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posted on 12 June 2017

Alaska: Is It Sustainable After TSHTF?

by Reverse Engineer, Doomstead Diner

Discuss this article at the SUN☼ Table inside the Diner

Author's Note: This is Part 1 of a 3 Part Series which will air on the Diner for the next 3 weeks of Sunday Brunches

Editor's Note: If you don't know now what TSHTF stands for we expect you will by the time you finish the article.

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Last week, a friend of mine, now living down in the Lower 48 in WA, came up for one of his more or less bi-annual visits. We used to work together up here. He has a rental Real Estate property here still, plus a part time job gig as well doing the books for a small biz up here.

It was fortuitous timing for me, I've been in the market for a Stealth Van to go traveling with and bringing the message of Collapse to the masses, but without a 2nd driver along it's hard to make the kind of on-the-spot CASH deals you want to make for Used Cars. If you flash the Greenbacks at a Seller and say you will buy it right here, right now, you instantly shave at least 10% off the asking price.

So, after he attended a weekend wedding of the guy he does the books for, he dropped by and we went Stealth Van shopping! I had done research the prior few days and found one which looked good down in Anchorage. It turned out to be as good a buy as I had hoped for, and I made the deal on the spot and he drove my Ford Explorer back home to the Mat-Su Valley while I drove the new Stealth Van home. Well, not really NEW (it's a 1999), but new for me. It also performed pretty much like a new vehicle in my test drive and then on the drive home, so I was (and still am) very happy with this find and purchase. EVERYTHING on this vehicle works, including the overhead console Cathode Ray Tube TV circa 1999 in the passenger area for the kiddies to watch cartoons on during long trips. CD players front and rear also work. I got it for what I figured to pay for this type of vehicle ($5000), and it fulfills the requirements I was looking for in a Stealth Van. Together with an enclosed trailer to hold a good supply of preps, it's the ultimate land-based bugout machine, and you can put together the whole rig for under $10,000, including the preps. You can even live in such an arrangement right now,, and there's a whole community of people who do this. You might have listened to the Podcasts I did with Van Dweller who has been living this way for 50 years, or read my article on Storage Unit-Van living so you don't have to be pulling a trailer around all the time.

My hope here is assuming my health holds up in the remaining pre-Collapse period would be to go on the road with my rig, take pictures and vids, do interviews and write stories about the Homeless People I run into and the abandoned Malls and decaying cities. I hope to speak at places of Worship of all denominations and PTA meetings and Town Council meetings, wherever they'll let me speak. I'll drop in and visit with as many of the Diners as I can. However, I have quite a few obstacles ahead of me to be able to fulfill this Bucket List dream, so I give it only a 50-50 chance I will actually pull it off. I call this Bucket List Dream "Brother RE's Travelling Salvation Show". lol

Plenty of climate ideologues will chastise me for hypocrisy in burning all that gas, but it's not really going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things far as the climate is concerned. I'll only be able to do it for as long as BAU continues, and during that time between all the container ships burning bunker fuel, all the jets burning kerosene, all the JIT Big Rigs burning diesel, all the SUVs on the daily commute burning gasoline and all the Power Plants burning coal or natural gas, it's not even a drop in a drop in the bucket. What it accomplishes though could make a difference, to wake some people up to the kind of world they will face in the future and how to get ready for it, both in physical and psychological terms.

After we did this deal for the van, the guy who got married invited him on a fishing trip with the Bridal Party and family members, about 13 people. As their trusted Biz Accountant he's worthy of such an invitation (there were about 80 people at the wedding, a 50s age guy getting married!). So he drove down to Kenai for this fishing expedition in a Charter boat, owned by another friend of the guy who got married so they got a good deal. Breaking down the cost of the charter between all the adults who went out, it cost my friend $150.

They really lucked out into a picture perfect day up here on the Last Great Frontier, it was in the 70sF and nice and Sunny. The fishing was also good and they Maxed Out on their limit on Halibut, having to throw some of the smaller ones back. My friend caught 6 himself. On returning to shore, they didn't even have to do the processing themselves, there are professionals at the dock who do this for you, amazingly fast. In the end, after the whole catch was divied up between the principal adults on the charter, my friend got around 20 lbs of fillets out of this. So what was the total cost and how does that compare to what you would normally pay for Halibut at the supermarket?

Well, he spent $150 for the charter, $70 for the gas for the round trip to Kenai, and then another $25 to take the frozen fillets vacuum sealed back down to WA packed tight in a cooler in checked baggage on the plane. So that is $245, call it $12/lb as opposed to the $19/lb for Halibut you usually pay in the grocery store up here. Not sure what it goes for down in the lower 48. So good savings there, as long as you don't count in the cost of the round trip airfare itself, which from WA is usually in the neighborhood of $500 or so. If you count that in, then the cost of your 20lbs of halibut skyrockets from $12/lb to about $38/lb! Not a very economical way to feed yourself that way! lol. But if you are traveling up here for other reasons and are spending the money for plane fare anyhow, you get a nice vacation and some cheaper fish too. Doing subsistence fishing though is really only practical as a means to feed yourself if you actually LIVE close to the fish.

Then you have the next question for people who actually DO live here in Alaska and don't have to fly on a plane to go fishing? How far is it practical for them to travel to get to the nearest good fishing ground?

Well, in this case it took traveling from the Mat-Su Valley to the Kenai Peninsula in a car, which as long as you got gas you can afford does not take all that much time. From the Mat-Su Valley to Kenai is around 200 miles, and takes about 4 hours, depending how fast you drive of course. You can go down there, fish & fillet, drop the fillets on ice then be back home to vacuum seal them and freeze them in your Frigidaire Freezer inside a day. Now good for easily a full year of scrumptious eating, and probably quite a bit longer than that as long as your freezer keeps working. I have vacuum sealed 5 year old steaks I have pulled out of the freezer for a BBQ and they are pretty much as good as the ones I ate fresh out of the refrigerated rack at 3 Bears the day I bought them.

BUT…if you do NOT have a car and gas to make the round trip to Kenai, these fish are mostly out of reach for you. In a Kayak, if you left from say the Knik River and paddled your way down there along the coast, this would take you several days/weeks, same for the return trip. With no refrigeration either way, you would have to salt/dry the fish you caught for the return trip. Not very practical or even possible really, which is why almost all the Native settlements from the days before the European Invasion here are right on the coast. You go out and fish every day, you eat fish every night, you dry and preserve some fish for the winter, rinse and repeat every year. Natives up here did no farming whatsoever. They lived on fishing, hunting the moose and some gathering of tubers and nuts that grow up here pretty well.

So as it is laid out and organized now, in the absence of the gas to make it to and fro the fishing and hunting grounds that are still quite good around here at the moment, you just couldn't do it. The population would need to migrate out to the spots that are good for this, which generally speaking are where any of the old native villages are located. They're there for a REASON. That's where the FOOD is! Said villages however are in some of the most inaccessible (by land) places in Alaska, even today there are no roads in or out of them. They are lonesome and desolate places these days for the most part also. The old culture is gone, alcoholism rates are through the roof and now they live in manufactured housing shipped in by barge and dropped on the permafrost, which is now not so perma anymore. It's sure not very likely you will get the vast preponderance of White people who currently live in Anchorage, the Mat Valley and Fairbanks to move to these places when TSHTF. Rather, most of them will try to GTFO of Alaska if they can, if it's not too late and they missed the last plane ride back to the Lower 48.

Given all of that, can the people who remain here create an economy not quite so far down the evolutionary ladder as mere subsistence Fishing & Hunting? IMHO, yes it is possible.

In the first place, there is a lot of infrastructure in place already which can take up some slack. The Alaska Railroad which starts down in Seward and goes up through Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley past Denali (Mt. McKinley) and ends in Fairanks is still an actively functioning railroad for both passengers and freight. It brings down coal from Healy which currently mostly gets shipped to China. It brings Touristas who don't want to drive and/or want to experience the railroad adventure up past many scenic vistas on the way to Fairbanks. For an Alaska Vacation, many people do this in conjunction with a Cruise to do some Whale Watching and/or a Fishing Charter to go catch some Halibut.

So, fish caught down at the mouth of the Kenai river could still be moved quickly up into the interior of Alaska, as long as you have a source of energy to power the trains. Switching back over to steam locomotives powered by coal, Alaska has plenty of that and it's right along the right of way of the Alaska Railroad too. No difficult transportation to get the coal to the trains.

Similar to fishing, produce grown here in Alaska on the farms in Palmer can be shipped up and down the line on the Alaska Railroad. People don't tend to think of Alaska as a great place for farming, but for certain crops they grow very well up here. Root vegetables and tubers such as carrots and potatoes grow very well. Although the outdoor growing season is short, the days are very long and those vegetables that do grow well up here grow very big. Alaska holds World Records for vegetables like Carrots and Cabbage. Other vegetables grown locally that show up in my local supermarket are various forms of squash like Zuchinni along with Pumpkins.

Beyond those vegetables grown outdoors, Alaska sports a lot of Greenhouses, both small private ones along with large commercial ones. The local hothouse Tomatoes on the vine we get up here are very good (for modern tomatoes), although about twice the current price for the tomatoes shipped up from Mexico. That network of Greenhouses could be expanded easily by using glass from the buildings in Anchorage and from abandoned Carz and McMansions.

For meat, we have both the hunting available from the large population of Moose along with ranchers in Palmer who raise Cattle, Bison, Big Horn Sheep, Pigs and Chickens. Many people also raise their own chickens as well, the local ordinances in most communities allow this. People also have Worm Farms, although currently used for bait or chicken feed, not direct eating by local Homo Saps.

About the only thing we don't currently have is a local Dairy, the one operational one shut down a couple of years ago. However, the equipment still exists and this would not be that difficult a thing to start up again.

So on the food end of things, I think we could be pretty self-sufficient, especially if many people start leaving the state which I suspect will happen when the North Slope stops pumping oil down the Alaska pipeline and the Big Oil Companies make their exit. They employ many people and the money those employees make is the main driver for the secondary economy of goods and services up here. Similarly, Mining of other minerals currently brings in revenue to Alaska, but after TSHTF there won't be much of a market for those anymore outside of Alaska. The Tourist/Vacation industry is a third driver which brings in decent revenue over the summer as people come up here to experience the Wonders of Nature now mostly gone from the Lower 48. They are mostly retirees with Pensions, 401Ks and Social Security though, and that sort of vacationing will become a thing of the past. Besides, the planes they fly up here on to experience Nature's Beauty won't be flying anymore to get here.

Finally, the main source of external revenue for the State of Alaska is the FSoA Military, which runs 3 large military bases here, Elmendorf/JR Richarson Air Force Base, Fort Wainwright Military Base and Clear Air Force Station. There's probably additional Secret ones as well. This also brings in substantial revenue to run the secondary economy, you pretty much cannot walk around Walmart without seeing somebody in Fatigues, and most of the people working for the Military permanently stationed here wear civies all the time anyhow. After TSHTF though, major features of this will be both the dissolution of the entire federation of the FSoA into more local Regional entities, along with the collapse of the FSoA Military. So while the soldiers left here may take over the local Goobermint and run the show with their leftover weapos and ammo, the military won't be a source of revenue after this point in time.

In addition, it's not certain we have to immediately give up the Internal Combustion engine here after TSHTF in general around the rest of the world. While the North Slope is quite depeleted these days in terms of producing enough Oil to economically push down the Alaska Pipeline, it can still produce a good deal of oil to refine for local use as distillates, and we do have our own Refinery in Fairbanks, although it is currently Mothballed. It could be restarted though, and refined products of gasoline and diesel transported down by train to Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, where most of the current population of Alaska currently lives, along with Fairbanks itself.

Besides the remaining oil on the Slope, there is a ton of Natural Gas sprinkled around here locally, and internal combustion gasoline engines can be fairly easily modified to run on NG. It's not quite so easy to do fillups as you need to work with compressed gas and in an accident you could end up with an explosion that might take out half a city block, but it could be done.

Besides that, there is talk and ongoing debate about building a big Hydro Plant by damming up the Susitna River. In current dollars, estimated to cost around $5B. Such a Hydro Plant would provide enough "clean" electric power to run many of Elon Musk's EVs. I'm not personally in favor of this dam due to ecological damage to the fishery, and I doubt it will get built due to economic reasons, but it remains a possibility if it can be financed & built prior to SHTF Day. The environmental lobby here is also pretty strong, and remains vehemently opposed to this dam. The Tourist industry also not in favor of it.

We are also fortunate there are no Nuke Puke plants up here, it was never even remotely economically feasible to build one due to the low population so spread out over a large territory. So no decommisioning costs or danger of a melt down or worse, a critical mass explosion of the core when cooling and containment is lost. Most areas of the country that are densely populated have one or more Nuke Puke plants in reasonable proximity, like Fukushima is to Tokyo. That includes most of the East and West Coasts of the FSoA, and many spots along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers bisecting the center of the land mass. Alaska only has to worry about what gets blown up in our direction when these plants inevitably fail, but by then it should be farily well diluted. Not so for someone who is 100 miles straight downwind of such a plant, of course.

So the food problem seems soluble, and so does the energy problem here for a small population. In terms of the climate problem, even a 10C rise in average Global Tems would just make the neighborhood somewhat more comfortable and balmy. It is unlikely to exceed Wet Bulb temperatures up here for quite some time to come, certainly not in the next decade which Dr. McStinksion Guy McPherson predicts as the Termination Date for all Humanity, and Global All Dead People, aka Near Term Human Extinction..

The biggest problem here in making a transition though is not the energy or the food or even the climate, since warming up 4C would lengthen the growing season and reduce the heating requirements for living. The most difficult thing in the near term is replacing the current Monetary System with something that will actually work. Alaska would have to issue out its own money of course, and what is that money going to be based on and how will it be distributed to the population to equitably distribute the resources? How will jobs be assigned to the population, and what job categories will there be? Who or what organization will be responsible for organizing this all up, under what type of political system? How will reproduction be controlled so as not to repeat the same mistake of population overshoot that went down before? These are very difficult questions to answer in a post-SHTF scenario.

Despite all those problems, I believe Alaska still represents one of the best Survival Holes on Earth in the face of both Global Economic Collapse and Global Climate Collapse. It has all the essentials locally, and it starts out here with one of the lowest population densities on the planet, and there will certainly be die off and outward migration from the current numbers.

Prior to the European Invasion, the estimated population of First Nations people that lived up here was around 60,000. With the knowledge and technology that we have acquired since then, I believe the population that could be supported in a sustainable manner is probably double, and perhaps triple that. Call that around 150,000 people. That is about 20% of the current population, so to get down that low you only need 80% to leave or die off. I believe the vast majority of people currently here will leave when the economy collapses. For the people who remain, mostly only the very hardy will survive, and I will not be one of them. I will in all likelihood live longer up here than I will just about anywhere else on earth though, certainly much longer than if I was currently living in Syria or Yemen. It's also currently fairly peaceful, and the shelves are filled with food goodies from around the world to sample at my leisure (at least if I actually still had an appetite for eating them anyhow). If you are an observer of Collapse, you couldn't ask for a better Perch.

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