Noah’s Ark no kind of escape plan

Ark afloat

Unless you've heard the Voice of God, you don't really know if the Flood is coming or not.

Sometimes I feel like Noah in the sunny days before the rains came, when the neighbors still thought he was crazy for building the Ark. It can be hard to get people to open their minds to peak oil and all the changes it could bring to industrial society.

So I can understand why some people who care about peak oil have decided to follow Noah’s example. They’re making their own preparations while just leaving the nonbelievers to their fate.

But unless you have the blessing of a Higher Power, I’m not sure it will work. And if you’re just an ordinary member of Creation, is it a good idea to try to build your own Noah’s Ark to survive peak oil?


While Pacific islanders worry that global warming could swamp their nations, people who care about peak oil also foresee a troubled future where many places on Earth will become less hospitable. But peak oil activists fear that refugees could be running as much from economic crisis and political strife as from climate hell.

And some of these activists believe that the collapse of various economies and societies is as inevitable as rising sea levels. So they’ve given up on helping their societies, and instead have started planning to save only themselves and their families.

Maybe they’ve moved from one place, like New York City, to another where they imagine people will suffer less in the future, for example, a small town upstate. (Full disclosure: I live with my family in a town of 24,000 in rural Virginia).

Or maybe they’ve decided to stay put but to fortify their home with firearms and supply it with water and canned goods to last ten years. Either way, these people may have decided to find or build their own Noah’s Ark, a place to shelter themselves when everybody else will be drowned in the Flood.

Après moi, le déluge, as Louis XV said just before the French Revolution.

Trying to stay dry

There’s just one problem. The whole Noah’s Ark approach is built on a very questionable assumption, to wit, that you and your’n can stay dry while the rest of us drown.

That certainly did work for Noah. He could load up his family and all the animals, two by two, and be sure that they’d be safe because God told him so. His well built ark just bobbed upon the seas until God called back the waters and revealed dry land.

But imagine if, in the hours as the water started to rise before the heavy laden Ark took float, that Noah’s neighbors finally realized he was not crazy, but was in fact the only guy who was prepared to survive disaster. Frightened mobs could have stormed the Ark to try to get aboard, wielding rope ladders with grappling hooks. Rich people could’ve sent archers to force Noah to let down the gangplank. Warlords of a neighboring tribe could’ve rushed in a catapult.

And even if none of them were able to board the ship, at least they could have put enough holes in the hull to ensure that the Ark would sink. For the doomed, sabotaging someone else’s escape plan can be a final desperate comfort.

Scuttling the peak oil Ark

Even if you predict that peak oil will bring the collapse of the economy, looting in the streets and the rise of neo-feudalism, are you sure that you’ll stay dry inside your Ark? Are you sure that those grappling hooks, archers and catapults won’t ruin your escape?

It may seem like the safest way to prepare for a scary future is to bring the family and the beasts aboard and then pull up the gangplank. But given how interconnected industrial society has become, this plan looks more and more risky.

Can you afford to forget about your neighbors, whether next door or across the continent? Can you risk writing off the news media, the political system and the larger culture? Can you ever amass enough gardens, guns and goats to feel safe in your Ark if your fellow citizens are not safe?

And unless you’ve heard the Voice of God as Noah did, then how do you know that the Flood is coming at all?

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  1. Auntiegrav says

    You sort of lumped “a move to a small town upstate” in with the ark idea and hoarding/fortress ideas.
    I have a different reason for wanting to move to a small town ‘upstate’. I already live in a small town ‘downstate’, but the town surrounding me is full of dedicated Amurkin’ Patriots for whom “the Amurkin’ way of life is not negotiable”. A small town in the hinterlands is already accustomed to living without jobs and with little money. People are more cooperative and find their entertainment outside of Systems, among friends and family and nature.
    My basic philosophy is that “Nobody is secure if their neighbor is hungry”, and in order to actively participate in that philosophy, one needs at least SOME neighbors who understand that it is important.
    To stay put and defend any infrastructure I build here is a risky option.

    • says

      Full disclosure: my wife and I also live in a rural area, in a town of 24,000. So I certainly do see the benefit of small town community. A smaller town can be a great place to work together.

  2. Brad says


    There were no Israelites in the days of Noah. There were lots of neighbors, however, so your point is very well taken. We really will sink or swim together; we can only survive as neighbors. Somehow that has to include the neighbors who think we are nuts or unpatriotic, or both. Bunkers weighed down with guns, ammo and canned goods never will float, will they.

    • says

      Brad — Good point about nationalities. I guess all you could call these folks before the Flood is antediluvians? And I hope that those of us who care about peak oil can connect better with our neighbors that preparing our whole society for a post-peak world is about the most sane and patriotic thing we can do. And that it’ll work best if we all do it together.

  3. Luke says

    Erik, no offense but.. I find your commentary here to be naive and counterproductive. I understand the sentiment. I see that you have a kind heart and an idealistic nature. These are to be commended.

    HOWEVER, the nature of economic collapse brings out both the best and worst in human nature. We need to be prepared for both. We must be able to bring leadership to our communities from a place of strength. As it is said, you must place your oxygen mask securely on your face and be sure it is operating correctly before you help your neighbor put on his respiration device in the event of a rapid cabin depressurization.

    Many Transitioners eschew the idea that one might need to plan for future home protection and self-defense in a post-collapse environment. You guys must think that the starving masses are going to circle up, hold hands, and sing Kum Bai Yah as they wait for Manna from heaven to allay their starvation. This is highly unrealistic at best.

    And Brad, to suggest that “Bunkers weighed down with guns, ammo, and canned food will not float” misses the point entirely. Building bunkers is not your only option. But if building community is your only option, your life may depend on others waking up, others who are currently too busy watching Desperate Housewives to give a flying fuck about resource depletion, financial collapse, or global climate change. Fine. I will continue to talk to people, to shine a light on these issues, but if they choose to watch Monday Night Football over coming to a Transition talk, then, as Mike Ruppert says “Darwinian deselection is none of my business.”

    Cut the bullshit: it is wise to store food, water, and medical supplies while they are relatively cheap and plentiful. If the industrial monoculture collapses, and you haved store food, and there are thousands without food, you will become a target for armed robbery or worse. It both logic and human nature that bears this out, as well as the experience of countless others who have experienced social collapse in other countries in modern times: Argentina, Yugoslavia, the USSR, etc.

    If you are to agree that some degree of social unrest is inevitable in a collapse scenario, and you are to agree that it is wise to prepare for both disruptions in supply chain and for potential social unrest, but you are unwilling to take steps to protect yourself and your family in said scenario, you are essentially advocating for nonviolent resistance to violent attempts to deprive you of life, limb, and property.

    I believe Coach Greg Glassman said it best, in quoting and commenting on Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence:

    “The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality.” Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968, American Black Leader, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, 1964)

    “When dealing with similarly enlightened souls it does do exactly that. When confronting the rest of the world this very same strategy turns you into Scooby Snacks.”~Greg Glassman

    In closing, I would like to voice my continued support for building community, for working towards community resiliency, for building community food banks, for creating city-wide and nation-wide edible permaculturee landscaping, for doing all the things we need to be doing to help create resiliency on local, state, national, and global levels.

    At the same time, I am absolutely crystal clear in my heartfelt belief that we as individuals and families must be as well-prepared as possible JUST IN CASE the rest of the town/state/county/world doesn’t get its shit together in time for the worst of the meconium hitting the rotary airflow oscillator. Make no mistake, with oil around $90/barrel, with commodity prices skyrocketing, with the dollar sinking like Obama’s approval ratings, the Shit is Hitting The Fan, Right Fucking Now. The Long Emergency, the Long Descent, the Big Mess, it’s ALL ALREADY HAPPENING, NOW. We don’t need to wait for tomorrow, TSHTF IS NOW. And as the eco-fertilizer continues to flow from Washington directly into the Fan Blades of reality, its flow rate will only increase.

    • says

      Luke — Many good points, thanks. Of course, things look dicey to me now too. But does anybody know how it will play out? Will it be like the 30s, the 70s, “Mad Max” or something that we haven’t yet imagined? I don’t know what will happen in the short run from financial troubles or in the long run from ecological overshoot, and I’m suspicious of people who claim that they do.

      What I do know is that those who are most resilient will have the best chance to do well whatever may come. So, I agree that preparing your family is important. Our writer Marc Flora, a trained emergency first-responder, did a piece about it for us last month: Surival of the fittest.

      But I think the idea that the shit is already hitting the fan, that “collapse” could happen next week and that the American people in particular are too narcotized by reality TV to give a hoot has made many of us put too much emphasis on personal/family prep and too little emphasis on good old fashioned public education, advocacy and lobbying.

      I’m urging that we restore balance. Yes, we should continue to store the water and canned goods in the basement. But we should not stop there. We need to also go to those Transition meetings. We need to invite new folks to each one. Then we need to get our Transition buddies and go to City Council meetings. We need to write letters to the editor. And we need to schedule meetings with elected officials and candidates. Overall, as we do our household prep, we also need to push for community prep, state prep and even national prep for a post-peak world.

    • says

      Hi Luke, thanks for adding your thoughts.

      Since we have a wide variety of content here (though it all points back to our coverage of peak oil, climate change, economic crisis, and the Transition Town response) it’s easy to see any one of our essays as isolated from the other content. But in a sense it works as a whole. On our Peak Oil Christmas Gift Buying Guide for example, you’ll see lots of things that speak to personal preparedness. (It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, too, cuz’ we like to give props to the light side.) But many of our columns and writers touch on personal and community preparedness. So it’s not a case of either/or. It is, however, a case of balance and emphasis. At least for us.

      Nice comment, though. I hope we’ll hear from you some more.



  4. Jon says

    I’ve come to the conclusion that to survive the coming storm, you will need to do one of two things: Either A) be part of a community that works together in common cause, including community defense; or B) become as invisible as possible for a number of years, probably at least three and maybe more. I’m hoping for the former, but I am prepared to try the latter if necessary, then come out once the bulk of the dying is done, if I live that long.

  5. Kenneth O'Hare says

    New to the site, I’m very impressed with the ability of Erik, Luke, and Lindsay to engage in actual dialogue about a fraught set of issues where reasonable people have complex and divergent experiences and beliefs.
    And did I say Thanks? So, thanks.

  6. says

    There is definitely a lot of tumult in the world. It will be amazing to watch everything play out in the next couple decades.

    You site is wonderful and I have very much enjoyed searching through the topics discussed here.

    • says

      Henry — I agree with you about the future and I’m glad to see so many people working for clean energy and other things we’ll desperately need. And thanks for your nice comment about Transition Voice! I hope we’ll see you back again soon.

  7. says

    Hi Erik,

    I’m amused to have stumble on TRANSITION VOICE, and this post, while looking for a graphic to illustrate a post, who’s subject – nearly literally – is stocking one’s ark!

    I very much like your site and especially appreciate the civility of the conversation you’re hosting.

    A couple of quibbles…

    The first concerns your take as to whether or not one’s best shot at preparation is warranted.

    Certainly, one cannot guarantee that one’s preparations are adequate. Survival, and more important, a transition toward thriving in new conditions, cannot be guaranteed, even in our day to day lives. Yet to avoid preparation is like not having fire extinguishers, or escape preparations (ladders, smoke detectors, etc) because a propane explosion could overwhelm them. Preparations don’t guarantee safety or survival, but they increase the odds.

    Second is the ‘let them drown’ commentary.

    On the one hand, despite ongoing efforts to educate and persuade a wider community that prevention is essential and preparation warranted there has only recently been more of us looking up. TRANSITION VOICE is an excellent effort, but, for every voice, there are thousands (millions) of deaf ears.

    On the other, the situation is something like this… We are in a canoe heading for the falls. There is much squabbling over seats and a great deal of paddling straight for the precipice. At some point, a believer must abandon ship (and those paddling with all their might) with as many as will join, in hopes it’s not to late to reach shore. [As you point out, metaphor breaks down if there IS no safe shore, something I consider more probable than not… but if you don’t try, personal disaster is assured.] Preparation, in this metaphor, is putting on one’s life jacket and packing lunch.

    I personally would/will mourn those who don’t make it, and, where possible, extend a hand. Most of those with whom I’m in contact would do the same. We can’t save everyone, nor perhaps even ourselves. But we may be able to help a few. Out of humanity AND self-interest.

    Another analogy… The first question for Rescue Personal is, “Is the scene safe?” If it is not, DO NOT ENDANGER YOURSELF! Why? Because two victims are worse than one. A dead or injured hero is no help to those in need, and has fallen in need of rescue, him or herself. If we take care of ourselves, to the best of our ability – and among other, consciousness raising activities – only then are we in any position to help in a crisis. And this scene is NOT safe!

    Last quibble (I promise) concerns your concluding statement, “And unless you’ve heard the Voice of God as Noah did, then how do you know that the Flood is coming at all?”

    Given our current state of affairs, consumption (only in part driven by population, albeit a LARGE part), is doubling, exponentially. Peak oil analysis can be applied to virtually any resource, renewable or not, relative to demand. If doubling continues, one can reasonably expect global economies – reliant as they are upon the tight coupling of supply and demand – to fail, likely before the next doubling of demand. At best, they will falter, disrupting food supply chains for the billions in urban and suburban areas.

    The only alternative to continuous growth is to flatten or decline growth curves. But capital economies require that continuous growth to function.

    Thus all three possibilities lead to failure. Given that we are well beyond the global carrying capacity, without access to cheap energy food production and intact economies to deliver goods and services, that failure is likely to be traumatic. From this argument alone (there are many others), it is REASONABLE to conclude that the probability of catastrophic failure is high, and close as measured in doubling-time.

    Do we need God to tell us that it’s going to rain, or to get out the rain, as best we can?

    Dave Z

  8. says

    Whoops… correction:

    I wrote, “Given that we are well beyond the global carrying capacity, without access to cheap energy food production and intact economies to deliver goods and services, that failure is likely to be traumatic.”

    That should read “…beyond global carrying capacity ABSENT access to cheap energy…”

  9. Arthur Noll says

    Principles for Society and how to get there.

    We live by teamwork, and all of us have the naked body to experiment with this if desired. Monetary systems make us into independent agents to the maximum degree possible, they destroy good teamwork. In monetary systems individuals can win market competitions by ignoring conservation and exploiting other people, and in winning such competitions they get greater influence on laws, make their behavior legal… Superstition becomes another basis for such a society, the superstition that we are so smart that we will always find replacements for anything used up. Past civilizations are ruins because they did not find what they needed. Nobody knows what exists to be found, this was and is a blindly arrogant view of the future.

    There are more logical ways to judge behavior.We all need to eat, to be sheltered, to reproduce. We need to use the energy in the food we eat, to get enough of all these things. We can give all this a shorthand name, it can be called food energy returned over food energy ingested. Food EROEI. Not enough food energy returned, not enough shelter obtained to slow down excessive energy loss or gain, not enough reproduction, we are on the path to death.

    But we also want a good ratio of food EROEI for all in a team, as this ratio can be called, to be sustainable into the future. The rate of use of everything involved in getting a good food EROEI, needs to be *less* than the rate at which things renew or replace, either by our efforts or naturally. Given the life and death nature of this ratio and the difficulty of predicting the future exactly, we would logically want to use a factor of safety in our rate of use of resources.

    Monetary systems are obviously not the only way to organize a society. The way an individual body is organized, gives us a clue for an objective way for this. Specialized organs are all trading their goods and services to the whole rest of the body in return for what the teamwork of the body can do. Society can behave like that, many societies in the past have behaved something like this, and it can be done according to these values of making sure everyone who contributes gets enough to eat, enough shelter, opportunity to reproduce within logical limits. Such organization is not limited to small groups, groups may specialize and exchange with each other on the same basic principles. This social structure could in theory, encompass the earth. And to work, it would have to do that, otherwise any group that did not restrain itself could become a cancer on the rest. The body has an immune system that kills cancers if it becomes aware of them. Society needs to behave similarly.

    Couples can no more reproduce without a team, than individuals can live without one, and this can also be tested if desired. Logically the amount of reproduction is a social concern, everyone is involved, and too much of it can use resources too fast, hurting everyone in the end.

    The lack of social cohesion, lack of care for each other when teamwork is logically vital, the superstition inherent with a system that virtually demands unsustainable use of resources, all leads logically to failure. More efficient social systems, especially in the face of the serious scarcity of resources caused, gives greater odds of survival.

    Another major issue for social efficiency is health care. Someone not pulling their weight, may have no intention at all of being a parasite, they are sick, they need help, not to be thrown out as a parasite. It is logical to use food energy and other resources to return hurt people to health, if it can be done for less energy than it takes to raise a replacement. It takes a very large amount of food energy and other resources to raise a human being. We can be worth a lot of care. But it is a finite amount. And we become worth less as we get old, as regardless of the amount of care given, we die anyway .We cannot be too eager to accept new members or too reluctant to let people go. It does no one any good.

    None of this makes sense to force on people who don’t want it. We need to be efficient and it is not generally efficient to force behavior. To accept this would be like being a child again, learning a new system of social values and behavior. It will be a very difficult reprogramming of the brain. A change to a society that lives without war on each other or on nature, does not happen by forcing people to change. But logically, accepting these observations, voluntarily reprogramming what is right and wrong, forming more efficient social organisms, will survive better.

    Observations and logic that cannot be given rebuttal, yet are deeply disliked, can create fanatical reactions of denial, which can lead to self destruction, as people angrily attempt to demonstrate nonsense. Putting observations like these into the open and defending them, would divide society. The fact that only voluntary behavior would be wanted, is logical and is also a defense. Mostly people arguing for change, want to change laws and those laws force behavioral changes. This gets resisted, sometimes violently. Looking only for volunteers would bypass that kind of reaction in most. It is a fine line, though, because basically you are telling people they are irrational, which is not something most people like to believe about themselves. Making people angry enough to do fanatical self destruction is not without risk.
    Probably a very tiny percentage would be willing to try to make this work, the rest would continue with their irrational hopes or would rather die than make such radical changes. But it could be very common that people keep blind faith yet become fanatical with doubts. This could lead to self destruction much faster than it would otherwise. Those not putting faith in blind hopes, would want to get well out of the way of a fanatical failure. Living by teamwork, putting very little energy into reproduction, no pregnant or nursing women, no toddlers, and being prepared in other ways, would allow people to live in very rugged places for awhile. Once fanatical actions were taken by someone with major abilities for war,the dominoes could start falling violently and fast for the rest. Yet the more divisions of fanaticism, the better, large countries will not be united in using weapons of mass destruction if there are many fanatical divisions. The end could be like the controlled demolition of a tall building, most of it falling into its foundations. Having things over with faster and in this divide and conquer way, reducing the reach of effects, improves the odds of survival of some of the groups that try to be rational. They can come out of rugged places faster, get back to easier living conditions and back to rational amounts of reproduction. But there are no guarantees, only a logical increase in the odds. Living on blind faith, on the other hand, has seriously bad odds of survival.

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