The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Personal Resilience, Gardens, Water And Heat

Generally about the second thing people do when they start getting worried about supply chains and the effects of climate change and economic issues, is start a garden, if they can.

This is good, but…

For a long time my primary concern has been water, though there are places, like India right now, where you’ll simply drop from the heat. Rainfall is becoming intermittent, perhaps even heavier but less reliable. Glaciers are getting smaller, but increased melt will increase river flows at times, and again, on average there’ll be more water, until the flow starts falling off a cliff. In the Western Rockies that’ll apparently start in about 20 years.

Heat itself is a problem for gardening: too hot or too cold are both bad.

Rainwater reservoirs used to be common in houses. They were dug out, and underground, which had the advantage of keeping the water cool. These days they’re above ground. In some places they are illegal. I’m going to strongly suggest that if you can, you should get one (or more of the modern ones), and spread your water collection as wide as you can. You’ll need a filtration system so you can use it personally as well as for gardening.

As for the gardens, for those who can figure out how, something that has some measure of climate control seems necessary, or heat waves or even cold snaps can wreck you. While the main concern in heat waves, climate change has lead to more wild and variable weather, including cold weather at times. Doing this in a way that also gets sunlight is the trick, of course, and the rain collection system you set up for the reservoir(s) should help you keep using rainwater.

For temperature control, if you’re building something new, build into hills or dig into the ground. The earth moderates both hot and cold temperatures. Many years ago I looked into “earthships” but there are many models, including traditional ones, and ones that go deeper, including natural and artificial cave homes.

Obviously this may be beyond many people’s means, though there may be low-tech, low-cost, labor intensive solutions as well as more expensive ones.

For people, like myself, for whom this is all pie-in-the-sky, well, just bear in the mind that climate change means old patterns don’t hold and variability increases. Try and stock up enough food to last months and do what you can about water and staying cool. That may mean figuring out some sort of communal solution with other people, or just doing what little you can.

Updated to include earthships and dug in homes.



Prologue of Spring of a Dawn, A Novella By Stirling Newberry


Open Thread


  1. Raad

    Good article – I have my eye on low tech labour intensive communal solutions that can withstand powerful and terrifying storms alongside rapid changes in temp in short or medium bursts. Unsure how feasible or viable this is but a communal low tech structure that can withstand (powerful, insane even) storms, be cheap but durable or expensive time-wise but durable, low tech would be a good start. Temp control can come after that. Some form of temp controlled incredibly storm resistant green house type structure maybe.

  2. Astrid

    Eastern US and maybe PNW are best off in the short run climatewise. Russia, Canada outside of the Canadian Shield, Alaska, and the southern half of South America if you really want to chase maximum chances. Even as rainfall patterns become more erratic, you should still have rain and have recharging of local aquifers. If you want to be a home gardener and try to supplement your diet, this is your best option. But honestly, being a homesteader in a world where you still have to pay taxes and comply with modern regulations is a recipe for despair and working yourself to death. Garden because it’s fun and might help at the margins. Live in more climate resilient areas because it gives better access to local produce from farm markets and CSAs, but thinking you’d grow enough food to feed yourself and trade is mostly not gonna happen. (If you want to try, read Carol Deppe’s Resilient Gardener for some inspiration.)

    But the answer to hunger/famine and social stability isn’t local harvest, it’s the interests and powers of the PTB in society. China superficially looks to take climate change extremely hard. Its northern half is already severely affected by climate change and environmental degradation, the southern half has moist hot summers and are heavily dependent on monsoonal rains. The rich river delta regions will be under water and Himalayan melt water will be impacted. But if China can afford to buy from other grain producers, keep enough reserve to survive through several bad global harvests, and equitably distribute the grains, it has a much better chance of making it through, especially with advanced geo and bioengineering. Right now, presumably it’s through increasing beneficial trade with Russia and parts of the Earth that is not the US/EU’s “world”. But if things get harsher and more desperate, I think the CPC will do whatever is necessary to keep its population fed. India/Pakistan/Bangladesh and most of Africa are in far worse straits. I am surprised that Sri Lanka is amongst the first to collapse – its population and ecology had seemed pretty stable and I would have thought they come out of the decades long fight against the Tamils stronger, but small island economies may have their own dysfunctions and limitations that hit harder and sooner.

    Before COVID and Ukraine, I thought that no matter how messed up the US is, the governing elite would at least have the power and intelligence to obtain critical food/supplies to supplicate the masses. Now I just don’t know. Can people who don’t have the foresight to not attend superspreader parties be depended on for any kind of judgment? Maybe the currently entrenched dead-enders will eventually be replaced by the equivalent of Diocletian who can feed the population and enforce some kind of peace, but remember how the Romans got to Diocletian and how things went to pieces as soon as he retired. Or that 3rd and 4th and 5th Centuries wasn’t much fun for anyone involved, and things didn’t brighten up in the 6th/7th/8th Centuries either.

    Here in Southcentral PA foothills, we’re pretty much as sheltered from climate change as it’s possible to be. Real estate is still somewhat cheaper and life still feels somewhat normal compared to most places. Worry about the people. They’ll get you before the weather.

  3. Kidkawartha

    Hey Ian and everyone, reminder that you can (if you have the resources and a little space) build a great greenhouse for a very reasonable price with geo-thermal temp control, along with with very low energy inputs once it’s up and running.

  4. different clue

    My younger brother spent 3 years as Peace Corps in Batanes Province, Phillipines. Batanes Province was in a traditional hurricane alley. The people over time adapted the architecture this way . . . stone walls several feet thick and roofs covered with cogon grass thatching. Whenever a hurricane blew the cheap sacrificial grass-thatch roof off, people got more grass and rethatched the roof.

    In that spirit, perhaps the super strong greenhouse would be designed with wall several feet thick ( of something affordable if it exists), and sacrificial glazing of cheapest feasible plastic to be replaced every time a cat 6-7 hurricane or an F 6-7 tornado or a hailstorm with melon-sized hail boulders destroys it. That would require a multi-year stockpile in advance of cheapest possible plastic replacement for destroyed plastic to be bought and stored up while such plastic still exists.

    That might buy time to decide what to do for glazing when such plastic no longer exists. Perhaps get that bullet proof bank-teller-protector plastic one panel at a time as one can afford.

  5. Lex

    Astrid is correct, even with a greenhouse and much horticultural skill, supporting yourself in food is a tall, tall order. But the dacha garden got a lot of Russians through the 90’s. Not as the sole or even primary source of food but as a supplement.

    We may see complete and utter collapse, but the reality of life in a failed state is a lot more banal. Everything still happens, it just sucks more; it’s three times as hard; ten times as tenuous; and life is dictated by organized crime.

  6. roxan

    I lived in India, with relatives, years ago. Almost no one had AC, heat, or refrigeration. We had thick walls and ceiling fans, and got up at 4 AM to get water. It was rationed–one bucket a day! It took me some time to figure out how to bathe, wash my hair and do laundry with so little water. Toilets were holes in the ground, if even. In the afternoon, we all took a siesta, enforced by law, then stayed up until late. Tropical cultures know how to live with heat, but of course, there is a limit. That area of India hadn’t seen rain in several years. In the rural areas, a cup of water was a month’s wages.

  7. sbt

    Almost two months ago, I took the plunge and left my salaried day job. After 20+ years imagining what it would be like, I took the plunge, sold nearly everything and drove 2,000 miles and through two time zones with all that could fit into my Toyota Corolla, and now live and work at an “eco institute” where I study and practice permaculture farming techniques and sustainable, earth-friendly construction.

    There’s a lot I can add that I’ve gleaned on my own these past two decades, and learned on my feet in the past month that I could share about this. But I’ll briefly mention this here.

    Avoid chemical additives. Once the source for those is gone or prohibitively expensive, your gardening routine will collapse. And this isn’t even factoring in that should you use those chemicals on plantlife that will eventually feed you, you’ll be ingesting those chemicals.

    Avoid monocrops (for example, huuuuuge fields of corn or soybeans). If a pest or disease comes along that loves that stuff, you’ll be back to relying on chemicals to get rid of them somehow. Again, if your source for those dries up, physically or financially, then so will your garden. Polyculture farming methods (several types of plants “mixed” together in a row-less plot) are one way to address this, at least on a small scale.

    Need water? Mulch more. Build gardens on slopes and mounds. Use a lot of mulch. Avoid bare patches of ground as much as possible. Put mulch there instead. Save your leaves and grass clippings and use them as mulch. Your plants won’t mind.

    Finally, yes: look into partially-underground structures. Temperature regulation is aided by the “annualized thermal inertia” of the earth used to encircle your building. Even greenhouses may be able to effectively deal with extremes in temperature when built this way. There’s a lot of research being done now at the place where I’m staying, where a partially-underground greenhouse with a “temperature well” included is used to defeat extremely cold winters of the northern US.

    I wonder what life would be like now if even something as elementary as “victory gardens” still existed.

  8. Joe

    Don’t forget the Acorn. If you live with access to oak trees you have a very drought tolerant staple that supported millions. Not every year is a good acorn year but when they come they really come. The shedding of the seed is an incredible edible bounty. Animals come from far and wide to feast on them. Yes they require preparation before consumption but they store really well. They are not all created equally and some are much sweeter than others. Certain trees even of the same species will produce a highly desirable acorn nice and big with much less tannins and are easier to prepare. You can identify theses trees because animals eat the fallen seed almost as they fall. The less desirable trees will have acorns under them for much longer. I take a mental not as I walk through my immediate area. Goats and pigs can feed on them too.

  9. Willy

    Good stuff sbt. I wonder if there are other time-tested variations of “the three sisters”?

    Where I live phytophthora is endemic in the soil, but not all soil types apparently. It lays in wait for circumstances which plants aren’t used to, such as high temperatures or droughts, and then attacks the roots when the plant system temporarily shuts down.

    Hydroponics was once a bigger thing. And I’m not talking about where high school friend’s father stares into his homes crawlspace with a WTF? expression while the rest of us try to hide, giggling. Uh, I meant them. I’m wondering how much food a hydroponics greenhouse or LED shed could produce per square foot, as compared to conventional cultivation.

  10. different clue


    Does your permaculture/ eco-culture institute have a name? And a website? If so, it might be helpful to offer those here in a link.

    if so, thanks.

  11. different clue


    Have you started taking cuttings from these better sweeter acorn trees to propagate them farther and wider? And also into peoples’ yards and settings?

    ( One wonders if mesquite bean trees also follow the same principal. All bear edible pods but some are really good. If so, is anyone noting the really good ones and propagating them farther and wider?)

  12. sbt

    @different clue:

    I’d suggest you have a look at the forums at permies dot com. There’s a wealth of information there, updated every day. I’m currently at Wheaton Labs, in Montana.

    There are other permaculture and “regenerative agriculture” practitioners out there. Paul Wheaton’s the one I found first (outside of Master Gardener courses at colleges, which generally suggest a chemical approach), and he’s the one I’ve stuck with. I’m very pleased with my time here, so far. Personally I feel like I’ve had a late start, but I’m here now and doing what I can.


    There are a handful of “plant guilds” that can be used to shore-up plantings, and encourage a symbiotic relationship that helps all of them grow. I would also suggest that a lot of this is climate-dependent, so if you want to experiment with a few others, do a bit of research first.

    Toby Hemenway’s book, “Gaia’s Garden,” discusses plant guilds in a fair amount of detail. The second edition of that book – published maybe 10 years ago or so – even touches on urban gardening, for those of you who want to stick to cities.

  13. different clue

    Survival through the coming manmade global warming will work better for individuals who are part of communities of equally survival-ready people. It they are cross-co-survival-ready at the community-level itself, then they are all even likelier to survive.

    If one person is prepared for every 999 unprepared people, the unprepared will kill the one prepared person and eat his food, then eat his body. Then the stronger among them will kill and eat the weaker among them in repeating round-robin cycles.
    The unprepared will find their future to be Donner Parties all the way down.

    If one lives in the midst of militant anti-preparationists, what is there to say? One does the best one can in that situation, if one cannot move to a more reality-based jurisdiction-load of people.

  14. Ché Pasa

    Farmer friend down the road has not planted this year. Too windy. Too dry. Too cold for too long this spring. Planning first planting June 1 but may wait till July. If there’s only one planting this year, his income will be cut 70%. Luckily, he doesn’t have to worry too much about heavy debt burdens as his farm runs mostly on revenues from specialty crops. Since they weren’t planting, they built some huge hoop houses for next year’s vegetables. They have had some smaller hoop houses growing tomatoes and peppers successfully for several years. They figure they can expand their varieties and maybe sell to restaurants and high end markets. Maybe.

    We don’t have nearly as much land, so not a farm but gardens. We didn’t plant this year, either; doubt we will at all except for some flowers, though we could probably get one planting of corn, beans and melons in if we do it by the first of June.

    Neighbors are growing marijuana. Now that it is legal at home and all. Other neighbors have grape vines that have been growing on their properties for decades. That surprised me when I first saw it. Didn’t think they’d grow in the high desert, but surprise, they do, and they weather the winters and droughts very well.

    We haven’t had success with fruit trees, though one nearby farmer borders his fields with apple trees that have been doing OK — not great — for about 25 years.

    We have a proper greenhouse for starting seeds next year; we’d been relying on a temporary makeshift one and it was finally time to retire it. Besides, it had gradually been taken over for tool and equipment storage anyway.

    The realities of permaculturing vs organic gardening/farming are varied, and so far as I know, there isn’t a one way that is possible or that works everywhere for everyone. We’re facing yet another year of drought. The Rio Grande is expected to dry up completely at or near Albuquerque. We’re far away from the river, and all the irrigation water is pumped from underground. There is no surface water. Farmers are using buried drip irrigation or rotating overhead spray. Guess which one uses less water, but which one is a lot more labor intensive. There’s a plant supplier growing everything in greenhouses down the road, and they admit they use an awful lot of water and are not necessarily chem-free.

    Ranchers are in trouble because of the drought. I’m not seeing many cattle at all, though one place is doing fine with irrigation. One family recently moved in with sheep and goats. Don’t know how that will play over time.

    Note: people keep moving out here; it hasn’t slowed down much at all. There will come a limit, though. It’s not over land/space, it’s water.

    All I’m saying is that ideals and dreams hit the frictions or sometimes brick walls of reality. Most of us want to do right, and we do the best we can, politics and religion aside. When it comes down to survival, we’re all pretty much on the same or parallel planes. Those who have close-knit communities have an initial advantage, but it won’t necessarily help all that much in the crunch (and we can think of many prior examples).

    Resilience, ability to deal with adversity of many kinds, is perhaps the hardest thing.

  15. different clue

    In the ” whole global human population” matrix, regionalocal and/or personal survival is a ” one hand, other hand” thing.

    On the one hand, at a population of 8 billion people and rising, nothing is sustainable.

    On the other hand, ” I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.”

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