Will You and Your Community Survive Collapse?


Recently I have been writing about the need for a more existential approach to Transition and to building personal and collective resilience to cope with the coming economic, energy and ecological crises, and perhaps even the collapse of our teetering and unsustainable civilization. The idea of that approach was to start with ourselves: To ask ourselves “What does it mean to live a good life?”, rather than “How should I prepare for the transition to a post-cheap-oil, post-stable-climate, post-industrial-economy world?”

From the answer to that existential question, comes an assessment of how we must change, what fundamentally different things we must do, and what we must do fundamentally differently from how we d it today. Incrementalism is no longer sufficient. Though we must conserve, recycle, reduce, reuse, and produce and spend less “stuff”, this alone is not going to be enough, even if we all were to do it. The issue of “how we must change” is a question both for us as individuals and for those with whom we live in community, because the overwhelming consensus is that in order to live sustainably we must relocalize our society, and that means doing things in community, not as part of a fragile, costly, opportunistic and predatory “globalization” economy and society.

It seems to me that the first step in assessing “how we must change” (and hence perhaps the logical and essential first step in any Transition Initiative) , is to take stock of the abilities we have now, and the abilities we will need to live post-transition, resiliently and sustainably, in a relocalized world.

So I pulled together several lists of abilities that I have written about or worked on over the past few years:

  • The “survival skills” list that I have mindmapped several times and suggested as a framework for “unschooling”
  • The list of essential abilities that we brainstormed in a recent Bowen in Transition meeting
  • The list of twelve core competencies and capacities I propose in my book about making a living for yourself, Finding the Sweet Spot
  • The list of abilities I suggested in a recent article were essential to being a good facilitator or a good mentor
  • The list of qualities needed for good presentations from Heather Gold (edit: this line added Dec. 24; it was an oversight to have omitted it)
  • The list of “patterns” that a group of us have been working on for a “pattern language of group process” (including essential abilities for good conversation and collaboration); I’ll be writing more about this project in the near future

What I came up with was a list of 65 abilities (diagrammed above) that tended to fall into five main types:

  • Knowledge: Acquired information that is essential context for understanding how the world works and how we might do things better.
  • Innate Capacities: Inherent abilities, aptitudes we’re born with (evolution has selected these qualities for survival for all species, not just humans, and you can see all these capacities simply by watching the birds, or wild creatures at work or play. Many of these innate capacities are drummed out of us by the education system or other social indoctrination and can be lost. And they must be practised to be retained.
  • Acquired Capacities: These are also abilities that come to us naturally, but they generally emerge from practice and with maturity as we become adults
  • Skills: Learned abilities that come from applying our knowledge and capacities in practicable ways. None is inherent; all are learnable.
  • Behaviour Patterns: These are complex abilities that involve the sophisticated application of a mix of knowledge, skills and capacities. Many of these are rare and hard-won and all must be practised. It’s been my experience that in hierarchical organizations and social structures these behaviour patterns are almost non-existent. They emerge generally from groups of people finding the most effective way to work together as peers. This is where the real “ability gap” lies, I believe, if we are to be effective in our Transition Initiatives, in becoming more resilient personally and collectively, and in building a new and better society after civilization’s collapse.

I think most of these 65 abilities are fairly self-explanatory. I have added notes to the five I think are not. I went through a lot of other possible abilities which I finally grouped into this list of 65 (if you’re curious, here’s my worksheet listing which are grouped with each of the 65).

It’s a fairly imposing list. No wonder living in intentional community is such a challenge! So what good is this list? Here’s what I did with it:


  1. I wrote each of the 65 abilities on a “post-it” sticky note (I used 4 different colours for the 4 different types)
  2. On a large whiteboard, I made a map, as shown above, to delineate areas where I had the ability, needed to improve it, or didn’t have it at all, and likewise areas where those in my community(ies) had or lacked the ability. I posted each of the 65 sticky notes in the appropriate spot on the “map”. If I was the best in my community at some ability, it went on the far left side of the map. If it was an ability many of us in the community are good at, it went in the middle (midway between left and right) and so on.
  3. I considered the degree to which I am or will be very dependent on my community (stickies on the right side of the map), and the degree to which it will be very dependent on me (stickies on the far left side of the map). I realized that some of the latter abilities are not recognized in the community, and I need to take responsibility (in Transition activities at least) for conveying these as areas where I can provide a unique contribution to my community.
  4. I considered the degree to which my community is unprepared for crisis (stickies in the bottom section of the map). There were a lot more than I expected, given the number of capable and experienced facilitators here on Bowen Island.
  5. I created my own personal “learning plan”. I have a lot to learn, even if I continue to be dependent on others in my community in a number of areas where I will probably never be particularly competent.
  6. I asked myself: Looking at this map, and imagining some of the crises we are likely to face in the coming years and decades, Could I survive collapse (answer: I’m not sure)? Could my community (answer: I’m not sure)? From what I know of the world, could most communities (answer: probably not)?

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. As a tool for Transition Initiatives, would this be a useful first step to assess current personal and community strengths and weaknesses? Or would it be so overwhelming that it would just discourage potential Transitioners before they’d begun?

And is it useful as a personal “taking stock” tool, to measure your own resilience, and what you need to learn in the years ahead?

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19 Responses to Will You and Your Community Survive Collapse?

  1. Antonio Dias says:


    This is a wonderful tool! I look forward to investigating it and expect it will allow a flexibility of use, a utility that doesn’t constrain it to a particular set of inputs or outcomes. It’s rare that a tool provides that flexibility. The lack of tools like these is what leads to technological capture, when everything starts to look like a nail!


  2. Excellent – and living in London, UK it is clear how far these values, attitudes, skills are presently lacking. What’s interesting is that I get this via Antonio on Twitter, you posted it today and we can incorporate it into http://www.gtinitiative.org immediately. I do find this hopeful. Thank you.

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  6. mike soussan says:

    I would like to add my two cents making sure you understand there is not a solitary critical bone in my body. I will probably add nothing and hopefully take nothing for the discourse at hand. So here it goes. Collapse is not the end and we all know it. Things have always contracted to singularity and then expanded to infinity. that is the way things are done in the universe. And thinking that we, stupid quacking geese of humans, can actually save this farm is presumptuous to say the least. No amount of well cogitated recipes for salvation, nor laundry lists of rules for redemption will do the trick. Since when, in all of our bloody history, have we learned by intellectual impartation ? We find ourselves in the automatic conveyor belt of the ages. Some of us walk, some of us run and others do nothing, but we , or other better fit form of Man, will eventually get there. The irony is that we must do all we have the energy to do, to be who what we already are, including doing completely useless things. Thank you.

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  8. theresa says:

    I would think that the most important factor in such a situation is money/wealth. Not that money could save you from such a collapse but during times of historical change it has always been the wealthiest that had the best chance of surviving and the poorest who paid the highest price. So I would guess that even if you weren’t a person of much wealth, living in a wealthy community would still help.

  9. Peter Jones says:

    Great post – tool (and blog!). I wondered how you would factor in literacy and the many proposed new forms of literacy?

    An additional tool to integrate thoughts, beliefs, plans, actions is the conceptual framework known as “Hodges Health Career – Care Domains – Model”
    This may be of relevance to you and your readers Dave?

    The model can be used in so many teaching contexts, individually, in groups, purely as a common shared tool an aide memoire.

    The blog below includes a bibliography and many posts that indicate the potential scope of the model:


    All the best for 2011!

    Peter Jones
    Lancashire, UK
    Hodges Health Career – Care Domains – Model
    h2cm: help 2C more – help 2 listen – help 2 care

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  11. Antonio Dias says:


    I’d like to respond to Mike and Theresa. I’m not attempting to speak for you, but just wanting to interject another comment as my reply to what I hear.

    I agree, Mike. There is a “yes, but,” and an “and” in everything we do. I would like to find a way to think of it as resulting in something other than irony though. Irony seems to short-circuit further consideration beyond a knowing smirk, it’s about being “cool.” I think any and all such “attitudes” have outlived their usefulness, beyond being adolescent stages. Our predicament is that we exist, we know some things and we imagine others, we have emotions and we respond to them, we live and we die. We try to make sense of things and we “know” we never will. This simply is. It’s reason for joy and despair and every other possible reaction. The point seems to be, and it is there in every line of your comment, we will do a variety of things and stuff will happen.

    To Theresa, I’ve been pondering self-interest over the last few years. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of depth or nuance left in any attempt to use money/power to carve out an insulation that will in any meaningful way isolate its bearer, or those they care about, from any of what is now underway. This seems to underlie the pathology of wealth. Those who focus on it seem incapable of seeing how their efforts are completely counterproductive whether it’s a soccer-mom driving her precious children everywhere in her SUV; or a captain of industry or government leader maintaining the fiction that they are in charge of their destinies; and even for the powerful, the really powerful, hiding behind the leadership class, pulling on their strings. There is no escape pod even for Dr. Evil.

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  13. Will says:

    I think it’s a great tool, and one I’ll try to implement as we work for transition here in my community.

    I wanted to answer Theresa as well – speaking as someone who has no money to speak of (for an American anyway) the only answer for people like me is to get together and work together on the community level. Yes, wealth plays a large role in health and wellbeing and thus survival, but community plays a big part as well. I would not want to live in a world in which only the strong survived, and if being wealthy meant that I survived while the poor perish, I don’t want to be wealthy.

  14. Theresa says:

    I do think that the survival skills listed here are good and useful. I think they would be particularly useful to teach to children. However, the title of the post does ask “Will you and your community survive collapse?”. My feeling is that a “long emergency” would hurt financial vulnerable communites first- particularly in the third world. I think Dave blogged about something along the lines of financial preparedness in 2008, referring back to the great depression and the lessons learned from that chapter of history. I think financial security should not be taken for granted and should be considered along with other forms of preparation. I imagine a “collapse” wouldn’t just happen overnight and would involve a series of emergencies.

  15. Will says:

    Theresa – You are right about that. A big part of transition should be finding ways to get by with what resources are available – financially, socially, etc. I guess I just think of that in community terms, rather than individual terms. In America it seems like most people think only in individual terms when they think of finances, but a community could accomplish a lot, even if each individual has limited resources, if they pooled those resources.

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  17. Nathan says:

    It’s interesting to see you combine a number of personal development techniques and apply it to transition on the personal level. My first thought is that it looks very similar to “career” planning, but the career is very wide-ranging and adaptive to the most pressing things to be done on the local level. I’d be interested to do a similar exercise myself, but you are in a great position having the time to pioneer these processes. Like many people, I am constrained by many pressures, despite my knowledge that the framework that brings me a living at the moment will come to an end. Things will have to get a bit more difficult before a significant number of people genuinely start refocusing a rebuilding a resilient local community. I’m just being honest with myself that while I’d like to be working on this sort of thing, pressures to earn a living and support a wife and family in the short term override much of this thinking. On the other hand, there is always a way to work out how you can transition out, so maybe you need to work backwards to people who are unable to move to where you are now, because you know pretty much what it’s like working in “the system”. The missing link just seemed to be a pragmatic way to get a toe-hold on resilience at a personal level, working into a community later, while still being able to make a living in the mainstream economy. That seems to be a main problem for me anyway given the commitments I have.

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