to other civilizations (ancient, or contemporary but economically and technologically simpler than, say, Los Angeles) to test hypotheses. This should be a focus of curator research.

The solutions must be a set of compromises - not necessarily the best strategies, but ones a group of capable people could carry out to ensure a reasonably high standard of living that will be sustainable across many generations.