Saturday, December 7, 2013

Future Famine: the Numbers

Humanity has struggled to survive through the millennia in terms of an imbalance between population size and food supply. The same is true now, but population numbers have been soaring for over a century. Oil, the limiting factor, is close to or beyond its peak extraction. Without ample, free-flowing oil, it will not be possible to support a population of several billion for much longer. Famine caused by oil-supply failure alone will probably result in about 2.5 billion above-normal deaths before the year 2050; lost and averted births will amount to roughly an equal number.

This famine will be on a scale many times larger than ever before in human history. It is possible, of course, that warfare and plague will take their toll to a large extent before famine claims its victims. The distinctions, in any case, can never be absolute: often "war + drought = famine" (Devereux, 2000, p. 15), especially in sub-Saharan Africa, but there are several other combinations of factors.

Although, when discussing theories of famine, economists generally use the term "neo-malthusian" in a derogatory manner, the coming famine will be very much a case of an imbalance between population and resources. The ultimate cause will be fossil-fuel depletion, not government policy (as in the days of Stalin or Mao), warfare, ethnic discrimination, bad weather, poor methods of distribution, inadequate transportation, livestock diseases, or any of the other variables that have often turned mere hunger into genuine starvation.

The world's population has grown from about 1.7 billion in 1900 to over 7 billion today. A quick glance at a chart of world population growth, on a broader time scale, in other words, shows a line that runs almost horizontally for thousands of years, and then makes an almost vertical ascent as it approaches the present. That is not just an amusing curiosity. It is a shocking fact that should have awakened humanity to the realization that something is dreadfully wrong.

Future excess mortality can be determined -- at least in a rough-and-ready manner -- by the fact that in modern industrial society it is basically oil supply that determines how many people can be fed. In fact, everything in modern industrial society is made possible mainly by oil and other fossil fuels. An increase in oil production leads to an increase in population, and a decrease in oil production will lead to a decrease in population.

In round numbers, global oil production in the year 2010 was 30 billion barrels, and the population was 7 billion. The consensus is that in the year 2050 oil production will be about 2 billion barrels. The same amount of oil production occurred in the year 1930, when the population was 2 billion. The population in 2050 may therefore be the same as in 1930: 2 billion. The difference between 7 billion people and 2 billion is 5 billion, which will therefore be the total number of famine deaths and lost or averted births for that period. (A more-precise measurement would entail looking at the number of survivors in each year and then determining what might be called the "temporary carrying capacity" for that year, based on the remaining oil, but the grand total would be roughly the same.)

We can also determine the number of famine deaths and lost or averted births on an annual basis, rather than in terms of the entire 40-year period. In the 40 years from 2010 to 2050, the average annual difference in population will be 5 billion divided by 40, or a decrease in population of about 125 million people per year.

Many of those annual 125 million will not actually be deaths; famine will cause a lowering of the birth rate (Devereux, 2000; Ó Gráda, 2007, March). This will sometimes happen voluntarily, as people realize they lack the resources to raise children, or it will happen involuntarily, when famine and general ill health result in infertility. In most famines the number of deaths from starvation or from starvation-induced disease is very roughly the same as the number of lost or averted births. In Ireland's nineteenth-century famine, the number of famine deaths was 1.3 million, whereas the number of lost births was 0.4 million. The number of famine deaths during China's Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), however, was perhaps 30 million, and the number of lost births was perhaps 33 million.

The "normal," non-famine-related, birth and death rates are not incorporated into the above future population figures, since for most of pre-industrial human history the sum of the two -- i.e. the growth rate -- has been nearly zero: 2,000 years ago the global population was about 300 million, and it took 1,600 years for the population to double. If not for the problem of resource-depletion, in other words, the future birth rate and death rate would be nearly identical, as they were in pre-industrial times. And there is no question that the future will mean a return to the "pre-industrial."

Incidentally, it would be impossible to avert famine significantly by any program of family planning. No such program would be able to reduce the population from 7 billion to 2 billion by mid-century. Even if -- purely hypothetically -- every woman on earth were to have zero children from now on, the natural (non-famine) death rate would still be at its usual 1 percent per annum (rising slightly as time goes by), so the population would not be declining significantly over the decades.

Nevertheless, it will often be hard to separate "famine deaths" from a rather broad category of "other excess deaths." War, disease, and other factors will have unforeseeable effects of their own in the days to come. Considering the unusual duration of the coming famine, and with Leningrad (Salisbury, 2003) as one of many precursors, cannibalism may be significant; to what extent should this be included in the calculation of "famine deaths"? In any case, it is probably safe to say that an unusually large decline in the population of a country will be the most significant indicator that this predicted famine has in fact arrived.

These figures obliterate all previous estimates of future population growth. Instead of a steady rise over the course of this century, as generally predicted, there will be a clash of the two giant forces of overpopulation and oil depletion, followed by a precipitous ride into an unknown future.

If the above figures are fairly accurate, we are ill prepared for the next few years. The problem of oil depletion turns out to be something other than a bit of macabre speculation for people of the distant future to deal with, but rather a sudden catastrophe that will only be studied dispassionately long after the event itself has occurred. The massive collapse of human population will be upon us before we have had time to look at it carefully.

The world has certainly known some terrible famines in the past. In recent centuries, one of the worst was that of North China in 1876-79, when between 9 and 13 million died, but India had a famine at the same time, with perhaps 5 million deaths. The Soviet Union had famine deaths of about 5 million in 1932-34, purely because of misguided political policies. The worst famine in history was that of China's Great Leap Forward, 1958-61, when perhaps 30 million died, as mentioned above.

A closer analogy to "petroleum famine" may be Ireland's potato famine of the 1840s, since -- like petroleum -- it was a single commodity that caused such devastation (Woodham-Smith, 1962). The response of the British government at the time can be summarized as a jumble of incompetence, frustration, and indecision, if not outright genocide.

The above predictions can be no more than approximate, but even the most elaborate mathematics will not entirely help us to deal with the great number of interacting factors. We need to swing toward a more pessimistic figure for humanity's future if we include the effects of war, disease, and so on. The most serious negative factor may be largely sociological: To what extent can the oil industry maintain the advanced technology required for drilling ever-deeper wells in ever-more-remote places, when that industry will be struggling to survive in a milieu of social chaos? Intricate division of labor, large-scale government, and high-level education will no longer exist.

On the other hand, there are elements of optimism that may need to be plugged in. We must not forget the sheer tenacity of the human species: we are intelligent social creatures living at the top of the food chain, in the manner of wolves, yet we outnumber wolves worldwide by about a million to one; we are as populous as rats or mice. We can outrace a horse over long distances. Even with Stone-Age technology, we can inhabit almost every environment on Earth, even if the required survival skills have been largely forgotten.


References:


Devereux, S. (2000). Famine in the twentieth century. IDS Working Paper 105. Retrieved from http://www.sarpn.org.za/documents/d0000076/Devereux.pdf

Ó Gráda, C. (2007, March). Making famine history. Journal of Economic Literature. Retrieved from http://www.ucd.ie/economics/research/papers/2006/WP06.10.pdf

Salisbury, H. E. (2003). The 900 days: The siege of Leningrad. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press.

Woodham-Smith, C. (1962). The great hunger: Ireland 1845-1849. New York and Evanston: Harper & Row.


Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)



Saturday, November 9, 2013

Post-Peak Survival: Moving to the Country

If you're a typical member of modern industrial civilization, you've spent your whole life living on food that was bought from a local supermarket. However, there is no guarantee that such food will always be available. The present world population is over 7 billion. Food and fresh water are already in short supply, so how will people survive? The world uses about 30 billion barrels of petroleum every year, but the supply is running out, and all proposals for alternative sources of energy on such a scale are just science fiction; without oil and natural gas, there will be no fuel, no plastics, no chemical fertilizer. For the last few decades, thanks to globalization and automation, the problem of unemployment has been horrendous, and thanks to uncontrolled speculation the global stock market and the money market are starting to collapse. War is everywhere, and it's no longer a simple case of nation against nation, but of one linguistic or religious group against another, in a vast anarchic tangle. No civilization lasts forever, and our own is no exception.

You might decide to look for a better way of life, to find a saner connection to the natural world. Perhaps it's time to leave the busy city for that strange, long-forgotten place called the countryside. You would then need to find some other way to feed yourself and your family. To do so, you would want to reduce your dependence on modern equipment and chemicals, and to minimize the connection with the elaborate webs that constitute modern economics and politics.

You'll probably find that it's cheaper to buy land with a house on it, than to buy land and put a house on it later. The exception could be the "fixer-upper"; beyond a certain stage of decay, a house is not really a fixer-upper but a tearer-downer. A house that cannot be repaired can easily ruin a marriage. Of course, if you're 20 years old or just short of cash, you could build yourself a primitive log cabin instead, but frosty nights in a tiny hut can lose their appeal after the first few weeks.

Try to live in an area where population density is low, but where the soil and climate are still reasonable. Many parts of North America might be suitable if you avoided the Boston-New-York-Washington megalopolis. Many other countries also have good locations that would reveal themselves after serious perusal of a few maps. It's the hidden pockets of habitability that you should look for, the places that are easily overlooked. Sometimes there are places within an hour's drive from a city that are far more suitable than places that are two hours away, simply because of what might be called accidents of geography -- perhaps in the past there was nothing there to interest the average farmer or miner, so the land was unexploited.

There are also many pro-and-con questions related to "proximity to neighbors" you should look into. Having close neighbors makes you less of a target for human predators, but then you have to hope that the neighbors aren't worse than the predators. If at all possible, try to move close to people you know and trust. Obvious choices, if you have such an option, would be people related to you by blood or marriage. Even "close friends" can be less "friendly" as time goes by, whereas family members are fairly predictable.

The most basic principle of post-oil living is that we have to start thinking in terms of a smaller radius of activity. The globalized economy has to be replaced by the localized economy. In the post-oil world, most food will be produced at a local level. It is even likely that each family will have to produce its own food. The catch in growing food, however, is that most of the world's surface is permanently unsuitable for growing food. In many cases, the climate is too severe: too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. In other cases, the land is too barren to support anything but a sparse growth of wild plants, which in any case are simply growing and then dying and replacing their own material. At the same time, the land that is suitable for agriculture has been used for centuries, and the result is that the nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (N, P, K) and other elements, as well as the humus, have long been depleted, and food production has been maintained only by massive inputs of synthetic fertilizer. In addition, that farmland is crowded and expensive.

But latter-day pioneers can take advantage of the process of urbanization that has been characteristic of so many countries since the Industrial Revolution; as people moved from the countryside to the city, the result for those rural areas was sometimes not just a relative decline in population, but an absolute one. The same process is still underway. Even in highly developed countries, although the cities may be crowded there are large rural areas (often marginal uplands, admittedly) that are steadily losing population. Such depopulation presents opportunities for those who are willing to face the challenge.

People who live in the country will be better prepared than those who live in the city. A city is a place that consumes a great deal and produces little, at least in terms of essentials. A city without incoming food or water collapses rapidly, whereas a small community closely tied to the natural environment can more easily adjust to technological and economic troubles. Even out in the country, however, the present housing patterns often resemble the gasoline- induced sprawl of the suburbs. More useful would be something resembling a traditional village, with the houses at the focus and the fields radiating from that point.

One catch to buying rural property is the laws: the building codes, zoning restrictions, health codes, and so on. Once you decide to live in anything more civilized than a beaver swamp, you are automatically hit by the most amazing variety of laws. In plain English: it's illegal to live in a log cabin. In most of Canada and the US, it's against the law to live in a house that does not meet the requirements of the standard building codes.

For the US, there are about three major building codes, for different parts of the country. For Canada, there's only one code, with some regional variations. But all of these codes are basically the same. They all largely restrict housing to the familiar type of wood-frame construction. They all have strict requirements for electricity and plumbing. Don't think about living in a yurt, a teepee, a geodesic dome, or an octagonal cabin, not unless you're miles from any road or trail. A "log home" (versus a primitive log cabin) may be permitted, but by the time you've conformed to all the laws the house is not worth the bother; it's the same as a frame house but takes a lot more wood. Even mobile homes are illegal in many areas, although even in those areas you may get away with living in a "legal non-conforming" mobile home, meaning a mobile home that was put on the property before the building code was established in that area.

Rural properties nearly always need wells and septic systems, and the construction of these will add another few thousand dollars in expenses, although some areas still allow the old-fashioned pit-type outhouses.

Exactly what is allowed is a difficult thing to say, because the laws vary somewhat from one area to another. In the US, these laws are determined by the county, while in Canada the decisions are made by the township. There is no easy route: you need to check with the clerks or inspectors of any and all areas that you are interested in. But there really are not many places where there are no building codes to deal with.

Such laws put back-to-the-landers in an ambivalent situation. People who intend to live in the country are certainly "nature lovers," or they wouldn't be there in the first place. At the same time, because of the horrors of global overpopulation, resource-consumption, and environmental destruction, legislators everywhere are introducing laws that severely restrict access to the wilderness.

It's hard to say whether the present building codes and zoning restrictions do more harm than good for people who want to live in the country. Such rules certainly make life complicated -- and expensive -- for the buyer. On the other hand, since your neighbors have to follow the same laws, they ensure that you will not be shocked by the sound, sight, or smell of whatever is going on down the road. And if you buy a house, you can be fairly sure that it will not blow down the next day.

To a large extent, the laws about rural property are simply ignored. You need a building permit to do major renovations to your house, but not small ones. The difference between the two often gets intentionally blurred, and I know of one contractor who does his work first and deals with any building inspector later. Often an owner and an inspector get into a war of nerves; someone else I know kept up an argument about whether his mobile home was permanent (hence illegal) or temporary, until the inspector decided to try his luck elsewhere. To a large extent, if none of your neighbors complain, it's quite likely no one will ask you to stop what you're doing.

You might put together a shopping list that is roughly as follows: a house or mobile home in fair condition that could be used for year-round occupancy in accordance with the building code and other local laws, a few acres of arable land, a year-round road, a well, and a septic system. Electricity and a telephone would be desirable but perhaps not essential. You might be looking for a house that would cost about a quarter or an eighth of the price of a house in the city -- even though the new house would have far more land.

When you start looking at properties, one of the trickiest questions is water, and the topic often gets omitted from the advertising. Unless a cottage or cabin is stated to have a well, then it probably does not. If a rural house has no well, there is no guarantee that you can drill for water later and actually find it. A hydrologist could come and take a look and then make an educated guess. By looking at surface water and neighboring properties, you could probably make a good guess yourself. The presence of willows, alders, cattails, reeds, rushes, and so on, would also indicate water -- perhaps too much. A test drill would give a definite answer, if you were willing to pay for it. Other than that, there's always the chance that there's no water below the surface.

Of course, one way of ensuring a water supply is to buy land that adjoins a river or lake. Lake-shore property, however, is rarely worth buying. It costs about 10 times as much as other land, and you will be crammed in with other cottages and their attendant motorboats and portable radios, unless the lake is only accessible by canoe -- in which case, you'll find it nearly impossible to build or renovate a house. Property on a river or creek is somewhat less expensive, and if the water is too shallow to be navigated by motorboat then the land is less likely to be crowded.

The land has to be suitable for growing food. That means that you should not buy bare rock; in fact, you should have at least a meter of soil, so that the roots can grow long and deep in search of water and minerals. It's possible to grow crops on about three meters of land, but only if you irrigate (add water). Land that is too wet is also unsuitable, because the crops will just rot; wet lands include swamps (roughly speaking, wet land with sphagnum moss) and marshes (roughly speaking, wet lands with cattails, rushes, or reeds). Land covered by shrub willows and alders is likely to be underwater in the spring. Flat land is fine, but make sure that it isn't in danger of flooding. A gentle slope is really the ideal topography, since the slope will ensure good drainage. Too much of a slope is not a good thing, since you'll find all your soil washing away as soon as you remove the grass; you could devise some sort of terracing, Tibetan-style, by collecting stones from the fields, but to produce a large enough garden by that method would entail an impossible amount of labor. Land completely covered with trees would provide firewood but make gardening difficult; the trees could be chopped down, but removing the stumps would be a major task. On the other hand, don't be discouraged by land that has three-meter-high weeds, since they indicate fertile soil; it's land that has little or no vegetation that should worry you. Whether the soil is clay or sand is not terribly important, although somewhere between the two would be preferable. Even land that has been "farmed out" -- impoverished by misuse -- should not necessarily be avoided, since there are sometimes ways to improve the fertility of land.

There are a few pros and cons to living in different areas of North America. The general rule is that west of the 100th meridian the US is rather dry, so the availability of water becomes a primary consideration. Anywhere in the Boston-New-York-Washington megalopolis is too crowded. Generally speaking, I wouldn't look for land that was within two hours' drive of a large city, because it would be too expensive. Yet prices can be surprising: land within an hour's drive of a big city is sometimes cheaper than similar property hundreds of miles further north. Don't buy land right on a seacoast, because it will be too rocky, and the salt in the air won't be good for your crops.

You may want to ask a real-estate agent about any local problems with crime. In rural areas, especially away from paved roads, it may take a couple of hours for police to arrive, so stay away from such an area if a family of crazies is already living there. (Conversely, criminals like isolated areas precisely because they know it will take time for the police to arrive.) In general, areas of poverty are areas of high crime rates, even if it's politically incorrect to say such a thing. And by crime, I don't mean the Mafia variety, but more like what is called borderline criminality -- trespassing, noise, petty fraud, and so on, things that wouldn't get much response from the police but which can still be unpleasant for the victims.

The house should be in good condition, but it doesn't need to be large. Urban houses today are nearly three times as large as those of the 1950s and hold fewer people; don't get caught in the tide of consumerism. The biggest question is: Are you going to buy a ready-built house, or build a new one? Probably you're going to buy a ready-made one, and there are two reasons for that.

The first is financial. It's generally cheaper to buy a house with land, rather than to buy land and build a house later. That's particularly true if you're buying a fair amount of land. If a farmer is trying to get rid of a piece of vacant land, he can wait until someone is willing to pay his price. If he's trying to get rid of a piece of land that has a house on it, he's in a bit of a bind, because he's going to be paying high taxes on it (well, higher than on vacant land) every year until someone buys it. That problem of taxes can work in your favor; the seller will keep his price low enough that he can get rid of the property fairly quickly. That rule isn't always true, by any means. Obviously the condition of the house is a major variable, for one thing. But you'll probably find that a house and land separately are more expensive than a house and land together.

Having said all that, though, I should point out some exceptions. For one thing, you might not have the money to buy both land and a house, in which case you might want to buy one at a time. Buying the two separately might also give you more to choose from. Here in Canada, for example, there are endless opportunities to buy vacant land ranging in size from 10 acres to 50, with a good road adjoining the land, and the list price will be about $10,000 in every case -- those are Canadian dollars in the early twenty-first century, but they've stayed fairly float for decades. You could camp on the land until you had built a permanent home with some further cash. If you find an area that is tolerant of mobile homes, you might find that the most economical approach is to buy the land and later put in such a home.

The other reason why you would probably buy a ready-made house is that it is difficult for one or two people to build a house that meets the restrictions of today's building codes. I've met men and women who've built their own homes, but such people are not common. If you've spent a few years doing construction jobs, then you might consider building a house with your own hands, but otherwise you're facing quite a challenge. Building codes are complicated. Even if you could follow the regulations, it would take a great many hours of labor to finish the job.

Buying a house, rural or urban, involves a certain ritual, and to deviate from that ritual can be fatal. If you see a listing that tempts you, call the real-estate agent whose phone number is shown, and make an appointment to look at the property. If possible, book two or three trips in the same area on that same day. When the agent shows you the property, have a good hard look at the house. Start by having a look at the outside: if the walls are leaning or badly cracked, the house cannot be repaired and should not be bought. Look at the roof: if the shingles are so old and wrinkled that they look like potato chips, then there's a fair chance that the plywood underneath is rotten, which means thousands of dollars in repairs. Go inside: any water stains on the ceiling or walls? If so, are the stains still damp, or have the leaks been repaired? Check the floors: if they sag like a trampoline, they're rotten. Check the plumbing (turn on the taps, flush the toilet). Check the windows (are they single pane or double, and what's the condition of the frames?). What kind of electrical system is in place? Don't worry about dirt -- you're bound to find enough of that, especially if nobody is living in the house -- but pay attention to serious defects that will need to be fixed and that will therefore add to your labor or expenses. There's a mysterious border between "fixable" and "unfixable," and if you buy a house that's in the latter category, you'll just end up reselling the place for less than you paid. (None of that will bother your spouse, because he or she will have left you by that point!) Then look at the land: is there really enough arable land, enough water, enough sunlight?

Don't go on your gut feelings; it's far too easy to fall in love with a property -- it's almost instinctive, that cave-dweller's craving for a place of your own. The more practical approach would be to start taking notes on the back of the listing page; by the time you get home you'll have forgotten half of what you've seen.

It would probably be a good idea to hire a professional home inspector, if you can find somebody in that area. Unfortunately, the qualifications for that job are often rather vague, so try to get a name from someone you trust. Make sure the inspector isn't also a renovator, or you may get conned into repairs you don't need. If you find someone reliable, make it a condition of the sale that the inspector be allowed to look at the house and submit a written report.

You'll need a good wood-burning stove. You might not need what is called a "wood-burning cook-stove," a 300-kg monster with an oven, a hot-water reservoir, and so on. A small, simple, 150-kg wood-burning heater can be used for boiling or frying, costs far less than a cook-stove, and will heat an average-sized house, even up in the northern parts of the continent.

If you're new to a certain area, it's considered ethical to shop around from one agent to another for a while. Once an agent has taken you on a number of trips, however, it's generally considered your responsibility to stick with that agent. It's hard to say when such a partnership begins, but if you're willing to place your inquiries with one agent you'll find that the benefits are mutual -- loyal customers tend to get better service. On the other hand, if you feel that you're being taken on too many wild-goose chases, it may be better to find another someone else.

Be careful with real-estate agents. Most are honest and efficient, but some are better than others. Beware of agents who try to con you with certain expressions. "This'll sell quickly. You'd better put in an offer fast." "Don't worry about that clause. I don't know about you city folks, but around here we generally settle things with a handshake." "What do you mean, the roof is caving in? What do you expect for that kind of money?" "Gee, you want to see inside the place? What's the matter, you don't trust me?"

In some places, real-estate agents must state whether they are acting as vendors' agents or as buyers' agents -- i.e., whether they are working for you or for the other party. The distinction is not entirely necessary, since most areas have laws stating that agents must fully disclose all relevant information; they aren't allowed to tell lies or to omit critical facts.

If you find a property that seems to meet all your requirements, go home. Take a deep breath. A day or two later, if you're still convinced that the property is worth buying, call the agent and put in an offer. How much to offer is always a difficult question. Very roughly speaking, a property can be bought for about 80 percent of its list price. But that's very rough. It may well be the case that the owner is desperate to get rid of it, in which case you might even get a 30 percent discount. Or the opposite can happen: maybe the owner is quite happy to wait for ages until someone is willing to cough up the asking price. That question of price involves some real talent at haggling. It gets to be a war of nerves: you don't want to pay the entire asking price, but you may still be afraid of letting a nice piece of property slip through your hands. When you've told the agent what you'd like to pay, you'll be sent a purchase-offer document, with standard clauses inserted, and of course with your name and your offering price.

Be certain to give this paper to a lawyer before you sign anything. Yes, you'll have to pay the lawyer a few hundred dollars to do all the legal work, but it still works out to be cheap insurance. You'll save yourself a lot of suffering if a lawyer can spot errors right away; six months later is not a good time to find out that you don't own what you thought you owned.

During the negotiations, don't be shy about calling that lawyer. You're paying him or her to do a job, so you have a right to ask questions. Don't sit by the phone, waiting for the lawyer to call you instead; your phone may never ring. Some lawyers do an excellent job, whereas others seem to think they're being paid hundreds of dollars just to sign a piece of paper. For various reasons, lawyers sometimes take on too many clients, which again means your case might not get much attention if you say nothing. In any case, informed questions get better responses than dumb ones, so read the purchase agreement carefully; if you don't understand the terminology, go to a library or bookstore and get a few books on the subject of real estate.

Be especially careful with all clauses involving wells and septic systems. Is it a dug well or a drilled well? What kind of pump does it have? Get a potability test. What kind of septic system is installed? How old are the well and septic system? Ask your lawyer to get copies of all relevant documents regarding construction and maintenance.

If both you and the lawyer are satisfied with the purchase offer, sign it and fax it back to the agent. The offer will mention three dates: the irrevocable date (the last date on which the vendor can agree to your offer), the title-search date (the latest date on which your lawyer can check the title), and the most important one, the closing date (when you officially take possession, which can be anywhere from one month to three months after you sign the offer). The agent will show the offer to the vendor. If the vendor is satisfied, he or she also signs the offer, and it is sent back to you. There may be some last-minute haggling, but at some point both parties have to decide when to stop quibbling and just sign the paper. Practically speaking, the property is now yours. You must then send a deposit to the agent (whatever deposit amount you stated in the offer). If you need a mortgage, you must be sure that your bank is ready to lend you the money, although the general agreement with the bank should have been worked out even before you started looking for property.

Now that the property is yours, you can start thinking about the future. Ideally, you should have plenty of time to clean the new house thoroughly before you move in. When the cleaning is finished, paint anything that needs to be painted. Keep the paint simple, and don't get involved with wallpaper, because it takes longer and costs more. When the painting is finished, you can move in the furniture. And unless there's snow on the ground, you can start preparing a garden.


Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)



Monday, October 28, 2013

Survive Peak Oil North of 49

I hardly ever use my car during the week, because from home to the library (my no-rent office) is only about a half-hour's walk (my no-fee fitness program). But when walking home recently I stopped at the Canadian Tire hardware store for ten minutes of assembling a shopping list. I already have good boots, sleeping bag, parka, knife, compass, backpacks, tarpaulin, rope, etc. (and I usually don't leave home without at least a small knife and matches), so they weren't on the list. I still need a gun -- maybe start with a single-shot .22, though I'm trying to avoid spending money, having had almost no income for three years. But two items I liked at the store were:

* A medium-sized ax with two-and-a-half pound head. Small enough to carry, but big enough to be useful. (That weight is recommended in Ellsworth Jaeger's Wildwood Wisdom, which looks like a book for teenagers but is actually far more than that.) About $30.

* A Rappala all-in-one fishing kit, the whole thing in a plastic package. The rod is take-apart, so it's easy to carry in a car or knapsack. I'd go for a spinning (open) reel, not any other kind. Also looks like kid stuff, but might do better than a stick, a string, and a bent nail. Also about $30.

All of the above, including the fishing kit and the ax, would fit in (or on) my best backpack, from Mountain Equipment Co-op (well over $100 when I bought it many years ago). I might stop at Canadian Tire some other day also. But I must avoid the common myth that a true "survivalist" is the one who has thousands of dollars of high-tech gear but no real knowledge to go with it.

-- After the initial day of Peter's Ten-Minute Survival Window Shopping Program (PTMSWSP), I realized that all the things I have, plus the two things from Canadian Tire, might fit in, on, or under my knapsack, but my knees would buckle after walking two steps. Interesting.

So that leads to the question of the famous bug-out kit everyone talks about. Seems to me that in summer a great deal could be left behind, but then what do you do as winter approaches and you have no winter sleeping bag and so on?

In any case, it also seems that a bug-out kit that takes the form of a box or bag is only of use if you're planning to build a log cabin or something right where you've parked the car. Then why not put up a sign saying "Please Rob Me"? Whereas if you intend to leave the car behind and head off on a less-traveled path, you'll have to rely on a very good backpack and the (relatively) little that it would hold. I know the old story of the Indian woman who escaped from enemies and spent the winter making a shelter, traps, etc. with only a knife, but I personally don't think I'd last more than five minutes in a snowstorm, without a good deal of modern equipment. Well, OK, in a snowstorm I'd start by getting under the snow, not over it -- I've built some nice snow shelters over the years. So maybe I'd survive.

Moral of the story? Instead of focusing so much on a bug-out kit, maybe build a cache, storing what you need in some way that everything would be hidden and protected from human and animal thieves, for years if necessary.

In my near-north days I bought some old crosscut saws, all of them well over four or five feet long, cleaned off the rust as much as possible, and tried sawing. I was defeated to some extent because I couldn't get rid of the pitting. I finally learned that Lehman's (on-line) sells brand-new timber saws, and that they're said to cut much faster than a bow (Swede) saw, at least if they're oiled before use. I meant to order one, but then I ended up in Oman for three years (from which I am still recovering, mentally and otherwise). But I hope one day I can get one of those new crosscut saws.

Somebody mentioned that, instead of thinking so much in terms of backpacks or bug-out kits, using a canoe might be a good idea, because canoes can go where cars cannot, and because they can be paddled, carried, or dragged. I've always liked canoes myself. Good thinking. And I agree that canoes can go where other things can't. In fact there are many rivers or streams where canoes can go but a motorboat wouldn't have room, in terms of either depth or width. Certainly you're not likely to be followed.

One dilemma I have at the moment, though, is that the cheap land is all on the East Coast (more like latitude 45 than 49), and the land there is also good farming land. There are a few catches. One is that it's a fair distance from my present neck of the woods (in Ontario), so not suitable for weekend visits. The other is that the East Coast has terrible poverty (not mentioned on TV), which in turn means a high crime rate. In Nova Scotia, when I was there, it seemed people made a living largely from marijuana-growing and from deer-poaching. (Been following some other people who also moved out there recently.) Most of Ontario is just rock, on the other hand, but hunting and fishing would be possibilities, at least north of Kapuskasing, Cochrane, and Cobalt, which are OK if you like eight months of winter. So there are pros and cons of everywhere.

I've heard that the high prices of property in Canada are due to the high immigration rate, causing competition for whatever is available. So there's a curious bit of tension likely to build up for that reason. In addition, if the Energy East pipeline goes through to New Brunswick, that might create jobs and reduce poverty there, but also increase the price of land. Some big unknowns. Of course, that leads to the bigger question of whether in an Apocalyptic moment it would be worth the bother to be buying or owning land. Maybe the smart ones would be squatting, to use a good UK English word.

Someone questioned my mention of a .22 that's merely single-shot. Such a gun is lightweight, and simple enough not to go wrong. For hunting it's fine -- if you can't hit something with the first shot, you're doing something wrong. But for self-defense, I admit, a single-shot .22 is questionable, especially if the bad guys have something more advanced.


Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)



Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Boy and His Gun


Although handguns are quite restricted here in Canada, "long guns" are available for anyone who has a firearms license, although getting such a thing involves taking a course and passing a fairly difficult test. I've owned guns at various times here over the years, and lately I've been thinking of buying land again and feeding myself partly by hunting. I suppose if all hell broke lose -- which I suspect will be the case -- then a hunting rifle might end up being used also as an instrument of self-defense.

I went looking at bolt-action deer rifles in Canadian Tire, Canada's biggest hardware-store chain, basically the only gun supplier in this town. I discovered that it's impossible to buy any gun made by Winchester, including .308 (perhaps the most desirable caliber) at least until 2015. Winchester guns are made in Japan, and the earthquake put them about two years behind in production -- one more piece of information about Fukushima.

Bolt action is the most reliable, especially for a future world where gunsmiths will not be found so easily, and the two of the best brands have always been Remington and Winchester. The Remington 700 in .308 is still available here in Canada. With no extras, the price is over $500. The Savage 110 in .270 (not .308) caliber is available in .270 caliber, but that caliber of ammunition is less readily available than .308. Canadian Tire doesn't sell any Rugers.

There's also a Chinese gun in .308 caliber, much cheaper than Remington and Winchester. That's the JW 15 model made by Norinco. A trustworthy military friend of mine (US Army, retired) says the gun is actually a very good one. It's sold at Canadian Tire.

Canadian Tire sells no single-shot .22 rifles, at least at the moment, even though such things have always been popular as "survival guns." (The Winchester Cooey was very popular in Canada, and I owned one myself for many years.) They sell the Savage bolt-action (not single shot) .22 for about $200 or $300.

A 12-gauge shotgun is hard to beat, especially in terms of power. But the ammo is heavy and bulky, and I wouldn't try to hit anything more than 50 meters away. But for self-defense, a 12-gauge shotgun would be a good choice, as any police officer can tell you. For either hunting or self-defense, I wouldn't bother with anything smaller than 12-gauge, it's pointless -- a 12 gauge can do anything a smaller gauge can do, using a variety of ammunition, so any other gauge has no advantages. For the totally uninitiated: shotguns not only fire shells containing shot (each shell has many little balls of lead) but also slugs (shells containing a big hemispherical projectile). Slugs can be useful for deer, moose, or bear, at fairly short distances.

Police officers seem to prefer shotguns, especially pump action (for getting a second or third shot off quickly) with short barrels. I saw police car in Toronto once, with a trunk-load of such things. Don't ask me what they were doing. Times have changed. Toronto used to be the sort of place where you could drop a five-dollar bill on the sidewalk and come back the next day and pick it up.

My military friend recommends a .308 or thereabouts as a self-defense weapon, besides as a deer rifle. There's a good deal of difference between a .308 and a .22, though. A .308 cartridge is about the size of a finger, whereas a .22 cartridge is about the size of the filter of a cigarette. Also, there's the .22 short ammunition (mainly for target practice) and the .22 long rifle (.22 LR), which is suitable for various kinds of small game.

I've heard that a .22 handgun is popular with professional killers, partly because it's so quiet, and partly because one or two in the temple have the effect of rattling around and doing a lot of damage. How much of that is folklore is something I can't say.

I don't own any guns these days, but if I bought land again perhaps my first gun would be the same as the first one I had as a teenager -- a single-shot .22. It's cheap, it's lightweight, and it has almost no parts to go wrong. It would certainly be suitable for hunting rabbits and similar game. Because I don't have a gun right now, though, I worry somewhat about the possibility that prices will get too high, or that laws will suddenly change. Still, I must be sure never to lose my license to own a gun -- at least as long as there are such things as laws. Not too far north of the US border, gardening wouldn't be so easy, and most people who live there rely on hunting to supplement the food supply.

Never mind. At the End of the World as We Know It, maybe we can just sit in the drive-in lane at the nearest hamburger franchise, and hope something comes along. I guess if God had wanted us to use our feet and go on long hikes through the woods, he wouldn't have made us with car seats stuck to our asses.



Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)



Monday, September 30, 2013

Primitive Fire-Making and Cooking

Bow Drill
A fire is made of three parts: the tinder, the kindling, and the main fuel. The tinder is some sort of fine material that burns easily, such as shredded bark. The kindling is slightly heavier material, such as twigs. To start a fire, place a small wad of tinder in the center of the fireplace, pile a little tepee of twigs over it, and light it. When the twigs are burning well, the main fuel goes on: the logs. If you don't add enough wood to a fire, it will go out, but a fire will go out just as easily if you add too much wood too quickly. Make sure that the wood that is already on the fire is blazing well before you add any more.
 
A fireplace can be quite simple, just a ring of heavy stones, or perhaps a mound of stones. The stones help to keep in the heat of the fire, so that even in the morning there will be a few sparks still glowing. Whoever wakes up first can drop a few pieces of tinder on those sparks and blow gently until a new fire begins to blaze.

Your main fuel should be from standing dead trees and dead branches. It's often possible to get enough wood just by breaking it with your hands; an ax or saw isn't always necessary.

In many primitive cultures, meat is generally boiled, whereas modern people are more likely to prepare meat by roasting it. Clay pots can be used to boil food, and the pot is usually placed right on the ground, with a ring of fire built around it.

In some parts of the world there is no clay, and sometimes people move around a good deal and don't want to be carrying anything as heavy as a clay pot. So instead, they boil food either in very tightly woven baskets or in containers made of sheets of birch bark. (On the Northwest Coast of North America, Indians used wooden boxes. The Plains Indians just dug a shallow pit and lined it with a piece of rawhide.) These baskets aren't usually placed directly on the flames. Instead, rocks are heated in the fire. Wooden tongs are then used to pick a hot stone out of the fire and drop it into the water and food in the basket. The rock might be rolled around to prevent it from burning straight through the bottom of the basket. When that rock cools, it can be lifted out and another one added. This method sounds rather primitive, but it really doesn't take long to get food to boil by this method. Don't use rocks that have been lying in water, because they might explode, and don't use sandstone, because it will crumble. Quartz and flint are also inclined to explode.

If you prefer to roast meat, though, stick it on a wooden spit and hold it over the flames. You can also bake meat, by wrapping it in large leaves, such as corn husks or skunk-cabbage leaves, and burying it in the ashes of a good hard-wood fire that has burned long enough to be mostly coals and ashes rather than bright flames.

Another method of cooking involves using a pit. This pit might be anywhere from 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 m) in depth. A fire is built and lit at the bottom of the pit, and large stones are placed on the fire to heat. When the stones are red hot, the coals and any remaining unburned wood are removed from the pit, or at least pushed around until flames have died down. The food is placed on top of the stones, perhaps after being wrapped in leaves. Everything is covered with some sort of vegetation, such as bark or grass, and soil is piled over the top of this. The pit is left for a few hours. The temperature of the rocks is always slowly going down, so there is little chance of the food being burned. Some kinds of food are left for days in these pits. Since the making of these pits involves a certain amount of work, this kind of cooking tends to be a community affair.

On the seacoast, a variation of the pit cooking is pit steaming. The pit is dug in the usual way, the rocks are heated by a fire, and the food is added, but wet seaweed is piled on top of the food before the whole thing is covered with soil. The rocks heat the seaweed and create a lot of steam, and it is the steam which cooks the food. This technique is used nowadays in seaside clam bakes.

There is another way of pit steaming. Again, the pit is dug, and the rocks are heated in a fire, and the food is added. But while the dirt is being put in, a stick is placed so that it stands straight up in the middle of the mound. When all the dirt has been put on, the stick is carefully pulled out, so that there is a hole leading down towards the food. Water is poured down this hole, and as it hits the rocks down below, it creates steam.

A new fire can be started from the sparks of an older fire, or from a neighbor's fire. If you're traveling, you can carry a piece of cedar-bark or sagebrush-bark rope (or just a wad of the bark, hidden in a clam shell or other fireproof container). This rope can be lit before you go on the trip, and if it is watched carefully it will stay lit throughout the journey, so that it can be used to start a fire when camp is finally made. It isn't kept burning as a flame, but only smoldering, like a cigarette. But there are times when no spark is available, and it is necessary to create a new one.

A spark can be created by striking together two pieces of flint or quartz. A simpler, slightly more modern technique is to use a piece of flint and a piece of steel; an old file works very well. Hold one stone in your left hand (if you're right-handed), with your palm up, and place a ball of very fine tinder in that same hand: puffball spores or pulverized rotten wood, for example. The inner bark of cedar will work, but it will need to be almost powdered. Strike the left-hand stone with another one in your right hand, letting the sparks drop onto the tinder until it starts to smolder. When it does, blow on it until you get a flame.

Another device is a wooden fire kit. It is shaped like a drill, which spins in a hole on a piece of board. As the drill spins in the hole, it creates friction, and the friction causes the wood to heat up. If the drill is spun fast enough and long enough, the heat will cause the tinder to start smoking, until finally a red spark will start to glow. There are several kinds of fire kits, but a common sort is used with a bow that makes the drill turn.

This sort of fire kit has 4 parts. The first part is the drill itself, which is a stick about 2 feet (60 cm) long and about as thick as your thumb. The second part is the hearth, which is a flat piece of wood placed on the ground, and which has an indentation that the drill is fitted into. The third part is the bow, which has a string that wraps around the drill to make it spin. The fourth part is the socket, which is a little piece of wood, bone, or stone that holds the top of the drill steady.

If you want to make a fire kit, you need to look for the right kind of wood. Several different kinds of wood can be used, but some are more useful than others. The drill and the hearth can be made out of the same kind of wood, or you may prefer to use a hard wood for the drill and a softer wood for the hearth. You might want to use two good pieces of willow or poplar, which are fairly soft woods. Other good kinds of wood are pine or cedar. (There are several kinds of trees called "cedar" -- eastern white cedar, eastern red cedar, western yellow cedar. They aren't really related to each other, but they all do well for making fire kits.) In North America, other useful types of wood are ash, oak, basswood, slippery elm, and sassafras.

The type of wood you use is important, but what is more important is that the wood must be dead and dry -- very dry. Indians sometimes used rotten wood for the hearth, finding that this heated up more quickly than sound wood. They also often held the drill and the hearth over a flame before putting it away, finding that the charring made the drill work better the next time.

The drill is, as I said, about 2 feet (60 cm) long, and it should be thick enough that it won't bend as it spins. You could just make the drill out of a twig with the bark peeled off, but you can make a stronger drill if you split a log into quarters and then split out a piece of heartwood of the right thickness and whittle it to shape. In fact, it's better if the drill isn't rounded -- give it flat sides, like the sides of a pencil. That way the bowstring will be able to grip the drill better without slipping.

The bottom end of the drill should be cut to a rounded shape, but leave it quite blunt. That's the part that will fit into the hearth, and you need it blunt so that it will rub a lot. The top end of the drill, however, should be cut to a fairly sharp point, because that's the part that fits into the socket, and you want that part to turn smoothly.

The hearth is a flat board about as long as the drill, 2 or 3 inches (5-7.5 cm) wide, and about ½ inch or an inch (1-2.5 cm) thick. Like the drill, it should be split out of a log if possible, although it's true that a hearth can made just by splitting a thick branch in half. Using a knife, drill a shallow hole very near the side of the hearth. Make the hole about ¼ inch (6 mm) deep, and about ½ inch (1 cm) wide. This is the hole that the bottom of the drill is going to fit into. The drill shouldn't go very far down into the hole. Then turn the hearth on its side and cut a big notch right into the side, so that the notch cuts right into the center of that shallow hole you had cut for the drill. The notch will allow the heat from the bottom of the drill to reach the tinder you'll be placing there.

The socket, on top of the drill, can be any old shape, but it needs to fit comfortably under your left hand (if you're left-handed), and it needs to have a small hole underneath it to hold the sharp-pointed top of the drill. The socket can be made out of a piece of hard wood, perhaps a knot, but a piece of bone would be better. If you can find a smooth stone of the right shape, with a little hole on one side, you're in luck.

The bow should be a bent piece of wood about 2 feet (60 cm) long, roughly the same length as the drill and the hearth. Some bows are made out of flexible wood, but a curved piece of a stiff dead branch is better. Cut a notch in a circle around each end of the bow, and fasten a cord to these ends. The cord needs to be strong, and a rawhide thong would be perfect. It should sag quite a bit, because it needs to wrapped around the drill.

Now that your fire kit is finished, you need some tinder to go with it. Once again the various trees called cedars are all useful; get some inner bark from one of these trees, preferably from a dead tree, and pull it to shreds or rub it between your hands until the fibers are well separated. You could also use the bark of white birch, either the outer bark, pulled into fine shreds, or the dark inner bark, used the same way. Pulverized rotten wood works well, and very dry grass or moss will work if you rub it enough to break it up somewhat (mouse nests and some bird nests are made of well-frayed grass). Or you can pulverize various kinds of bracket fungi, which are hard growths that take the form of shelves or plates growing on the sides of trees; the kinds that grow on white birch are quite good, and the wood where the birch fungus "roots" have penetrated also makes good tinder. In western North America you can use a kind of shrub called big sagebrush. You can also use the dried fibers of Indian hemp, which is also one of the best materials for making rope. A piece of cotton cloth that has been set on fire and stamped on (so that it is well blackened but not burned to ashes) makes good tinder material.

Put together some twigs for a fire, arranged in a tepee form, and have some tinder ready. Do this before you start trying to create a spark, because you'll be too busy afterward. Now put your fire kit together. Put the hearth on the ground, with the "hole side" to the right. Put a small piece of bark under the hole, to catch the spark. Put your left foot on the hearth to hold it down. Hold the drill in your left hand, and the bow in your right hand (if you're right-handed). Put the drill against the bowstring and twist it once around the string. The twist has to be the right way, so that the nearer half of the bowstring is higher than the other half; if you put the twist in the wrong way, the string will rub against itself and eventually break. Put the bottom of the drill into the hole in the hearth. Then put the socket onto the top of the drill. You might also try putting a few grains of sand into the hole on the hearth, to increase the friction on the bottom of the drill.

Hold the bowstring with the tips of your fingers, so that the string grips the drill tightly. Start pushing the bow back and forth, so that the drill also turns back and forth. Keep the drill held down with your left hand, but use a moderate amount of pressure. If you don't press hard enough, you won't be able to create any heat, but if you press too hard, the drill won't turn properly. Keep sawing back and forth, keeping up a reasonable speed. If you go too fast, you're going to tire yourself out before you've created a spark, so don't overdo it. It takes a fair amount of practice to get the right motion, but if you've got it right, within a few minutes you'll see a thin gray wisp of smoke curling up from the tinder.

This first wisp of smoke won't be enough to start a fire, but if you keep going, the gray smoke will turn into a much thicker curl of black smoke, and this means that the center of the wood-powder is actually starting to glow.

Now put down the bow and drill. Pick up the piece of bark with the burning powder and drop the powder into a wad of tinder. Blow gently on the tinder, so that the spark begins to glow more brightly. If you've got to that stage, it shouldn't be more than a few seconds before the tinder actually bursts into flames. As soon as that happens, put the tinder under the tepee of twigs in the fireplace and blow or fan the fire until it's going well.


Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)







Monday, September 9, 2013

Strong Medicine

With help from The People's Common Sense Medical Adviser in Plain English, by R. V. Pierce. His comments are in bold.

There are some beneficial herbs that one is NOT likely to find in the books on herbal medicine now available in libraries and book-stores. Perhaps the main reason for their absence is that the most powerful medicines (especially in the wrong doses) tend to be the most toxic and are therefore under legal controls. These same medicines, however, are generally also psychotropic drugs -- "recreational drugs" -- and so the reason for their banishment may be as much moralistic as medical. Yet these plants were commonly described in "family medical guides" from before about 1920. The following is intended only for academic interest, with relevance to issues of post-collapse living. None of these plants should be utilized without professional medical guidance.

The scientific names and the common English names are included below, although common names are confusing because one species may have several common names, or one common name may be applied to several species.

Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger). Family Solanaceae.

HYOSCYAMUS (Hyoscyamus Niger), commonly known as Henbane. The herb is used. It is a powerful narcotic, and unlike Opium, does not constipate the bowels, but possesses a laxative tendency. Therefore, it may be employed as an anodyne for allaying pain, calming the mind, inducing sleep and arresting spasms, when opiates are inadmissible. Dose--Of alcoholic extract, one-half to two grains; of fluid extract, five to ten drops; of the concentrated principle, Hyoscyamin, one-twelfth to one-fourth of a grain.

Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna). Family Solanaceae. Not to be confused with several other plants also called nightshade.

BELLADONNA (Atropa Belladonna) or Deadly Nightshade. The herb or leaves are a valuable agent. In overdoses, it is an energetic, narcotic poison. In medicinal doses it is anodyne, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, and diuretic. It is excellent in neuralgia, epilepsy, mania, amaurosis, whooping-cough, stricture, rigidity of the os uteri, and is supposed by some to be a prophylactic or preventive of Scarlet Fever. Its influence upon the nerve centers is remarkable. It relaxes the blood vessels on the surface of the body and induces capillary congestion, redness of the eye, scarlet appearance of the face, tongue, and body. Dose--Of fluid extract, one-half to one drop; of tincture, one to two drops; of concentrated principle, Atropin, one-thirtieth to one-sixteenth of a grain; of the Alkaloid, Atropia, one-sixtieth of a grain. Even the most skillful chemists are very cautious in compounding these latter active principles, and the danger of an overdose is great.

Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium). Family Solanaceae.

STRAMONIUM (Datura Stramonium). Stramonium, also known as Thorn-apple, in large doses is a powerful narcotic poison. In medicinal doses it acts as an anodyne and antispasmodic

Dose--Of extract of the leaves, from one-half to one grain; of the fluid extract, from three to six drops.

Monkshood (Aconitum spp.) Family Solanaceae.

ACONITE (Aconitum Napellus). The parts used are the root and leaves. Aconite slows the pulse, diminishes arterial tension, and lowers the temperature of the body in fevers. It is an effectual remedy in acute inflammation of the tonsils and throat, in acute bronchitis, in inflammation of the lungs, and pleurisy, in the hot stage of intermittent and remittent fevers, in the eruptive fevers, in fever arising from a cold, and in some forms of neuralgia. Acute suppression of the menses from a cold, may be relieved by the tincture of aconite in drop doses every hour. Dose--Of the tincture of the root, from one-half of a drop to two drops, in a spoonful of water, in acute fevers and inflammations, from one-half drop to one drop should be administered every half hour or hour, according to the severity of the symptoms.

Foxglove (Digitalis spp.). Family Plantaginaceae.

FOXGLOVE (Digitalis purpurea) slows the action of the heart, lowers the temperature, and acts indirectly as a diuretic. It is especially valuable in the treatment of scarlet fever and in dropsy. Dose--Of infusion, one-half drachm to one-half ounce; of the fluid extract or strong tincture, from two to ten drops. It should be used with caution. A poultice made of the leaves and placed over the kidneys is an effectual method of employing the drug.

Poppy (Papaver somniferum). Family Papaveraceae. The source of opiates.

OPIUM (Papaver Somniferum). Opium is a stimulant, anodyne, or narcotic, according to the size of the dose administered. Dose--Of the dry powder, one-fourth to one grain; of tincture (Laudanum), five to fifteen drops; of camphorated tincture (Paregoric), one-half to one teaspoonful; of Morphine, one-eighth to one-fourth grain; of Dover's Powder three to five grains.

Indian Hemp (Cannabis indica). Family Cannabaceae. Closely related to marijuana, Cannabis sativa. Not to be confused with another "Indian Hemp," the completely unrelated Apocynum cannabinum.

INDIAN HEMP (Cannabis Indica). An East Indian plant. Dose--Of the extract, from one-fourth to one-half grain, of the tincture, from three to eight drops; of the fluid extract, from two to five drops. The plant known as Indian Hemp, growing in this country, possesses very different qualities.

It's curious that the first three above all belong to the same family, the Solanaceae, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, and tobacco, all of which are also toxic, at least in certain parts of the plant. Yet those first three in the list above were extensively used, in the right dosages, as pain relievers (aka analgesics, anodynes, anesthetics, etc.).

Foxglove is famous for treatment of heart problems. Opium and Indian hemp are pain-relievers or have other beneficial effects on the nervous system.

Any revival of the use of these plants would obviously have to take into consideration the fact that the wrong application could be toxic or even fatal. Yet the fact remains that they are more powerful than less tightly controlled herbal remedies. Any future breakdown of social order, perhaps to the point where there is a complete collapse of formal medical systems, might be ameliorated by an understanding of these older remedies.


Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)