Slowpocalypse now: How to prepare for a post-limits world
Winter's just around the corner. Are you ready?
By Lisa Brunette
As you can see from the above graphic, the venerable Farmer’s Almanac predicts that for many of us, this winter isn’t going to be a cake walk.
Unless it’s an ice-cream cake!
With the spike in home-heating oil and other utilities this winter, and the possibility of another energy blackout like the one that left Texans in the cold, an unseasonably chilly winter is not exactly icing on that cake. (Wow, am I just craving sugar?)
But don’t panic. The last thing I want to do is join the ranks of so-called journalists who amp up the threat meter in order to snag your attention. That’s not something I appreciate, as a consumer of news, and I don’t think panic is a particularly useful reaction, either.
Rather than panic, let’s talk preparedness.
I promised when I closed out our three-part series on Limits to Growth that I’d circle back to the topic of winter plans. While we’re neither preppers nor true homesteaders in the traditional sense, Anthony and I have taken a number of steps to prepare as best we can, given the limitations of our suburban location, our budget, our capabilities, and time. Here I’ll share our trips and tricks, as well as trip-ups, so you can avoid the same.
Gather Wool (While Saving Energy)
When I think about a post-limits world, as in one with fewer fossil fuels, the first thing I think about is heat.
No, not global warming. I’m talking about the most important use of fossil fuels: To keep human beings from freezing to death. If the grid goes down, can you stay warm? One way to prepare for that possibility is to think like your forefathers and foremothers. How did they stay warm?
In a word: wool. Here are a few suggestionsto get you started.
You can toss this wool emergency blanket on your bed, allowing you to save energy by turning your heat down every night (we drop ours to 62°F). It could save your life if you lose your home heating.
And don’t forget your woolens! If you don’t own a pair of wool underwear because you have this idea that they’re too itchy, then welcome to 2022. Today’s merino wool is soft and decidedly un-scritchy. Anthony and I have been stocking up whenever they go on sale—you might remember my post on the hottest day of the year—but lucky for you, they’re 10-40 percent off right now, so you don’t have to wait for a heat wave to save.
My new favorite thing is this neck gaiter, which can be worn strictly as a scarf…
Or up over your head, to cover your ears.
But the ultimate form of wool attire is the “coatigan.” I pretty much lived in mine last winter. Since I work from a home office, I can keep the temperature low to save energy (we only raise it to 65°F during the day) and layer on clothes to stay warm.
People used to do this all the time: dress for the weather. We privileged first-worlders waste a lot of energy cranking up the heat in the winter instead of wearing warm clothes. It’s kind of insane, when you think about it.
Wool to the wise: Don’t toss them in the washer per usual. I lost a sweater this way; the churning of the washer makes the wool compress and shrink, so you end up with a sweater that looks as if it were made for a doll. Yes, even if you don’t put it into the dryer (never do this either, though).
When you hand wash your coatigan, dry it flat, if you can. I hung mine, it stretched out to dress length, and now my pockets are located down below where my hands can reach. Wah-wah…
Go Solar (While Saving Energy Again)
After not freezing to death, the next-best thing about fossil fuels is how useful they are for cooking food. While I could eat salad all summer, in winter, I’m all about the hot meal. But how do you cook if the utility grid goes down?
When Texans were without utilities during the freaksnow of ‘21, people resorted to grilling cans of soup outdoors, for as long as they had charcoal, anyway.
A better solution: the solar oven.
We’ve used our All-American Sun Oven to cook whole chickens, roasts, pies, rice, and even a rabbit. Texans who owned a Sun Oven in 2021 were able to continue eating hot food despite the lack of utilities, cooked right there in the snow. The Sun Oven doesn’t need warmth; it just needs sunshine.
Added bonus: Every time you cook with your Sun Oven, an angel gets its wings. Or you save on your utility bill, which is just as good.
Crank Up the Volume (While Saving Even More Energy!)
The ability to stay in touch with other human beings during a crisis is crucial. So without Internet and the ability to keep your phone charged, how will you do this if the grid goes down?
The answer: a solar/crank radio.
This little baby has three power sources: 1) a USB adapter 2) a solar collector and 3) a hand-crank. Added bonus: It’s also a flashlight. And you could use it during non-crisis moments, just to save energy.
Opt for Low-Tech (While Saving Water)
This winter is a great time to slow down and opt for the low-tech lifestyle. For example: Why not wash your dishes by hand? No matter what the studies-funded-by-appliance-makers claim, this can be, if you do it efficiently, a great way to save water (and lower your bill). Anthony and I find it meditative and satisfying. Our dishes are cleaner, too.
To help in the effort, I recommend this nifty roll-up dish rack. We also use it to hang-dry rags.
Buy Off-Season (and Save $$$)
As I’ve written about previously, I like to buck trends and purchase items in the off-season, when they’re usually heavily discounted. For example, maybe you want to snag a greenhouse now, while everyone else is busy focusing on Christmas gifts? Actually, a greenhouse might make the perfect Christmas gift…
Record Your Experiences (on Actual Paper!)
As you go down the path of least-energy resistance, maybe you want to write down your findings. If you’re of scientific bent, you could conduct and record experiments like my friend Claire does over at Living Low in the Lou. Perhaps you just want to keep track of your preparedness goals. Or even write letters to your kids to read when they grow up… or to your future self.
Either way, Etsy’s got you covered, with a plethora of pretty paper journals to choose from, many of them hand bound. I’m partial to the Oasis Notebook myself.
This way you can embrace the low-tech activity that is paper-and-pen journaling and help keep alive a dying art form.
And if you’re casting around for gift ideas outside this list, check out Etsy’s editor’s picks for handmade, vintage items from indie retailers.
What am I missing? What are you doing to prep that I haven’t mentioned here?
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