Energy is the Key to Survival

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Energy is the Key to Survival

In physics class we learned that energy is the capacity to do work. We saw earlier that food is the stored energy which makes life possible. Every human activity requires energy. We need it to charge our phones and to heat our homes. From growing our food to cooking it, energy is the key to survival. In this chapter we will explore this important topic and look at sources of energy that we might draw upon during an emergency.
Virtually all of the energy on Earth comes from the Sun. Plants absorb energy directly from sunlight and plant-eating animals get it by consuming plants. Then carnivores eat plant-eating animals and so goes the food chain right to the top where humans are found. The sun’s energy stored in trees is released when we burn wood. The energy stored in plants and animals that died millions of years ago provides us today with the coal, oil and natural gas that we depend on to run our economies. Even the electricity we get from hydroelectric dams comes from the sun, which evaporated the waters which produced the rain and snow which fed the rivers and lakes.

When humans discovered fire we were able to move from the warmer regions of the earth to the colder areas. The discovery of fossil fuels—first coal, and then oil and natural gas—led to the industrial revolution. With inexpensive fertilizers produced from natural gas, and abundant cheap gasoline and diesel fuel to power farming equipment, we were able to produce food more efficiently and abundantly than ever before, and to transport it in refrigerated trucks over great distances. As a result of cheap energy, today we expect to find fresh fruits and vegetables in our grocery stores regardless of the season. We take this cornucopia of inexpensive food for granted, but global warming, obesity and overpopulation have now became concerns.

But Nature is not without her own system of checks and balances. Geologists are warning us today about “Peak Oil,” as fossil fuel production worldwide has begun to decline due to dwindling resources. Unfortunately they just aren’t making dinosaurs anymore, and even if they were, we can’t wait the millions of years that would be necessary to churn them into new fossil fuels. Many scientists are predicting that in the very near future our dwindling fossil fuel resources will become critical, leading first to extraordinarily high energy prices, and eventually maybe even to a tragic depopulation of the Earth. Some scientists say that we have already approached this critical point, and the higher fuel prices that we have witnessed over the past few years are just the beginnings of the birth pangs, as compared to what we will experience in the not-too-distant future.

Throughout the past century, the abundance of cheap energy from fossil fuels has spoiled us, resulting in some unusual habits. We have become accustomed to wearing T-shirts and shorts in our homes during the coldest months of the year, and long sleeves and woolen suits in our air-conditioned offices during the hottest months. We have become so used to this unnatural state that we now even design many of our new office buildings with windows that can’t even be opened!


It is absurd that, even while our scientists are warning us about the dangers of greenhouse gases, we Americans continue to buy the largest gas-guzzling vehicles that we can get our hands on. The reprehensible SUV has replaced the more sensible economy cars that appeared on the scene after the energy crisis of the 1970’s. But here is the bad news: Geologists tell us that there is a huge difference between the approaching energy crisis and the one of the 1970’s. The energy crisis of the 1970’s was not caused by an actual shortage of oil, but rather by a politically motivated embargo on the part of major oil producing nations. The energy crisis that we are facing today is due to the actual depletion of the world’s easily-accessible (i.e., inexpensive) fossil fuel reserves. Make no mistake about it, this situation is not going to improve. It will only get worse. To the survivalist this is just one more reason why preparedness is more important today than ever before!

“If kindness and comfort are, as I suspect, the results of an energy surplus, then, as the supply contracts, we could be expected to start fighting once again like cats in a sack.” —George Monbiot

Whether the next emergency comes from a hurricane, earthquake, terrorist attack, or peak oil crisis, we will want to consider alternative ways for heating our homes during the cold winter months when there is an interruption to our electric, natural gas, and heating oil supplies. We will also need to consider alternative methods for cooking food, and for the numerous other energy-consuming activities of daily life from washing our dishes to powering our portable radios.


A generator can provide essential electric power during a short-term emergency. There are two basic types: portable generators and standby generators.

A portable generator usually runs on gasoline. If nothing else it may be able to provide enough power to keep your refrigerator and freezer operating long enough for you to consume your cold food before it spoils. The major disadvantage of a portable generator is that it operates on gasoline, which does not store well. Gasoline should not be stored for longer than a year because it deteriorates quickly leading to clogged fuel lines or other mechanical problems. Gasoline is also highly volatile and very dangerous to store.
If you can afford the higher cost, a standby generator that will run on either natural gas or propane can provide plenty of emergency power for short-term emergencies. A standby generator can be hooked directly into your home’s existing natural gas line and will automatically provide electricity during an electrical power outage. The system constantly monitors utility power 24 hours a day. When power from the utility line fails an automatic transfer switch safely disconnects the utility feed wires and connects the generator feed. This eliminates the harmful back-feeding of electricity from the house’s generator power to the utility lines. A signal is sent starting the generator and powering up your home. Automatic generators continue to monitor utility power and reverse the switch when the power outage ends, returning to standby mode. A propane dealer can provide you with an underground propane tank that is protected from the elements so that a constant source of fuel is available. According to propane dealers, on average a 250 gallon propane tank fueling a seven kilowatt standby generator will provide enough electricity to power a home for five days. A 500 gallon underground tank will provide power on average for 11 days. Of course, if you can conserve electricity by operating only essential appliances when they are really needed (an air conditioner is not an essential appliance) then your propane supply will last much longer. Even if you have a natural gas line to your home, I recommend that you go to the extra expense of having a propane tank installed, allowing you to switch your generator from natural gas to propane if the natural gas supply is interrupted. If you do not have a propane tank professionally installed you should at least be quipped to switch your generator over to a portable propane tank if the need should arise.
Many of us will not be able to afford a costly standby generator. And even those who are fortunate enough to have one will perhaps want to make plans for when their fuel runs out. What will we do then when the lights go out and the gas ceases to flow? First consider what essential services these utilities provide:

I will discuss communication and transportation in later chapters of this web site. In the remainder of this chapter we will consider lighting, cooking and heating.

I purposefully left air-conditioning off this list because I do not consider it essential. There are some who will disagree. My argument is that air conditioning only became widely available a mere 50 or so years ago. Humans have survived just fine for thousands if not millions of years without it. Many people survive today in very hot climates without air-conditioning. If you are in a building in which you don’t believe you will survive without air-conditioning, then I suggest you consider another location. When the electricity goes out for a prolonged period of time, there will simply be no air-conditioning, and there are few alternatives other than just sweating it out the best way you can.



One solution to the problem of lighting is to make the most of natural light or sunlight. This means getting up and going to bed with the sun. (As you can see, a large part of survival is simply common sense.) But what about those times when you really need to see in the dark, particularly during the months of the year in which the daylight period is shortened?
A solar charger can be used to recharge your rechargeable batteries during a prolonged power outage. The solar charger pictured above folds to the size of a pocket calculator and can charge three AA batteries at a time in the included battery pack. The detachable battery pack with multi-plug can also be used as a power supply for small devices like radios.


A short-term solution for some of our lighting needs will be battery-operated lights. Certainly a good flashlight with fresh batteries is an essential emergency item for any home. You should also keep one in your car. You might also consider buying rechargeable batteries, and perhaps even a solar charger. I suggest that you keep a supply of both regular batteries and rechargeable batteries in your survival stash. The newer nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries are much better than the older nickel-cadmium (NiCd) type. Rotate your regular batteries to keep them fresh and ready for an emergency. You can store batteries in your refrigerator or freezer to prolong their shelf-life. (I will further discuss batteries toward

LED flashlights are the most efficient type providing the most light for the amount of energy used. The LED lights use very little electricity so their batteries will last much longer. The wind-up type of LED flashlight never needs batteries or a new bulb. It has a crank on the side that you turn for about 60 seconds to charge up the permanent internal rechargeable battery. This flashlight provides a low intensity light that lasts a surprisingly long amount of time on each windup.
Wind-up electrical devices like the LED flashlight pictured above come in very handy during power outages. Wind-up portable radios are also available. Turning the crank for a couple of minutes recharges the internal battery. The crank folds conveniently away when not in use. Some wind-up devices are multifunctional, providing a radio and light in one unit for example, and some can even be used to charge the batteries in your cell phone.


Candles also provide inexpensive emergency lighting and every survival stash should include a nice supply. Lit candles should be watched carefully, especially when used around pets or children. Many houses have burned down as a result of fires started by carelessly placed or unattended candles. Don’t forget to store plenty of matches as well!
I frequently pick up candles at estate sales whenever I find them for 5 to 10 cents a piece. I have a huge box filled with candles in my survival supplies which I purchased for pennies on the dollar. If I have more than I can use during an emergency I can always use them for barter, since candles will be a highly sought after commodity during any prolonged emergency and few people store them these days.


Kerosene lanterns are also a good option for providing light during a power outage. These too are abundant at estate sales where they can be picked up very economically. In addition to kerosene they will also burn lantern oil, which comes in plastic bottles. Lantern oil is more refined and burns cleaner but is much more expensive and some complain that it does not wick as well as kerosene. I never buy lantern oil new but I have picked up many bottles at estate sales for practically nothing and as a result I have quite a stash.
If you plan on using kerosene lanterns you will also want to store a supply of kerosene, extra mantles or wicks, and extra globes in case yours breaks. Kerosene will keep longer than gasoline, but I still recommend that you try to rotate it out every few years or so. If you also have a kerosene heater you can burn your kerosene during the cold months each year so you can replace your supply with fresh stock.


Gasoline doesn’t store as long as kerosene and for that reason I do not recommend gasoline lanterns or stoves. If you want you can keep one on hand so you will have the option of using gasoline, if you can get your hands on it during a prolonged emergency, but be sure that you do not store gasoline in your stove or lantern. It goes bad rather quickly and will gum up the works—the last thing you want when you pull the appliance out of storage to use during an emergency.

If you are well equipped for camping, you will also be well equipped for any emergency. Hopefully you will have a good propane lantern as part of your camping equipment. I consider propane lanterns to be a very good choice. Propane is safe to store and it will keep for a very long time, making it one of the best choices for stockpiling energy. Be sure to store plenty of extra mantles for your propane lantern.



I also consider propane to be a good choice for your emergency cooking needs. But, as always, it is a good idea to have more than one alternative to fall back on during an emergency. Alcohol stoves, including the ones that run on canned fuel or “Sterno” are nice alternatives, especially if you live in a small apartment and don’t have a lot of room to store propane tanks. Outdoor barbecue grills can be use for cooking during emergencies, but they are terribly inefficient when compared to camping stoves. Since you will want to conserve your propane to make it last as long as possible, I recommend that you avoid using a large outdoor grill, preferring a smaller camping stove instead. (Warning: Never use a barbecue grill or hibachi to burn charcoal inside your home. They produce dangerous carbon monoxide gas and are therefore for outdoor use only. People have died during power outages as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning from indoor charcoal fires!)
A double burner propane stove and two single burner propane stoves are pictured above. Propane is clean, safe and it stores very well making it the ideal fuel for emergencies.

Alcohol or Canned Fuel

Alcohol or Sterno is an alternative cooking fuel that may be suitable for those who live in small apartments. The two stoves on the right in the photograph above fold flat for storage and are designed for canned cooking fuel while the two stoves on the left are designed for bottled fondue fuel or alcohol. Canned fuel keeps very well and can be stored for an indefinite amount of time.


Wood burning stoves are also a good option if you have a class A chimney flue in your home. They can be used for both heating and cooking, and you can often find fire wood for free. I will have more to say about using wood as a fuel source in the next section of this chapter when we discuss alternative ways for heating your home during an emergency

Cooking in a Solar Oven

Solar ovens generally do not get as hot as conventional ovens, so a longer cooking time will often be required. For example, when I make whole wheat bread in my kitchen oven I bake it for 30 minutes at 350o F (177o C.) Baking a similar loaf in a simple box-type solar oven can take up to three hours, depending on the efficiency of the solar oven and the amount of sun. I have successfully baked bread at temperatures as low as 155o to 175o F (68o to 80o C.) On the plus side of solar ovens, it is nearly impossible to burn anything.

If you cook meat in your solar oven I recommend that you use a meat thermometer. You may never get your meat to the temperature recommended for conventional cooking and so again a longer cooking time may be required. I recommend that you strive for an internal temperature of at least 165o F (74o C) as measured by a meat thermometer.


Food Safety When Solar Cooking

Regardless of the cooking method, the danger zone for cooked food is between 50o and 125o F (10o and 52o C.) It is recommended that cooked food be kept either above this zone or below it. When cooked food has been in the danger zone for three to four hours it should be discarded due to the possibility of food poisoning by botulism or salmonella. Spoiled foods may contain dangerous toxins without showing any noticeable signs of spoilage. Suspect foods should not even be tasted since even a small amount of toxin can be very dangerous. Reheating food that has been in the danger zone for too long will not destroy the toxins nor render the food safe.

When using a solar oven the danger occurs when the food is partially cooked and then allowed to remain in the cooker too long after the oven temperature falls into the danger zone. This is not usually a problem because it is not difficult to keep the temperature above the danger zone. The problem could occur if food remains in the oven for hours at the end of the day or after the sun is obscured by clouds. If the food in your solar oven is not done due to one of these conditions then another method of cooking should be used to finish the job. For additional information on solar cooking safety see

As long as the above precautions are kept in mind, solar cooking lends itself very well to absentee cooking. Raw, refrigerated or frozen foods, even meat or chicken, may be placed in a solar oven while it is still dark outside—several hours before the sun begins the cooking process. The food will remain cold enough to prevent spoilage and when the sun rises the cooker will reach a safe level of heat quickly enough to prevent it from being in the danger zone too long. Since it is difficult to overcook or burn food in a solar oven, when the food is done it will simply stay hot and above the danger zone until your return.

Heating your Home During an Emergency

If you are already relying on stockpiled heating oil or propane for your heating needs then you may already have a nice supply of stored energy for an emergency. But your thermostat and furnace will not work when the electricity is off. You could also experience this problem if you heat your home using natural gas. You can look into ways of providing electricity to your furnace when the power is off, but it would be even better to install a natural gas space heater or a small furnace that does not require electricity, for a backup during those times in which you lose electrical power but still have gas or oil. If your oven uses natural gas you will have to light it with a match since the electronic lighters will not work when the electricity is off.

Some people try to heat their homes when the electricity is off by operating their natural gas ovens with the door open, but the gas company does not recommend this procedure because it can be dangerous. Install a natural gas space heater instead. However, when the electricity is off during cold weather, that would be a good time to catch up on your baking if you have natural gas, since a hot stove will provide supplemental heat for your home. After your baking is done and the oven is turned off, leave the oven door open for a while to let the escaping heat help keep you warm.

During an emergency your natural gas service could also become interrupted. Alternative methods for heating your home include a kerosene heater, a portable propane heater (like those used when camping in cold weather) and a wood burning stove or fireplace. You will need to stockpile your emergency energy source and conserve it so that it will last as long as possible. You can save energy during an emergency by heating only a portion of your home, closing off the rooms that are not needed. You can also save a considerable amount of energy by not trying to keep your house as warm as you have grown accustomed to during times of plentiful energy. Wear plenty of warm clothing in your house, including a wool cap or similar headgear, and you can be comfortable with inside temperatures as low as 60o F (16o C.) Remember that most heat loss from the human body occurs from the head, so don’t neglect the warm headgear!

Other useful resources:12121 (2)

Survival MD (Best Post Collapse First Aid Survival Guide Ever)

Backyard Innovator (A Self Sustaining Source Of Fresh Meat,Vegetables And Clean Drinking Water)

Blackout USA (EMP survival and preparedness)

Conquering the coming collapse (Financial advice and preparedness )

Liberty Generator (Build and make your own energy source)

Backyard Liberty (Easy and cheap DIY Aquaponic system to grow your organic and living food bank)

Bullet Proof Home (A Prepper’s Guide in Safeguarding a Home )

Family Self Defense (Best Self Defense Strategies For You And Your Family)

Sold Out After Crisis (Best 37 Items To Hoard For A Long Term Crisis)



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