After a Collapse, Where Will Rebuilding Start?

A city destroyed in war
A city destroyed in war

The United States is one of the very few countries that could, if it wanted, provide all its own oil, gas and other energy plus all the food it needs. China can’t do this. Russia probably can. Other countries could, and have done so before, but only if they had a fraction of their current number of residents.

“So what?” you might be thinking. Why does that matter?

It matters because in the event of a collapse, the countries that recover first will be those with the ability to produce enough food to feed its people, enough oil and gas to power transportation and industry, and sufficient minerals to make iron, steel, and other necessary building blocks for the modern world.

Where we will Rebuild

In last month’s post, How a Collapse Could Knock us Back to the 1880s, I addressed a common theme of mine, that “an EMP, nuclear war, comet strike, solar flare, or other large-scale global event that eliminates our ability to produce and distribute electricity and other utilities could send us all back the point where we are living life similar to people in the 1880s.” I discussed how we would restart at the village level and rebuild our technology base as best we could in multiple areas across the country.

Today, I will talk about where such a recovery is most likely to take place. Please read the earlier article to review some assumptions, such as a die-off and subsequent stabilization period that must take place before rebuilding can start.

To sustain life post-SHTF, you will need a ready supply of water, moderate temperatures, and ground that can sustain crops. To start a recovery, you need all this plus a surplus. This surplus allows people leisure to focus on other things than their immediate survival. Unfortunately, that limits parts of the country where a recovery is likely to take place.

Not in Arid Areas

I doubt the recovery will start in deserts or other extremely hot locations. I know there are preppers in the high desert. However, it is difficult to live there and harder to grow food without modern machinery. There may be little or no surface water available for drinking, irrigation, or feeding livestock. Anywhere that relies on pumps to move water will become ghost towns. Those survivors who wish to stay alive will be forced to move closer to rivers or other water sources.

In the 1880s, rivers were not only a source of food and water. They were used for transportation and, much to our chagrin, waste elimination. Cities were formed at river junctures and ports developed where rivers met the sea to facilitate commerce. Barges pulled by horses and mules moved good up canals that often paralleled rivers. This could be the case again. What remains of humanity may cluster in those same places for identical reasons. The only problem is that many of our coastal cities may be targets for nuclear bombs and may no longer be inhabitable. In that case, it might be somewhere like Cincinnati or Davenport that becomes the economic center of the recovered states.

I expect many dams and hydroelectric plants will exist after a collapse or other catastrophe. Assuming that there are enough knowledgeable people, they could be put back to work producing power. This would facilitate a recovery in the local areas. This could make life easier in the immediate surrounds and may help kick off the recovery.

Not in Frigid Areas

When the early settlers arrived, they avoided placing large towns and cities in extremely cold areas unless there was a strong reason to do so. Boston with the northernmost big city, and that may have been because of wind and sea currents and where the pilgrims landed. While there were outposts, trading posts, fishing villages, forts, and trappers in the cold northern climes, many of these counted on trade with southern cities and ports to survive.

When they discovered gold in the Klondike, the local government required men to bring a ton of supplies with them. They needed 2,000 pounds of supplies to last their first year in the cold. Cold climates are not well suited to rebuilding our society in a limited-technology scenario.

Growing seasons are also shorter, making it harder to raise crops. Worst of all, however, living in an area that gets six months or more of cold and snow puts you on that much tighter a margin. I will not argue that you cannot survive, but I will argue that it is more difficult.

With proper prepping and supplies, I do not doubt man can survive almost anywhere in our 50 states. I do not, however, think that technology will be rebuilt and a more modern society reborn in parts of Idaho, Alaska, the upper peninsula of Michigan, or in most of Arizona and Nevada.

The Rocky Mountain Challenge

The mountain states will provide a severe challenge to reopening country-wide commerce. They represent a barrier that is difficult to cross without modern machinery. A journey that takes a day or two by truck could take months in a covered wagon. This is not to say that one cannot survive there, only that we may find the United States recovers into two or more countries, the Western States, the Mountain States, and the rest of the country. That may depend on how quickly the railroads are rebuilt. There are only a handful of major freight lines that cross the Rock Mountains. It may take some time to build up sufficient freight to justify opening one up and resuming services with a steam or possibly diesel engine.

Today’s Infrastructure Will Decay

I dare say the old industrial sewing machine found in the back room will have far more utility after the fall than a warehouse full of servers. Even modern factories filled with computer-controlled equipment will be of less use than a manual lathe and a skilled operator. I expect it will be decades before we are making resins for injection molding machines again. By that time, all the machines in abandoned factories will be rusted into a sold lump.

At some point after the fall, our plastic water and juice bottles, milk cartons, and laundry detergent containers will wear out and fail, leaving us to treasure every glass bottle we can find. We may be back to drinking moonshine from earthenware crocks again, assuming someone can figure out how to make them again.

People with skills like pottery, basket weaving, carding and spinning wool–now thought of as quaint hobbies–will have more value than all the social media managers, Instagram influences, Wall Street traders, human resource officers, community organizers, corporate spokespersons, political operatives, pundits, and journalists put together (and yes, I include bloggers in the list). Even skilled technicians such as pilots, fiber optic technicians, neuro surgeons, and chemists will have to find ways to adapt their skill set to a level of technology common 100 years before they were born.

Starting Small

It’s important to remember that while we produce most of our oil on the Gulf Coast, it was first discovered in Pennsylvania. There is no reason Pennsylvania could not rebuild our oil industry before or concurrently with folks in Texas or elsewhere.

Without rapid transportation via pipelines, barges, interstates and 18-wheelers, it might make more sense to live in a region where people have gas and oil wells in their back yard. Or where the primary industry has been coal mining. At least those folks are unlikely to be cold all winter.

Yes, people living in Iowa and Kansas will be able to produce crops and sustain life, but without the ability to transport millions of bushels of corn or soybeans across the country or even across the ocean, they will not need to do so. They will also lack the equipment or fuel to plant and harvest so much acreage. After finding us back in an era where manpower and animal power are necessary to raise food, the family farm will replace the factory farm. Instead of having hundreds of cows milked by machine, the local dairy may have dozens and milking may again be done by “maids a milking” and churning butter with a pedal-driven apparatus made from the parts of old bicycles. Pigs may be raised a few scores at a time rather than thousands.

This is why I believe a post-SHTF country will be rebuilt first at the village level, then regionally, and last on a national one.

Politically Speaking

The founding fathers spoke often of These United States, not the United States. They felt that the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment would prevent the Federal Government from reigning supreme. Along the way, that desire fell to the wayside and a series of courts allowed gross violations of the founders’ intent, using the federal government’s control of interstate commerce to gradually give it control over almost everything.

It is my fervent hope that those who survive any coming disaster and remain alive long enough to rebuild society will remember this lesson and limit the power of any federal government that survives the fall or emerges after it. We must also prevent money from entering politics and hopefully return to an era when those who served in government do so for the common good, not to line their pockets and benefit more than their constituents. Term limits would help.