Low-Tech COVID-19: Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

As COVID-19 begins to spread more widely across the United States, prompting closure of schools, public services, and events, many of us are finding ourselves with more time at home. For some of us this is an inconvenience, for others it is a hardship.

The driving thought behind the Low Technology Institute is that someday we will no longer be using fossil fuels — either because we give them up or they become too scarce. We are trying, therefore, to identify, test, and adapt strategies to house, clothe, and feed ourselves without fossil fuels now, while we still have a comfortable fuel supply. We will now use our blog, podcast, and videos to encourage you to do something now.

Why We’re Concerned

Before I get into the specific items that have concerned us enough to suggest the actions we outline below (which at first glance may seem drastic), we want say this: We hope we’re wrong. We hope that in two months, people mock us on Twitter for our concern. That would mean we’re all back at work and the economy is still chugging along. We do not want anyone in June to think back to this post and say, “I wish I had taken this more seriously.”

The Spread of COVID-19

We’re worried that this is worse than the general population thinks it is. Evidence includes:

  • An Imperial University study, showing that even with social distancing, closing everything, etc., we still exceed hospital bed capacity many times over (model for the UK, but widely applicable). Importantly they predict a late resurgence in the fall if schools and universities open back up on schedule. This suggests social isolation through the end of 2020.
  • A Japanese study of one of the cruise ships suggests that ca. 18 percent of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning they can share it with everyone they come in contact and never know.
  • A Dutch study suggest 4–5 days of incubation before symptoms are apparent, and about half of transmissions happen before the onset of symptoms.
  • In the US, only “severe” control measures can slow the spread enough that does not overwhelm our healthcare system.

These studies and models are stark. I haven’t seen much in the way of counter arguments with data behind them. This begs the question: are you prepared to “shelter in place” until 2021?

Are you prepared to “shelter in place” until 2021?

Does this sound extreme? Yes. We’ll address worries about overreaction below.

COVID-19-Related Economic Depression

Since 1945, the US (and world economy, more or less) has experienced ten recession-recovery cycles, averaging 10 months of recession followed by 57 months of expansion. The last recession ended in June 2009, which is 129 months ago. Just based on the law of averages, we were looking at a recession. This was before COVID-19 was recognized (Nov. 2019), let alone considered to be a global threat. This isn’t our idea. It has been in the news for the last year.

If we hunker down for the rest of 2020 (and even if we don’t), what might have been “just” a recession, might well turn into a full-on depression.

Perhaps COVID-19 is a double-edged sword in this light. If the government forbids evictions, keeps employment afloat, provides funds to families, and other relief efforts (which would not have been done in a recession absent a pandemic), it may provide us the opportunities to self-provision, so at least our food needs will be met. If you’re in a position to do so, can you start to grow and produce as much of what you need for the next year right now? During the Great Depression and the Second World War, about 40 percent of produce was homegrown (read City Bountiful by Lawson).

Can you start to grow and produce as much of what you need for the next year right now?

Aren’t we Overreacting?

We hope so. But let’s look at this logically. We have two potential futures (for the sake of argument): the world economy collapses vs. the world economy does not collapse. And we have two paths we can choose right now: prepare for the worst vs. not preparing.

Economic Collapse Economic Stability
Preparation Able to Weather the Collapse Have Plenty of Resources on Hand
[Best Case]
No Preparation Difficulty Weathering Collapse
[Worst Case]
Have to Continue to Purchase Resources


At this point, the only thing we can control is our own preparation. If you choose to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, you’ll have two potential outcomes. If the economy stabilizes, then you’ve just got your groceries and supplies taken care of for the next six months to a year. This is great: if you lose your job, get sick, or have some other financial or personal hardship, at least you’re still taken care of. If the economy does collapse, you will be in a better position than most to take care of yourself and your community.

If you do not prepare now, then you are putting all of your metaphoric eggs in the basket of economic stability. In other words, you’re betting your well-being on the economy remaining stable, your job remaining in place, not getting sick, and not having any personal hardships. If the bottom does fall out of the economy, you are in the worst-possible condition of any of the above four. And worse still, you will become a burden on your friends, family, and community. Worst of all, you could have prevented this with action now, before things get tough.

If you are in a stable home and personal situation, it does not cost you anything that you wouldn’t already be spending to prepare your household now. And if you have some extra free time now because all of your activities are cancelled: all the better. Now is the time to learn new skills and get yourself ready.

If you are in a stable home and personal situation, it does not cost you anything that you wouldn’t already be spending to prepare your household now.

What We’re Suggesting

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to discuss different ways in which you can build on what resources you have right now.

We’ll be looking at the following topics:

  • Food Security: growing what you can, preserving what you grow, stockpiling what you can’t produce, etc.
  • Health: COVID-19-related measures, general self-care, mental health, etc.
  • Home Care: maintaining your space, thinking ahead to other seasons, making the most out of your space, etc.
  • Community: building a support network, helping others, etc.

Stay tuned. Share this. We’ll put everything under the hashtag: #LowTechResilience

In the meantime, check out our self-provisioning on the “Foodmageddon” webseries (which we happened to start in January, before we knew about COVID-19):

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