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Confront the Fuel Crisis with Unprepared's Summer Survival Council
The gas is too damn high. Here's what the Summer Survival Council is doing about it.
This week’s topic doesn’t need much introduction. Gas prices are at record levels — over $5 per gallon on average — and we’re all feeling it. On top of that, global supplies are constrained and we may even see fuel shortages this summer.
This week’s question for the council: How are you dealing with high gas prices and possible fuel shortages this summer?
And in case you missed it, check out last week’s Summer Survival Council, where they offered advice on dealing with food inflation and shortages:
This Week’s Panelists
We have a collection of authors, business owners, homesteaders, tradesmen, and veteran operators, all of whom we either know well or have long admired from a distance. Be sure to check out their links for even more preparedness resources! They are some of the most resilient folks you’ll ever meet:
Ashley Colby is an environmental sociologist who lives with her family on a homestead in Colonia, Uruguay where she runs study abroad programs for Rizoma Field School. She also organizes online classes for adults like Homesteading 101 and Homeschooling 101 via her Rizoma School Gumroad. Ashley co-founded Doomer Optimism, a podcast and Substack that explores topics like homesteading, regeneration work, and preparedness. You can follow her on Twitter @rizomaschool.
Dave is a former Navy SEAL (but not the kind who thinks that makes him cool) and aspiring homesteader. He and his family live in an old schoolhouse in the Pacific Northwest where they garden, care for a small orchard, and raise chickens. Say hi to Dave on Twitter, where he is @aspiringpeasant.
Hamilton is a tradesman, father of three, and homesteader in the Missouri Ozarks. With over a decade of vegetable-gardening experience, he recently expanded to a broad-acre farm operation with animals including chickens, geese, and pigs. Follow him on Twitter @Watchman_motto.
Joseph (Homestead Padre) has been homesteading for over a decade and specializes in small-space homesteading and intensive gardening systems. He is married with three children, one grown, and is co-owner of The Smith Homestead with his wife Melody. He also owns a cottage food bakery out of his home, servicing his local community with homemade and artesian breads.
Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contractor with three years of deployment time to Iraq and Afghanistan. He founded Forward Observer, a private intelligence firm that tracks domestic conflict, and runs Gray Zone Activity, an intelligence and security training company that helps Americans navigate our Gray Zone future. Mike does a daily discussion on his YouTube channel.
Patrick Fitzgerald: Patrick is an American teacher from a city who now lives in a rural area of western Uruguay in South America. With wife/sociologist Ashley, he started Rizoma Field School in 2017 to promote and study resilient, sustainable practices and livelihoods. He is particularly interested in agroecology, disaster preparedness, and informal community building (aka being a good friend and neighbor). You can follow him on Twitter @RizomaAt.
Roxanne Ahern is a homesteading, homeschooling mother of five and the author of Holistic Homesteading: A Guide to a Sustainable and Regenerative Lifestyle. She has been growing food and raising animals for more than 12 years and consults on the topics of permaculture, regenerative homesteading, and holistic nutrition.
Tom Rader was the Managing Editor for The Prepared and former Editor in Chief of The Firearm Blog. He travels all over the country in a self-sufficient overland vehicle teaching wilderness medicine, tactical things, off-road recovery and driving, and other outdoor-related subjects. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
Travis J I Corcoran is a software engineer and an author. He lives on a 56-acre farm in New Hampshire with his wife, dogs, livestock, and a variety of lathes and milling machines. He raises and butchers his own pigs, sheep, and poultry, and grows a variety of fruits and vegetables in his gardens, orchards, and vineyards. His two-volume homesteading magnum opus is available on Amazon: Escape the City Volume 1 and Escape the City Volume 2, as are his two award-winning science fiction novels: The Powers of the Earth and Causes of Separation.
Expect the list of panelists to change slightly from week to week. This is the busy season for many of them, and we also want to recruit even more panelists as the summer progresses.
Answers from the Panel
Now let’s see how our panel answered this week’s question: How are you dealing with high gas prices and possible fuel shortages this summer?
As always, I edit these only very lightly. The panelists’ words are their own.
Travis J I Corcoran
I'm less worried about fuel prices and shortages this summer than I am this winter. In a typical week of summer, I might drive my car 120 miles (four gallons of gas), mow the lawn (one gallon of gas), use my tractor a bit (one gallon of diesel), and drop a few trees with the chain saw (another one gallon of gas).
In a typical week of winter, I might save one gallon of gas by not mowing but burn 50 gallons of heating fuel.
There's not a lot I can do to economize on summer fuel spending, but in the winter I can save those 50 gallons of fuel oil (about 90% of my total weekly winter usage) by switching to wood heat. I was lucky enough to find a house that was already set up with two fuel options: an oil-burning furnace in the basement, plus a wood-fired "boiler" located 50 feet from the house.
A boiler (for those not familiar with it) is a large wooden burn chamber, surrounded by a water jacket. The water jacket is part of a loop, with two buried water pipes connecting it to the house. Cold water is pumped from the house to the boiler, gets heated to around 190 degrees (you can see, by the way, that “boiler” is a misnomer as the water never boils), and then is recirculated back to the house, where it flows through a heat exchanger and dumps its heat into a second separate water loop that feeds the baseboard radiators in the house.
Feeding a boiler with purchased processed (cut and split) wood is less economical than heating with fuel oil most winters. Feeding a boiler with logs purchased from a land clearing/logging company, which you process yourself, is more economical. Most economical, of course, is logging your own land and processing the logs.
Very early this year, I saw inflation and a fuel crisis already ramping up and began logging the verges of my pastures (a double win, as it expands the pastures, and it creates “free” winter heating fuel). I'm still far short of the 15+ cords I'll need to get through the winter ahead, but heating with firewood isn't a boolean: even getting halfway through the winter cuts fuel costs a ton.
A second, lesser, response to fuel shortages is a project I did this spring: having a contractor remove the old (and nearing the end of its lifespan) 250-gallon fuel tank in the basement and replace it with two 330-gallon tanks. Having more capacity when fuel is unavailable obviously doesn't accomplish anything, but having the ability to cache more fuel when it is available is the goal.
The initial math suggests that this tank change gives me 2.6 times the capacity I used to have, but it's better than that, actually. Apparently, home heating fuel industry practice is to fill the tank only to 85%, to allow a margin of safety… but when two tanks are ganged together, they fill the first tank until it overflows into the second tank, and then fill the second tank to 85%. So my old capacity was .85 x 250 gallons, or 212.5 gallons, and my new capacity is (1.0 x 330) + (.85 x 330 ) = 610.50 gallons total. This is an increase of capacity by a factor of 2.87.
Between filling up the new, larger tanks when fuel dips and logging as much as I can this spring and summer, I'm relatively confident of keeping warm this winter.
First I follow the oft-given advice of never letting my fuel tank go below 50%. I also carry a couple of RotoPax fuel storage containers and fill those up when I find lower gas prices. If I do find a place with cheaper gas than what’s in my containers, I will first fill the gas tank from the containers, top off the tank with the pump, and then refill the containers.
I also have a few cans stored at the house and with my trailer that have had fuel stabilizer added to them. It is not much—maybe three tanks worth, but it is enough if needed to get off the "X".
Lastly, and what seems counter-intuitive, is that I'm trading up to a different vehicle that gets roughly double the gas mileage. It will still have nearly the same capabilities, just be better able to handle the weight (which is the biggest drop in my MPG at the moment). I travel for work and so having the ability to reduce travel costs will be key.
When at home I walk more. The grocery store is about 0.75 miles away. There are local restaurants within walking distance as well as a pharmacy. Worst case, I can rely on my bike.
Overall I'm just taking a more conservative approach.
With higher fuel costs I find myself planning my errands more carefully. I used to probably average 3 trips into town a week, Now I go probably once or twice a week. I am also more careful to plan my routes in such a way that I use the least possible fuel.
We are keeping our tires full and my husband checked the air filters on our vehicles and equipment. We are also in the process of creating some more fenced paddocks on our property to move animals through, grazing these areas mean we will not have to brush hog them.
My husband uses the most fuel on his commute. It isn’t far, but it is daily, so he has been thinking about using his bike a couple of days a week. He has been talking about doing this for a while simply to get more exercise and because he enjoys it but he is definitely feeling more motivated these days!
I know it is easier said than done, but I would start with a reminder to try to adopt an attitude of acceptance. Remember that fuel has been this expensive in many parts of the developed world for some time, and life as we know it did not come to a halt and make everyone totally miserable. That said, I realize it sucks to pay double for something compared to a few months ago, especially when it is something you need to get to work or go buy food.
I advocate planning trips to kill two/three birds with one stone and taking advantage of running errands while already out on a trip. If using public transit, bikes, carpooling, or motorcycles/scooters is realistic in your situation, go for those when the chance is there. Taking turns picking up and dropping off from school is a practice we have been doing regularly over the last three months with our friends who live a little further from town and who go to a different school because their daughter’s end of class coincides with ours going to an activity. If it is lawn-mowing season where you are, the old-fashioned Tom and Jerry helicoidal push mower is an option, though it means more effort and more frequent mowing, but it's a good work out and YOU are the fuel.
Editor’s note: Here in the United States, that sort of old-fashioned push mower is usually called a “reel mower.” They work shockingly well if your grass is short, but aren’t effective once the grass gets over a few inches. They also get easily jammed by small twigs, and the blades are tricky to sharpen. I now use a scythe to cut my grass and it’s so effective that I’ll probably sell both my reel mower and gas-powered push mower.
I haven't made major behavior changes due to high fuel prices. I have filled up additional diesel storage in case of persistent shortages. I'm also combining trips and making lists before heading into town, so we can pick up everything we need before making the drive back.
Joseph (Homestead Padre)
Let me begin by stating that we are in hurricane country and in the beginning of hurricane season, there are certain things we always do each year to stay hurricane ready. For instance, keeping at minimum 3/4 of a tank of fuel in our vehicles. We also maintain about 10 gallons of fuel in cans. The possibility of a power outage is very real during a storm, so fuel storage has always been a need for me.
Here on the Smith Homestead, we have approached the fuel crisis slightly differently by making ourselves less dependent on fuel. While this has been a response to the increase in gas prices, I think it just makes sense as we are ever seeking self-sufficiency on a grander scale.
One of the biggest consumers of fuel for us, other than vehicles, is the equipment around the farm: tillers, mowers, chainsaws, etc. We have spent the last month getting reacquainted with hand tools and manual devices. We have also invested in more goat and sheep electric netting and a new, larger, solar-powered electric fence box. We will begin using our livestock for lawn maintenance and brush clearing. While we have done it before, we are scaling up.
I believe the biggest effect of the higher fuel prices on the American family, will be second-order effects like higher food prices. From human food to animal food the prices are already rising and will continue to rise, forcing people to make hard choices on where to spend their income. I think the bigger question is: “What will we all do to safeguard ourselves from the effects of fuel price increases,” and the answer, for most, unfortunately, is nothing. We have doubled our growing area this year and paid special attention to raising feed for animals.
I think this has to be looked at on a deeper scale than just how will I fuel my truck. From food to clothing, to the electricity in your home, rising fuel prices will and are affecting every aspect of our lives, which is a downside to living in such an energy-dependent society. The bottom line answer to this question is simply this, we are making an effort to remove as much dependence on the current system of supply and energy as possible.
High gas prices are more debilitating than you might expect.
Really, it's diesel fuel we need to watch closely. Everything is run on diesel. Even so, I use $3-400/week in the work truck (paid for by company money) so we are fortunate that it doesn't hit our pockets as badly as others.
I think we can expect all fuel prices to continue to increase as the year progresses.
Again, as we talked about last week, finding ways to be as self-sufficient as possible are essential.
We aren't spiraling yet, but I told Mrs. Hamilton to not be surprised if we see $8, $9, or even $10 per gallon soon. As it stands, I'm sure we aren't alone, but we haven't really made any attempts to cut back. But as soon as gas hits $8 or $9 maybe, we will have to change our routines.
We are fortunate enough that Mrs. Hamilton is a stay-at-home mother and she makes a maximum of two trips per week to town. She and I have discussed trying to cut back to one trip every two weeks. It's hard because one of those trips is to piano lessons for our oldest daughter, who has been taking lessons for a few months and progressing unbelievably well.
For now, I think we try to hold on… wait and see. I think it's funny because Mrs. Hamilton will occasionally get pretty upset about it, but my answer is always, "If gas is $9 per gallon we are screwed, but so is everyone else, so it all cancels out"
The most infuriating thing is knowing that the current regime has done everything in its power to make fuel more expensive. My union alone lost 40k+ in jobs by shutting down the pipeline work.
It seems almost by design… willful intent.
None of us here can control or influence that.
Still, your best plan is to buy bulk now before prices are impossible or goods are unavailable.
And we will all make it if we hold together.
The only thing I know about oil prices going up is that, even if they go down for a while, they will go back up and continue to go up.
Finite resources (the most accessible portion of which is long gone) cannot bear exponential demand. And, since when you look at the foundations of things, almost every part of our civilization is run on the energy and money from oil, the price of oil changes not only the cost of gasoline but the cost of shipping, fertilizer, food, water, and housing.
And if it hurts now, it’s only going to hurt more in the future as we continue to build cities and towns and buildings with the unspoken assumption of unlimited, cheap oil.
So my suggestion to everyone thinking about oil prices is this: find ways to dramatically reduce the amount of energy you need to be happy and comfortable.
Reducing your consumption is both economical (you don’t pay for fuel/energy or the embedded energy of the things you don’t buy) and practical (in that you’ll be better prepared for the future).
I know most oil demand is non-elastic in the short term. If you have a job that requires you to drive around town all day, there’s not a lot you can do about that. But you also have the ability to change how you spend your days.
I would strongly urge you to start exercising that agency because you’re not going to like where fuel prices are going.
We have been thinking about how to live with potentially high fuel prices for as long as we've been adults. Most of our planning revolves around learning how to live with and manage our lives around this inevitability. Gas prices are already much higher in Uruguay than in the United States, so we have already learned to adapt to that reality somewhat, but we are always planning for prices to go even higher. We take our little gas-powered motorcycle as often as possible, we share rides into town with friends and neighbors, and we consolidate trips as often as we can. One day we'd genuinely like to have a draft animal and a cart, something that is actually not out of the norm where we live in rural Uruguay.