Matthew Stein’s Book Will Help You Survive When Technology Fails
Surviving the Long Emergency with Local Author Matthew Stein
Published: February 13, 2009
February Print Edition
by Beth Ingalls
Mat Stein had an epiphany during his daily prayer and meditation session in 1997. A voice told him that he was going to write a book focusing on the future of the world and that he would get the help he needed if he took the project on. As an added bonus, he received an outline and a complete visual storyboard for the book that morning, which was especially helpful for someone who had never considered writing a book before.
Stein, 52, a Glenshire resident, graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree from MIT in 1978, and first came to Tahoe in 1980. Working for the majority of his career as an engineer and building contractor, he also holds several patents and has designed water filtration systems, photovoltaic roof panels, computer disk drives and more. Taking on the book project shifted his focus completely away from these endeavors and thrust him headlong into an unknown world of publishing, writing and researching. According to Stein, “I began reading more than I ever had in my life.”
The first edition of Stein’s epic tome, titled “When Technology Fails,” was published in 2000 and sold 35,000 copies, but Stein didn’t see a dime of the proceeds. In fact, after devoting three years of his time and putting much of his own money into the production of the book, he found himself deeply in debt. Rather than pursuing a potentially futile lawsuit against the bogus publisher, Stein decided to cut his losses and went with a new one, Chelsea Green, for the second edition. Significantly revised and expanded, When Technology Fails was given a new subtitle, “A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability and Surviving the Long Emergency,” and was released last September.
It’s a massive read at 524 big-book (8.5 x11) pages, but has sold nearly 18,000 copies since its release and has been hovering within the Top 1,000 on Amazon.com much of that time. Retailing for $35, Stein thinks of his epic as six books in one, thoroughly covering the topics of sustainability, emergency preparedness, first aid, alternative healing, green building and alternative energy. He calls it a “bible for emergency preparedness and green living” and would have much preferred the title to be “Making the Shift to Sustainability,” but his first publisher felt that was too boring and forced the other instead.
Stein notes that he would “much rather be remembered as a prophet of saving the planet, than as a prophet of doom.”
As a reader, to commit to a book of this size and weight and with a cover photo depicting a hillside engulfed in flames is a daunting undertaking. Once in hand, it takes even more courage and resilience to dig in after reading the opening paragraphs:
“The devastation of New Orleans, combined with the escalating rash of wildfires in the western states, alternating floods and droughts in the eastern half of the United States, and even severe weather events around the world, brings home the fact that climate change and ecological collapse are bad for business and people’s lives. The events of 9/11, the war without end in Iraq, increasing international instabilities caused by global warming, and the fact that our thirst for Middle Eastern oil puts us on a collision course with violent radical Islamic fundamentalists-all are contributing to widespread feelings of malaise and uncertainty.”
But if you make it past the harsh assessments of the disastrous future we face as prisoners of our own lifestyles and makers of our own doom, When Technology Fails contains great information and appeals to a very wide range of readers. Whether you’re a survivalist type seeking firearm and ammunition recommendations, a Birkenstock-clad hippie looking to make you own tofu, or someone in between, the book most likely covers a topic you’ll find interesting and extremely useful. Stein makes the point fairly convincingly that in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, or even a simple power outage which lasts for more than a few days, the book can “help you plan and prepare for the possibility of short-term or long-term disruptions in the flow of the goods and essential services that we have become so dependent on.” Stein notes that “somewhere between the home mortgage, the supermarket, the cost of medical care, the corporate work week, and the video store, the American ideal of rugged individuality has slipped through our fingers.”
The book provides practical lessons in everything from tanning animal hides to treating bone fractures and making solar water pumps. While practical guidance and teaching tools make up make up many of the pages and chapters, there are also lengthy discussions about peak oil, biological threats, deforestation and climate change. Stein concludes each chapter with an extensive resource section for further reading and information as well.
Personal vignettes pulled directly from Stein’s life experience provide context and pleasant contrast from the dense subject matter of the book. In Chapter Four, “Emergency Measures for Survival,” he discusses cultivating the power of our intuition in making decisions. Stein recounts a friend’s story of being stuck in a long line of cars during an accident on a snowy Interstate 80 during a storm. After getting a very bad feeling, his friend decided to pull out of the line of waiting traffic onto the shoulder of the road as the snow continued. Within minutes a car emerged from behind and careened into the stopped traffic causing a massive pile-up and many injuries. Stein offers what he calls a “pit of the stomach” exercise to help us test the outcomes of our actions and to help guide us through everyday life and in difficult moments.
Mat Stein doubts that we will see technology fail us completely, but he does believe that “if we don’t proactively develop carbon-neutral alternatives to both oil and our current ways of burning coal for making electricity and cement, the dual threats of climate change and economic collapse will take our society down.” Fortunately, Stein also has hope and faith in our ability to make the positive changes needed to turn things around. In the last paragraph of the book he writes, “Throughout human history, great changes have followed actions that began at a grassroots level before blossoming into large-scale movements.” He ends by quoting United Nations official Robert Muller. “The beauty of the world will depend on the care of its gardeners. Let us therefore all become living gardeners of the world.”
WHEN TECHNOLOGY FAILS, A Book Review By Carolyn Baker
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Rarely in the specialized milieu of industrial civilization does one encounter a Renaissance man or woman-someone who is well-versed in a wide spectrum of disciplines and who can expound upon them in writing that is both articulate and engaging. So when I discovered Mat Stein's phenomenal When Technology Fails: A Manual For Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving The Long Emergency, I immediately contacted the publisher, Vermont's own Chelsea Green, for a review copy of this fabulous tome on preparing wisely for the end of the world as we have known it.
While this book at first glance may resemble something of a 21st century Whole Earth Catalog, it is so much more. Whereas that classic of some three decades ago served as a primer for individuals and groups seeking to live simply and sustainably, primarily because it felt good and seemed like the right thing to do, When Technology Fails, feels as if it has erupted out of the urgent necessity of this moment. Its intention is unmistakable: to offer a "bible for emergency preparation and survival" as well as green and healthy living. However, one should not assume that this book is a "survivalist" manual. It isn't about grabbing your bug-out bag with a few cans of beans in it and running into the woods dressed in camo. It is a book about surviving but also about living well in harmony with the earth community while using methods that allow one's lifestyle to endure and flourish.
The book begins by noting that technologies frequently fail and that the greater the number of earth's population and the more is consumed by it, the more the likelihood of irreversible failure of many aspects of technology. "Emergency preparedness," Stein says, "is cheap disaster and terrorism insurance." After offering a number of resources to introduce the reader to self-sufficiency, the book offers an explanation of the various threats now facing humankind: eco-threats, Peak Oil, bio and terror threats, and of course, natural disasters. As if to underscore humanity's intuitive sense of what lies ahead, Stein references the plethora of prophecies that have been around for millennia, originating primarily from indigenous peoples, and pointing to a culmination of catastrophes.
From here Stein launches into a chapter on short and long-term preparation-survival kits, first aid kits, and of course, food storage-recommending if possible, a cache of one year's supply. In the following chapter on "Emergency Measures for Survival", he includes not only the proper equipment and how to use it, but a remarkable section on developing a survivor personality and the importance of paying attention to one's intuition. Because some individuals may feel "intuition challenged"-as if they can't quite access it when they need it, Stein offers a "Testing Your Intuition" exercise which facilitates the process. Concluding this chapter and indeed all chapters in the book, are abundant references to books, websites, DVD's and other resources related to the topics at hand.
An extensive chapter on water discusses acquisition, how to disinfect, treat, and preserve it. In the face of energy depletion, one must assume that clean water may be available in the ground but power losses may make it inaccessible. Therefore, the use of hand pumps is suggested and a number of sources for purchasing them provided at the conclusion of the chapter.
A lengthy chapter on food growing, foraging, hunting, and storage includes basic principles of permaculture planting, pest control, a brief guide to wild edibles, methods of storing, drying, smoking, and preserving food, basic principles of hunting and trapping, fishing-all followed by a host of references to resources on each topic.
Trained as an engineer at MIT, Stein has produced an extensive chapter on "Shelter and Buildings" that leaves little to be desired. Anyone considering building a structure from scratch or remodeling parts of an existing structure should study this chapter which I would describe as thorough yet not technologically overwhelming.
One of the most daunting challenges of a post-industrial world will be what has been known in the age of oil as "health care." As all institutions collapse, we will be on our own entirely in terms of healing our bodies and minds. Stein offers us the best information I personally have ever seen on first aid, as well as a chapter on life after high-tech medicine. As well as a fascinating chart that illustrates the herbal medicinal counterparts to specific modern pharmaceuticals, Stein includes a section on colloidal and ionic silver, making one's own colloidal silver generator; recipes for colon, kidney, liver and parasite cleanses; homeopathy, electromagnetic fields, and various energy healing techniques. This chapter is so thorough and fascinating that I can only wish that it were required reading for 21st century medical students.
One of Richard Heinberg's favorite questions when discussing collapse preparation is: Do you know how to make shoes? While I don't know if Stein has ever heard Heinberg ask that question, his chapter on "Clothing and Textiles" would no doubt delight Heinberg or anyone who has given thought to the lack of access to new clothing in a post-industrial world. Here one finds a wealth of information on spinning, weaving, tanning, and footware.
Stein, the engineer, excels in his chapter on "Energy, Heat and Power" as well as the chapters on "Metalworking", "Utensils and Storage", and "Engineering, Machines and Materials." Equally fascinating is the chapter on "Better Living Through Not-So Modern Chemistry" in which he explains soap and candle making and the manufacturing of alcohol as a biofuel. Additionally, he discusses the making of vinegar, glue, and vegetable oils.
So is there any point on which I disagree with Stein? Yes indeed. Whereas he states his intention to prevent the collapse of civilization, from my perspective, collapse is well underway and has been for some time; our challenge at this point in history is not to prevent it, but to consciously open to it with honesty and logistical and emotional preparation. In the final chapter of When Technology Fails "Making The Shift to Sustainability" Stein addresses the attitude we must hold as we witness the dizzying changes around us and the dissolution of a global economy engendered and fueled by mindless, rampant consumerism. Here, Stein offers suggestions for collective action as well as how we can live our own "great turning."
In a recent communication with Mat Stein we observed that When Technology Fails and my forthcoming book Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse are natural companion pieces-one offering extraordinary training in logistical preparation for a post-industrial world, and the other offering an emotional and spiritual roadmap for navigating what will invariably be a daunting-sometimes protracted, sometimes sudden-transition.
I cannot recommend highly enough When Technology Fails for everyone who takes the "long emergency" even a little bit seriously. For as the ancient Chinese proverb states, "Is it not already too late if one waits until one is thirsty to begin digging a well?"
By Warren Johnston
December 5, 2008
This revised and expanded edition of the 2000 “be prepared” manual seems more relevant today than it did when it was first printed.
Since 2000, this country has seen the 9/11 attacks, regional power blackouts, devastating hurricanes, lingering droughts and increased flooding, just to mention a few things that have caught us by surprise. We've learned that without electricity, we have no gasoline, no water, no refrigeration and no ability to purchase food or reach the cash in our bank accounts. We've also seen staggering oil prices and a crumbling economy.
“If you are caught in a natural or human-made disaster, this guide will provide you with basic survival information to help you cope with whatever may come your way,” Stein says in the introduction.
The book is more than a survivalist manual, although the survivalists might profit from reading it. It is a heavy-duty guide for what you need when the lights go out, how to find the resources and how to survive.
If you want to know how to find water, do intensive gardening, make a bow and arrow, build a rammed-earth house, give CPR, brew medicinal teas, generate power, throw pots or build a sanitation system, it's in the book. This book is today's Whole Earth Catalog.
Stein is a MIT-educated engineer and building contractor who has built hurricane-resistant, energy efficient and environmentally friendly homes. He has designed commercial water-filtration systems, photovoltaic roofing panels, medical bacteriological filters and automated assembly machinery. He lives near Lake Tahoe, Calif.