I have lived on and with the same land for 50 years. Where there were
farms, and then raw bulldozer gashes and new homes, there are now
modest regrowth, a few chickens, and old homes ready for teardown.
Our own home is patched and upgraded but still inefficient, the land
needs terracing, and we wonder what global warming will do. I (and
others) are in a battle with developers who want to turn the last
natural and rural places of our county into gated communities,
high-rise condos and office parks.
The big disruptive events (earthquakes, snowstorms, hurricanes,
floods, terrorist bombings, etc.) either break/damage normal
infrastructure (police, fire dept, AAA, medics, phone system) or make
it difficult to reach them. You should be prepared to survive several
days on the road while making your way home, and then survive for
weeks at home while you and neighbors reinvent necessities. See
Local technologies which work over generations. Highly tuned to local
conditions. Here in Western Washington we have (or had) temperate
rain forests dominated by Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and
Jan Halliday, Gail Chehak. "Native Peoples of the Northwest", 2nd ed.
Sasquatch Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57061-241-2. Guide to cultural
heritage centers and museums. Visit with the intent to understand and
carry on the technologies, not just to be mildly amused for an
Hillary Stewart. "Indian Fishing: Early Methods on the Northwest
Coast". University of Washington Press, 1977. ISBN 0-295-95803-0.
Fishing from boat and shore, ocean and river, line-caught, spears,
nets, weirs, etc. Salmon is the reason there was a Northwest culture
at all. Exterminating the salmon has had the same effect locally as
exterminating the bison had on the Great Plains.
Hillary Stewart. "Cedar: Tree of life to the Northwest Indians".
University of Washington Press, 1984. ISBN 0-295-97448-6. How to
make life's necessities from cedar trees. Once you read this book,
you will realize how precious they are, and how insane to reduce them
to shingles and patio furniture.
These are similar to native culture in their focus on non-domesticated
resources, but they often use high-tech (and possibly not sustainable)
materials and tools.
With growing human population, shrinking wilds, and ever better
technologies, hunters/fishermen/food-gatherers can wipe out a resource
quite easily. Thus we must live within artificial restrictions. As a
rule, the more effective a technique, the less approved it will be.
However, even in that world it is possible to add food to the larder.
One aspect of better technique is better knowledge of the prey.
Game-cams, wildlife biologists, and tracking collars have given us
insights native cultures barely glimpsed. Thus, start with
biology. Then apply common sense and a
few fairly low-tech tools.
Wild plant gathering is easiest, with greens, nuts, berries, and
mushrooms being the most obvious. Unfortunately, ruthless businessmen
hire people to stripmine these "common" resources.
Coastal shellfish are next. Crabs, mussels, clams, and oysters are
the primary targets. Again, poachers over-harvest resources husbanded
by the rest of us.
Fishing with spears, nets, and weirs is so effective that it is
largely off-limits. Among legal techniques, live-bait-with-bobber is
effective (and therefore declasse). At the other extreme fly fishing
with ultra-light tackle and barbless hooks is an art which might
incidentally produce fish. It may be sustainable for the fish but not
necessarily for the fisherman's family.
Hunting with modern firearms, esp. large game on public lands, is a
low-percentage affair. Hunter's orange clothing somewhat negates the
skills of primitive hunting, but is a necessity. The sheer number of
hunters in a small space and short time window also cuts the results.
Bow hunting allows using more hunting skills, but a modern compound
bow is no more primitive or sustainable than a 30.06. A hand-crafted
yew bow backed with sinew (a la Ishi) on the other hand would be a
real adventure. Then again, how many yew trees can our forests
Tom Brown, Jr. "Tom Brown's Field Guide to Nature Observation and
Tacking". Berkley Books, 1983. ISBN 0-425-09966-0. How to read
natural signs of past events, esp tracks. The book is actually much
more about becoming one with nature than pure technique.
Field & Stream. "The Complete Hunter". The Lyons Press, 2004. ISBN
1-59228-427-2. A collection of articles primarily on bird hunting and
Tom Forbes. "The Invisible Advantage Workbook: Ghillie Suit
Construction Made Simple". Paladin Press, 2002. ISBN
978-1-58160-310-1. A ghillie is a Scottish gameskeeper. A ghillie
suit is coat or cloak of rags and brush that blends into the terrain.
Originally used for hunting, but adopted by military for snipers. We
take it back to the original purpose.
H. Lea Lawrence. "The Ultimate Guide to Small Game Hunting and
Varmint Hunting". The Lyons Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58574-566-9.
There are a lot more squirrels and rabbits out there than elk and
moose. So if you hunt for the larder, small game matters.
Glenn Newick. "The Ultimate in Rifle Accuracy: Getting the Most Out
of Your Equipment and Yourself". Stoeger Publishing Co, 1989. ISBN
0-88317-159-7. This tends more to benchrest than to hunting, but it
helps to know what the pros worry about even if you are just doing 100
yd shots at 3 inch targets.
Matt Richards. "Deerskins Into Buckskins: How To Tan With Natural
Materials, a Field Guide for Hunters and Gatherers", 2nd ed..
Backcountry Publishing, 2004 ISBN-10: 0965867242 ISBN-13:
Explains the chemistry, biochemistry, and mechanics of the beginning
resource and the final product. Explains step by step what needs to
happen and how to make it happen in the transformation steps. Clear,
concise, and to the point. Provides both traditional and modern
Wayne Van Zwoll. "The Hunters Guide to Accurate Shooting". The Lyons
Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58574-468-9.
Typically powered by oxen or horses. Includes woodlot, field crops,
orchards, pasture, gardens, and assorted livestock. Requires knowledge
of the biologies/life-cycles/ailments of each species, plus tool
making from raw stock. Similar to native cultures in that it is
sustainable over generations, but not as tied to local conditions.
Thus, the same technologies might be used in temperate zones around the
Howland Blackiston. "Beekeeping for Dummies". Hungry Minds, 2002.
ISBN 0-7645-5419-0. Bees are critical for pollination, and
incidentally can provide honey as well. Even if you just do mason
bees (no honey), the biosphere is thankful.
Alan Bridgewater, Gill Bridgewater. "How to Use and Care for
Woodworking Tools". Stackpole Books, 1998. ISBN 0-8117-2794-7.
Hand-powered, but more modern than Underhill.
Gail Damerow, ed. "Barnyard in Your Backyard". Storey Publishing,
2002. ISBN 1-58017-456-6. How to raise chickens, ducks, goats,
sheep, cows. Appropriate for a few acres. For many parts of the
world, this would be a normal family's subsistence homestead, but for
the US is is more like a large suburban yard with odd pets.
Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg, Beatrice Vaughan. "Putting Food By",
4th ed. The Stephen Greene Press, 1991. Drying, canning, jellies,
John Spiecher, project director. "Crafts and Hobbies: A step-by-Step
Guide to Creative Skills". Reader's Digest, 1979. ISBN
0-895770-63-6. Skills we now think of as hobbies were once essential
life skills -- and may become so again. Spinning, dyeing, weaving,
sewing. Candle making. Pottery. Basketry. Leatherworking.
Frank D. Gardner. "Traditional American Farming Techniques". The
Lyons Press, 2001. ISBN 1-58574-412-3. Originally published as
L. T. Myers, "Successful Farming", 1916. You might call this
"scientific farming", circa 1900. I have read farming texts back into
the 1600's and the better ones are quite well-thought out for the
technologies of the day.
John and Martha Storey. "Storey's Basic Country Skills: A practical
guide to self-reliance". Storey Publishing, 1999. ISBN
1-58017-202-4. Wells, farm buildings, gardens and greenhouses, root
Roy Underhill. "The Woodwright's Shop". University of North Carolina
Press, 1981. ISBN 0-8078-4082-3. Tools and technique to start with
a forest and end up with a nice home full of furniture.
Roy Underhill. "The Woodwright's Companion". University of North
Carolina Press, 1983. ISBN0-8078-4095-5. Addendum to underhill81.
Aldren A. Watson. "The Blacksmith: Iron Worker and Farrier".
W. W. Norton, 2000. Originally published as "The Village Blacksmith",
Tuned for local conditions, but using the best available "appropriate
technology". May be a mix of wilderness areas, protected habitats,
multi-use, native culture, traditional agriculture, computers,
bio-diesel, and solar panels. Of course any such hybrid may take
centuries to prove to be sustainable or not. This leads to debates
over what is in fact sustainable.
Given the negative payoff for a mistake, we should be quite risk
averse on these issues. Yet the standard
economic model does not adequately
value the things lost, and thus the equation never favors
preservation. Only religion seems to
have the power to sway human behavior in an adequately safe direction.
The key issues are:
- Home construction (e.g., green products, passive solar, good insulation)
Commercial buildings are going green faster than private homes.
- Water supply and sewage. It is incredible that city dwellers
are allowing their water supplies to be compromised or even sold to
private parties. It is also strange to find sewage shipped many miles
- Food supply and compost. Largely turning back to pre-petro
traditional techniques, but with better scientific insight, which
allow highly productive organic farming.
- Renewable energy. We don't know where this is going, except
that we are addicted and nothing has a chance of replacing our full
dependence on oil. Reduced usage and higher efficiency have to be
part of the solution.
- Access to extremely high-tech. It takes high-tech to run the
compute models which tell us when to make more solar panels, or to
analyze the DNA of a crop infestation, or to design products which can
be recycled after they have been reused to oblivion.
Edward Allen. "Fundamentals of Building Construction", 2nd ed. John
Wiley & Sons, 1990. ISBN 0-471-50911-0. Steel, concrete, wood.
Structure, plumbing, electrical, etc. All the "modern" technologies,
most of which can be sustainable if applied with "green" architectural
Arthur Cote, ed. "Fire Protection Handbook", 16th ed. National Fire
Protection Association, 1991. ISBN 0-87765-378-X. No matter how you
build, make sure it doesn't burn down. I got this one to better
understand 9/11 and the official "the insulation fell off" story about
the collapses. I am still sceptical.
Williams H. Kemp. "The Renewable Energy Handbook: A Guide to Rural
Energy Independence, Off-Grid and Sustainable Living". Aztext Press,
2005. ISBN 0-9733233-2-9.
Bryan G. Norton, ed. "Searching for Sustainability:
Interdisciplinary Essays in the Philosophy of Conservation Biology".
Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-521-00778-X.
Clarke Snell, Tim Callahan. "Building Green: A Complete How-to Guide
to Alternative Building Methods". Lark Books, 2005. ISBN
978-1-57990-532-3. Siting for passive solar. Cob, cordwood,