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Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs

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If the world as you knew it was going to end in 21 days, what would you do? Find shelter, locate a water supply or possibly pull out your SKS assault rifle? Wendy Brown’s Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs takes readers through day-by-day preparations in order to live comfortably after an infrastructure collapse created by cheap oil.

Instead of providing a blueprint, Brown prioritizes and outlines how to thrive without today’s on-demand grocery stores, petro-dependent transportation and high-definition entertainment. This book is not for serious survival gurus, though. It is written for the average suburbanite looking for an informative and meandering read. Brown enjoys (no, loves) writing in an informal prose, which may agitate some readers (especially with excessive parentheses). Do-it-yourself readers will probably come away inspired to do further research. Convenience-loving suburbanites will probably be overwhelmed and ready to tap-out by day five.

Peppered with ideas and anecdotes, it is easy to come away from this read wanting to try out some projects. Brown takes readers on a personal journey of how she weaned her family off an unsustainable way of life. While raising bees might be out of reach for most suburbanites, homemade sauerkraut or candle making certainly is not. Brown manages to pass many great ideas to her readers in each day of the journey.

Brown’s basic premise, however, has some serious faults. What she describes doing in 21 days has taken her the span of several years to complete. Brown also uses the conveniences of modern society to fortify what would be only a temporary existence in her imagined apocalypse. Granted, Brown admits these crutches in the book, but it certainly breaks the realism needed in a true survival guide. The apocalypse is also described in a fairly vague manner, mainly focused on an extreme energy price increase that would fully debilitate modern infrastructure. Yet there is no mention of climate change effects, such as increased risk of a natural disaster or changes in agricultural production.

Brown appears to pull much of her research from observation and speculation, as opposed to legitimate sources. Her unsupported claims about human history and societal collapse hover somewhere between 2012-believers and the Twilight Zone – Jared Diamond, an expert on failing societies, would be unimpressed. Fortunately, Brown focuses on what she does know well, finding diverse solutions for a low-energy world.

Brown lives in southern Maine, but she diversifies her ideas so they could be implemented coast to coast. Adapting to an apocalypse, or simply gearing down for a low-energy world, will certainly pose a dire challenge for many suburbanites. Brown’s book seeks to break North Americans out of the cookie-cutter mold, using what is available to not only survive but thrive. Certainly the book offers great ideas to lessen humanity’s environmental impact and energy-dependence, but it should sit low on a list of educational material for surviving a real apocalypse.

(New Society Publishers. 2011. 272 pages)

Troy Dettwiler is studying Environment and Business at the University of Waterloo and holds an advanced diploma in Film and Television Production. Upon graduating, he plans to do something completely unrelated.