Gentle Decline 2/27: Checklists & Cans
Hello. I’ve been trying to write an issue about the prospect of talking to people about climate change and preparation. That’s communicating to your family that you need to move away from the perfectly nice house by the sea, or dealing with your Fianna Fáil-voting uncle who still thinks it’s all a scheme to bilk him of the pile of cash under his mattress. But it turns out that I don’t really know how to have those conversations in any way other than what I’m writing here, so I’ve left it aside for a while.
In the meantime, this issue covers my own current situation as regards climate change preparation, with the idea in mind of developing some sort of checklist. Some of the checklist is short-term, and some is long-term, and it doesn’t really make sense to separate them out, although I’ve tried to distinguish at least a bit.
(Front of house vegetable plantings)
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A “bike library” for school commutes in Harold’s Cross, Dublin. Ireland is finally getting a Deposit Return Scheme. And more for interest than short-term practicality, a man who’s made a shirt in its entirety from foraged and locally grown materials.
I feel like not a huge amount has changed in my own levels of preparedness; a lot of the skill acquisition stuff is either done or in progress, and a lot of the material stuff is waiting until there is money.
We recently installed a wood-burning stove. This was considerably eased by my father having a suitable stove stashed away in his workshop, so rather than having to buy one, we got it for free. We then paid a general handyman (the sort who shows up at the door offering to clean your drive, re-point your roof, etc.) to actually fit it. This wasn’t purely on spec; the guy in question has done some work for us before, and apart from his penchant for actually phoning me, and/or turning up at the door because he’s in the area and we might want something done, he’s decent. It’s a very fine little stove; it burns wood at about one-third the rate of the open fireplace it’s installed into, and seems to give out at least three times as much heat (approximation, not actually measured in any way). The dog adores it, and when it’s lit, sits with his nose as close to it as possible, or sprawled in front of it. The cats seem indifferent as yet.
Quite apart from being a heat source independent of any infrastructure, it’s also going to save some money in the short term. Energy bills shot up last year, and not having to shell out approximately €1/hour of heating for the gas will be a lot of help. Firewood per se isn’t cheap (although I’m fairly sure it’ll be cheaper per hour than gas), but the stove can burn pretty much anything, so scrap lumber, odd logs collected on woodland walks, and the like are all viable.
The next thing we should do is work on the house’s overall insulation. We bought it just before BER ratings came in, so I don’t know how it rates - not terrible for an 80s house, but not great by modern standards, would be my guess. The other thing would be to fit solar panels, and I did get as far as looking at the cost of those recently - they’re not hideously expensive, and there are grants available, albeit they only pay out after you’ve installed the things. Both of those, however, are going to have to wait until mortgage interest rates fall back a bit again. At the moment, we’re paying just short of 40% more per month than we were in early 2022.
Heat pumps and other such beasts are also on my mind, but again, there’s money involved, so they’ll have to wait.
I’m doing some container planting this year - I got kale plugs, which are doing very nicely on the front doorstep, and I’ve sowed dill and courgettes as well. Those are all out front where the chickens can’t reach them, and I’ll plant some more stuff in the back yard when I have time and energy to chicken-proof them. We also have the apple tree (and last year’s cider, to which it was a contributor, came out well), a blackcurrant bush, some excellent raspberry canes, and some alpine strawberries, all of which are thriving. The chickens will probably start laying again once the weather is warmer, and I’ll plant potatoes now that the frost has mostly passed.
I’ve maintained a week-or-two of food in the house for years now; I’ve pushed that out a little as a matter of caution with the shortages of some fairly obvious goods in the UK (as per last issue). At any given time, there’s some meat and vegetables in the freezer, and a decent amount of pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, a few kinds of beans, and some canned fruit and rice pudding. I don’t keep strict track of what’s there, but I reckon we could eat reasonably well for three weeks if there was nothing in the shops. I’ve also a decent stash of herbs and spices at any given time; that’s more a feature of being a historical cook than any aspect of caution.
With three cats and a dog in the house, I should be keeping a slightly sharper eye on their food supplies; we occasionally have an empty food bag before a new one is got. I don’t currently stash water; while Ireland’s water supply infrastructure isn’t great, we’re in a far better position than most of the US and a lot of the UK. If there are problems, they’ll be visible weeks in advance, which gives plenty of time to lay in stocks.
The new stove is not ideal for cooking on (“free” beat out “ideal” very easily), but you could certainly heat water on it. And if it comes to it, I have a firebox that can be set up outside to cook on; that’s technically SCA gear, but the border between SCA gear and apocalyptic-change-proofing gear is mostly a matter of perspective. I am reasonably confident of not needing the armour or the bows, but they’re there.
We have plenty of candles, and several power packs for phones, which I keep charged. I haven’t yet bought a large power-storage device, but it’s on the list for when the interest rate drops back enough. Something that would keep the fridge and freezer going for a bit would be ideal.
Medicine is a bit of an issue. At present there are a few meds we depend on to a greater or lesser degree (my main one is an anti-sinusitis decongestant), and both Nina and I wear glasses. At the moment, there’s little provision for stocking up on prescription medications. I do think that if I asked my doctor nicely, I could get him to let me get a few bottles of the decongestant to stock, but I’m not certain of that, and I don’t know that having that depend on the quality of your relationship with your GP is a great thing either. We do have most of a decent first aid kit in the house, albeit a bit distributed among bathroom cabinets and medicine bags.
Obviously, the house hasn’t moved, so we remain pretty good as regards flooding, etc. It’s not impossible that we’d be affected by flooding; there’s a stream about 150m west of us. However, it’s in a deep channel, and the culvert through which it flows under the M4 is of limited size, so I think any flooding from it will mostly stay on the other side of the motorway. There’s also a gradual uphill from the banks of the stream to here, probably about a meter and a half of it. Basically, the people in the estate through which it flows will have trouble with it long before us. And we remain at the 50m+ mark above sea-level, which will more than suffice for sea-level rise for our lifetimes.
Most stuff above is short-term, “what if the power is out for three days” or “what if supply lines break down for a few weeks?” material. My longer-term predictions are in a lot of ways more gentle and slow, and revolve around shorter supply lines and localised skill networks. Community will be important - not necessarily immediate local community, because I remain convinced that geography is a poor basis for any commonality - but over relatively short distances; a day or two of travel by not-very-high-tech means. One of the things the SCA has provided us with is a capable community, so I feel we’re better sorted there than many people.
Having useful skills - cooking, woodworking, electrical work, whatever - will be essential, and so will the ability to learn more as you go. I have a few of these; I’m working on gardening and food growing skills now. They’re slow to develop, and you kind-of only get one shot at them every year.
One of the things sort-of embedded in that skills idea, though, is access to information. I don’t think that the internet is going to go away, by any manner of means, but people’s moment to moment access to it may change. Power cuts and other infrastructural issues may prevent you from being able to look up Youtube videos or read how-tos or whatever your preferred way of getting at information is. So it may be useful to have a few hardcopy books around dealing with whatever topics you think you’ll need. I have many cookbooks, an essential first aid book (although I am not 100% certain where that is), a few books on DIY and house maintenance, a number of gardening books focused on food plants, a few books about foraging and wild food, and a bunch of books about self-sufficiency and general getting-on-with-stuff.
Here’s a sort of first draft checklist from the discussion above. I’ll eventually work up a better (longer, and/or more detailed) version of this as a PDF, and make it available.
[ ] Housing Location (floods, etc, and more than 50m above sea level)
[ ] Heat Source (not dependent on electricity or gas)
[ ] Insulation
[ ] Solar Panels
[ ] Food Growing Facilities (and skills)
[ ] Food Supply (including pets)
[ ] Water Supply
[ ] Cooking Facilities
[ ] Lighting (candles, torches)
[ ] Power banks for phones
[ ] Power storage device
[ ] Medicines, first aid kit
[ ] Relevant books in hardcopy
[ ] Learning new skills
[ ] Developing community
We’re coming through spring right now, and for the first time in years, the brighter evenings are not hitting my mood. I have very mild Reverse SAD (summer affects my state of mind negatively, not winter), but it’s just not showing up this year, which is a great feeling. Work has been pretty busy over the last couple of months, but some of that is starting to ease into routine. Hopefully, this will allow me to get more research and writing done in the next few weeks and months, but I’m avoiding making any solid predictions.
If you’ve questions or comments, hit reply!