Monday 13 December 2010


 By Noor
Snippits and Snappits
December 13, 2010
The other day a techie friend of mine, a computer programming specialist, announced that he wanted to learn, among other things, medieval skills like brewing, weaving, and swordplay. 

His reasoning was that he was just a wee bit afraid that in the future, the world will end. Not the end, but that one day all of our modern technological folderol will collapse and we'll be standing among the ruins of civilization, unable to build any more Sony Disc-mans or whatever the latest playbox craze might be. The gas will have dried up, the electricity will be forever cut off, and mankind will have to survive in Amish-style fashion. 
Amidst the dust and wreckage of America, there will arise an angry mob. This mob will be bearing pitchforks and jagged stakes, and they will be rounding up all the survivors. They'll be thin, angry people, desperate to find a way to live through the coming months. 

They will surround my house. A representative will be chosen to come forward. Skeletal, shaggy and gritty to the core, wearing torn and muddy jeans that can no longer be washed, he will approach my house, and ask me: 

"So what is it you do, stranger?"

"I, um," I'd stammer, "I uhm was a computer programmer and blogger."

And then they'd eat me.

So, I reckon it might be a good idea to find some sort of skill that's usable after The Crash ~ something so I can be useful even when every other scrap of usable technology has been wiped from the face of the Earth.

In other words, I need to improve my post-apocalyptic marketability.

Knowledge is power. 
Always was, always will be.
The trick is having the right knowledge.

There will be a huge need post-apocalypse for people with skills and also for people with knowledge. While for a time it will probably be a very hand-to-mouth existence, when things settle and we get over the shock then people who know how to make things work, how to improvise, fix, and jury-rig will be in high demand.

Even if on a piecemeal basis, it is a good idea to begin accumulating post-apocalyptic skills. It might be a good idea to look at early industrial technology and what's sometimes called "intermediate technology".

It ought to be possible in a post-apocalyptic world not to regress as far as the middle ages. Wind, and to a lesser degree solar, power should be able to provide a small amount of electricity to power some essential functions (a possibly computer-based printing press, a lathe, pumps for deep wells, crop irrigation, etc.) 

Even if you can only generate a small amount of power or only for a few hours a day, you can with careful scheduling run an awful lot of stuff. The Playstations probably have to go, but there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to have a computer and laser printer (though replacement cartridges would be a problem) for a community news bulletin. One copy, posted to a central billboard would save paper and ink.

Information on CD-ROMs would still be accessible even after the Internet has perished.

What post-apocalyptic survival requires as much as anything is the right mindset. One will need to be willing to defend oneself and one's property. Archery would be a good skill here as, unlike bullets, arrows can be recycled.

There will be a huge need post-apocalypse for people with skills and also for people with knowledge. While for a time it will probably be a very hand-to-mouth existence, when things settle and we get over the shock then people who know how to make things work, how to improvise, fix, and jury-rig will be in high demand.

I am a tad too long in the tooth to go out and start colonizing, but I do have knowledge and a reasonable skill set ~ I can cook, grow a veggie garden, and have some experience in animal husbandry. I have observed and have information on how to butcher sheep, chickens, rabbits, etc. 

I know how to prepare fleece and flax and spin the fiber into yarn. I can knit and sew, but only have theoretical knowledge of weaving. I've got the basics of herbal medicine and minor surgery (bone setting, sewing up wounds, midwifery) pretty much accounted for. Additionally I have books on all sorts of topics from raising silkworms to shoeing horses, brewing, metal-smithing and monetary systems. I have copies of the Magna Carta, the US Constitution, and the Code of Hammurabi.

I have long aimed to be a living library.  My goal is to be an Elder who needs to be taken care of because she has most of the answers. Someone who will teach the next generation the things they'll need to know in order to not recede further nor to take as long to get back to a nice comfortable high-tech lifestyle as we took to get here in the first place.

Some experts see the perfect storm emerging for a dramatic collapse of Western civilization claiming we’ve reached environmental, economic, and geopolitical tipping points. Clearly, some skills will be far more valuable than others if this societal breakdown occurs.

bankers, lawyers, and accountants,
there won’t be a need for you
in a post-collapse world.

Before we quantify the skill sets that will be viable, it is important to define the severity of a “post-collapse” scenario. When taken as a whole, together these tipping points could potentially converge to create a post-apocalyptic Mad Max-type world for the vast majority of humanity.  

However, given the advanced technology that we possess today, it is unlikely to ever become quite that primitive ever again. Surely there will be pockets of energy and food independence no matter what possible scenario unfolds, but the vast majority may be left to fend for themselves. And many of these will not be the members of society with the finest ethics.

It would take a serious cataclysmic earth event like a super volcano, a meteor impact, major electromagnetic pulse event, or dramatic pole shift to affect the entirety of humanity.  Man-made events like nuclear war, environmental damage, or total economic collapse, no matter how devastating, will be somewhat isolated and contained to specific areas and populations. Incidentally, every nation or territory that has experienced these man-made catastrophes has roared back to life in less than one generation.

The only example of nuclear survival was in Japan, while the largest recent economic collapse was the break-up of the Soviet Union.  In both cases those countries went through a very tough period, but ultimately they persevered.

For sake of this article, let’s assume that some level of devastation is caused by each type of tipping point in the United States.  Those ever escalating wars finally reach North American shores by way of long-range nuclear missiles, total economic collapse occurs rendering the dollar worthless, and we would likely have less electricity and water than Iraq did after Bush’s “shock and awe” campaign.

Gasoline and oil supplies would likely be down to a trickle, halting all supply lines of food and other goods to big box stores.  Factory farming will be impossible without cheap oil products readily available.  The suffering will be dramatic.

The only question will become, how do the citizens react?  Both the USSR and early 1950s Japan were far more agrarian, and far less dependent on big box stores than America currently is.  

American dependence on long supply lines, interconnected yet vulnerable electric grid, and pharmaceutical-based health care may lead to a more severe breakdown of society than witnessed in those countries.  

Although, innovative technology for alternative energy and agriculture practices will play a part in surviving; they can only help the few with the knowledge, means, and stability to use them.  And stability will be in low supply for some time, resulting in only small groups with relative comfort ~ those who planned for the worse.

However, as an optimist, I believe that after the initial chaos North Americans will rediscover solidarity for one-another, much like they did after 9/11, but this time it will be more sustained out of absolute necessity.

Many articles have been written about how to survive the coming collapse, or what is needed to survive, but not many articles have been written about what skills will have value in a post-collapse world.  Imagine fulfilling human necessity without consistent fuel or electricity, large-scale food production, or fully-stocked pharmacies and hospitals.  The only form of wealth in a collapsed civilization is the knowledge and skills to produce something of human value.

Here are 10 invaluable skills that will likely help you sustain yourself in a hand-made local world:

1. Organic Gardening and Seed Saving: Skills involving food production will be the most valuable in a post-collapse society. Learning to grow your own food   is a must.  Obviously, it is necessary to feed your family, but you will also be able to trade your abundance for other items. Additionally, learning to save seeds will also provide another excellent means of trade.

2. Food Processing and Preservation: Learning to process and preserve foods will be another huge skill in a post-collapse world. Taking seasonal abundance and preserving it for future consumption or trade will be vital.  Remember, learning to do this with limited electricity is a must. This can also include learning to brew beer , mead, vinegar , or other alcoholic beverages from meager ingredients.

3. Hunting, Fishing, and Gathering: Learning to fish and hunt is essential to survival. Having the proper gear and training will be priceless after the collapse of modern civilization.  Having reference guides for edible plants  in your region, repairing weapons , trapping  wild game, and fishing are great tools to have if you haven’t the time to learn them now. In regards to weapons, your ability to use them also gives you the skill of working security.

4. Animal Husbandry: Notice the first four categories are related to food production.  It’s that important.  Just gaining knowledge of one of these categories will give you an invaluable skill to thrive in a post-apocalyptic world.  Knowledge of animal husbandry  can provide endless amounts of sustainable meat, eggs, and milk to you and your tribe.

5. Construction: Construction skills will be very important in a shattered civilization.  These skills, especially without power tools, are not something you learn overnight.  If you have some basic skills it may be worth learning a few techniques for building small structures with crude hand tools.  There are many books teaching anyone how to build basic cabins, sheds, and composting outhouses.


6. Alternative Energy and Fuels: Having the knowledge to implement alternative energy systems will make you a wealthy survivor in a “dark” world. You can learn to build your own alternative energy systems, or you can purchase back up solar generators in preparation for emergencies. 

There are also small fuel refinery systems available like the biodiesel Fuelmeister , and the new invention from Japan that turns plastic into oil.  Knowledge of how to create energy would be invaluable when oil is scarce.

7. Water Purification: Since it’s difficult to pump well water without electricity and with surface water likely to be contaminated, clean water will be in very limited supply.  Learning to purify water  will allow you thrive during this time. You can also purchase water filters  for your go-bag that will last weeks, and you can have back-up tablets  should you need them.  However, the skill and knowledge to purify water should be the goal as that can never run out.

8. Basic First Aid and Natural Medicine: This is another skill that can take years to develop and learn, but that will be crucial when supply lines of pharmaceuticals are cut off and hospitals are over-run.

Knowledge of growing herbal gardens for making medicine at home will prove to be very important.  Learning basic procedures for stitching wounds, CPR, and more will also be of great assistance.  Being the tribe’s shaman with a natural medicine chest  is a prestigious position

9. Mechanics: Mechanics for cars, motorcycles, tractors and other machinery will likely be in high demand.  In addition, bicycle mechanics will also fair well in world where fuel is very expensive or hard to come by.  These are also skills that are not learned over night, but it will be wise to at least have access to books or how-to videos.

10. Soap and Candle Making: With long supply lines decimated and electricity on the fritz, soap and candle makers will provide a valuable product. Clearly some preparation of storing raw materials may be needed to achieve trade-able levels of these goods.  Even if you just had the knowledge to make soap or candles just for your immediate tribe, you will be much better off for it.

You’ll notice that many of these skills also fall into the category of what you would need to be self-sufficient. Again, learning all of these skills will be virtually impossible, especially if the collapse isn’t that far off as many predict.

Determine which skills that most appeal to you and focus on them by studying and acquiring the tools needed. Since you can’t become an expert in everything it may be wise to recruit tribe members with various survival skills.  It will also be beneficial to build up your library of “how to” books and videos for tasks that you are not proficient in.  You can download any video from Youtube by using and build your library into an external hard drive.

Remember, knowledge of and skills to produce human necessities will be the only form of wealth creation in a hand-made world. Knowledge is something that no one can take from you. It’s the eternal wealth that will help you thrive in a Post-Collapse world. Get Prepared Now!

There are a few other basics that might be good to have rattling about in the head or at least have good information available for when the time comes. 

We will need to know, for example:

How to build a permanent privy ~ 
and more importantly, where to put it

Grow and mill grain

Make bricks and mortar and build a stable structure
Make glass and blow it ~ 
well, maybe the blowing part

Keep sheep and other fiber animals

Feed your family/clan/tribe a nutritious diet prepared from 

scratch (scratch = growing the ingredients)

Mining (got to get the ore for metalwork somewhere)

Dig a well (or even where to start digging)


Although it is never too late to learn, time is drawing short. Hit the books, the net, download what you need. Otherwise, you could end up part of the starving mob. 



  1. Noor, very interesting piece.

    My Mom was watching Anne of Green Gables the other day and I started watching it with her. I was taken by the period piece that it is. People still used horses and a carrige to get around, etc. I knew my Great Grandparents quite well, who were both born in 1870. They would have recognized the 19th century period of Anne of Green Gables, since they were from that time. Amongst other things that stood out about them was self sufficiency. They would grow food and can and jar to preserve (no refrigerators) and stock up for the winter and be fine. Apples in straw in the basement etc. as well. Animals you could get milk from.

    Totally different outlook on life, especially. During the depression they only helped others.

    It is true we need to get back to food production etc. that preserves things and doesn't exhaust the land resources, but more importantly, we need to get back to the selfless view of life and other people that characterized people then.

    Thanks for the article.

  2. Excellent Noor.

    Remember the Whole Earth Catalogs from 35-40 years ago? They were my guides to what you are talking about. Maybe it's time to dust off all the old books and also make sure the practical skills digital knowledge base is backed up properly.

    I've been fortunate to have grown up in the countryside and still live in a rural area where the basic ways have somewhat always been in style and where teachers and mentors were there to help for the asking. Now maybe it's our turn to pass on what little we know and possibly even learn a few new tricks.

    We've thought for many years that the old skills would become new and necessary again. It's just taken longer than we first imagined.

  3. Thanks both. I just think we have let technology take over. I also believe that the moment they began with "easy food" preparation, we forgot the basics. I am amazed at how many people don't even know how to bake a cake or make bread. Without a machine!

    We have to reclaim our basic living skills to survive. I may not be able to milk too many cows any more but I sure as heck remember how to churn butter and keep the milk fresh, even without electricity.

    Personally, I almost see the fall as a positive thing. It will certainly kill the game boy and techno addictions that are killing our children's brains! Then the important things will be of value again, so long as people stick together and protect each other as need be.

    Call me a Pollyanna but I do not see it being completely a Mad Max or Escape from new York world. There is nothing wrong with building log cabins or living as our ancestors or the native peoples lives for so long... lightly upon the planet....


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