Thursday, May 10, 2012


I noticed the brief back-and-forth exchange on vehicles in comments on my Monday column. The topic of transportation is one which comes up from time to time, but doesn't really get as much discussion in preparedness circles as do things like food storage and weapons. I think it's a natural progression -- after all, the modern car is very much an item which is dependent on a long "tail" of industrial production, fuel production, road maintenance, regular repair and upkeep, and so on. Car ownership, even of a smaller or older car, is very expensive in actual economic terms.

When people think in terms of collapse, there is a real question in the air, too. If we see the death of modern industrial civilization, just where do we actually plan to go with ourselves? When the Wal-Marts of the world close, and eventually collapse in on themselves because they're not built to last the ages, is there a point to having a car? You can drive up, take a look around an overgrown parking lot, watch the birds nesting in rusting trusses, then leave. As a whole, do we expect to really travel all that far in the future, anyway? After all, governments are starting to replaced paved roads with gravel roads.  Is replacing the gravel with dirt all that far behind?

The price and availability of oil is also another big question mark. As it dries up, there is less capacity to operate cars. For all the talk of falling oil prices, gasoline is still around $3.75 a gallon, and people who expect it to return to $1.50 a gallon are delusional. It's conceivable to power cars with alcohol, or even steam, but how much effort is expended on doing this that could be put to other uses? Cars themselves also require tires, batteries, and oil, as expendable supplies that cannot be easily replaced, stored, or duplicated.

Mobility in the past hundred years has been something of an anamoly anyway. Prior to the Industrial Age, it was unusual for people to travel long distances. Anything more than a day's walk was considered a major trip. There was a reason that a pilgrimage to the "Holy Land" was quite an accomplishment.

It seems logical that relying on mechanized transport may be a fool's game. However, we don't necessarily have the luxury of chucking our cars just yet. Most of us live some distance from our employer, or from stores, etc. Few people are self-reliant or live in an area where there isn't a need to travel for necessities. Options such as horseback travel are even less practical than cars right now, and bicycles don't make sense except in limited circumstances.

Discussion about the future is something else, however. We tend to think of transportation in personal terms -- i.e., how do I get to work or the store? The reality is that transportation of goods, produce, and materials will probably be a more important consideration. Wooden wheels can be manufactured relatively simply, and a person can pull a cart much more easily than they can carry the same amount of goods. Animal transport can also be used to haul goods and people. Remember that even as late as WW2,Germany made standard use of horse-drawn wagons for transport.

Bicycles also seem to be a viable alternative for a while, at least until supplies of tires and chains run out. Solid bicycles tires are available, and while I don't know about dry-rot, it seems like if they are stored in the generic "cool, dry place," bicycle transport could conceivably be available for a couple of generations after cars. One caveat, however, is to assume that roads are going to be increasingly rough and mountain bikes would be preferred over other kinds. Bulk transportation by bicycle doesn't seem as practical as by animal, but I guess could be done in limited cases.

The truth is, any discussion about automobiles tends to return us to the reality of seeing the coming collapse, but also understanding that we're straddling two ages -- the consumerist age, and the post-consumerist age. To live in one, we generally have to think in ways which are alien to the other. The key is to live in such a way that we can address the needs of the present while preparing for the future.


  1. We live just a few miles from Lake Michigan, and there are thousands of sailboats harbored here. We will be able to import/export tons of supplies with the fleet. Ship chandlers, sailors and horse-drawn carts will supply our needs (NOT our wants, not our wishes, not our expectations, but gratefully, what we need to live). We are only a few miles from acres upon acres of farms that produced food for generations. There are two farmers' markets half a mile from my home. The future will be very challenging, but we are prepared to survive.

  2. Those of us who are willing to adapt without trying to hang on to the past will be better able to cope.

    Our family lives a mile or so from a small town. I've been biking to somewhere almost every day - to get needed things, to the library, to friends and relative's houses and to the Farmer's Market where I'm a vendor. I'm able to keep my table and chair in a storage room close by and haul my plants, self-published books and art in my backpack and in canvas bags tied to my handlebars. It works.

    In the winter it will be a different story. In Wisconsin it can get awfully cold and we will just rely on rides and cabs and will stay home a lot.

    I'm enjoying life without a car. Didn't think I would. Our cars both died and we have no funds for fixing so the situation was sort of thrust upon us. So...we role with it.

    Great article...

  3. I wanted to cover waterborne transport in a separate column, since it is a whole other concept, but will likely be increasingly important again when roads get too rough for modern vehicles and maximum return on transportation energy is needed, but thanks for bringing it up nontheless.

    Lisa, I think that more people are going to begin rejecting automobile transport. Cars have gotten hideously expensive to buy and operate, and are likely going to become toys of the rich again, or tools of the government and corporations.

    1. Sorry I haven't replied sooner -
      but I'd like to just say that my mother-in-law would like to help us get another car. The thought of it makes me nervous! Registration fees, insurance cost, gas, maintenance...blah!
      I don't care if we never have another car again!
      Some look at us like we're in a temporarily bad situation and I'm thinking - ah, freedom! lol.