Agricultural Strategies

Following an EMP attack, what is the best strategy for producing food? Is it best to grow field crops such as wheat? Or to tend gardens with beans and squash? Or to raise livestock?

After the initial die back, there will be plenty of fallow land, and livestock could graze it with little technology or human labor needed. The difficulty is that starting with just a few animals it takes years to build up a herd of cattle, goats, sheep, or pigs to the point where animal protein could provide a significant addition to the diet of a community. Chickens, however, breed quickly, and after a year could provide enough eggs to be an important source of protein. To avoid drawing attention to your operations, you might have to keep your roosters inside a building.

With a lack of power to pump water, the ability to grow non-irrigated crops such as wheat becomes more important. This requires tractors and hence diesel fuel and perhaps repair electronics for the tractors. As mentioned before, diesel fuel should be obtainable from service stations, given the ability to pump it out. Solar electric systems or small generators could power machine shops which could make parts to repair farm equipment.

Where water is available, gardens could be established. This is a high-labor alternative, but labor is likely to be available. For both field crops and gardens, it would be important to stockpile seeds. Some of those seeds should be legumes, both for edible crops and for cover crops to provide nitrogen.

So a number of agricultural strategies seem viable in the aftermath of an EMP disaster, but in each case advance planning and stockpiling is critical.

Missile Defense

The September 6th edition of The Economist included an article titled The Unsheltering Sky which evaluated the prospects of missile defense of the US from nuclear attack. The article concluded that such prospects look “doomed.”

Though the article is well-written, it seems to me that the danger is great enough to justify great expense. Putting up space-based orbital interceptors would be a fairly effective way to neutralize a small-scale attack, and such a system would protect the entire world, not just the US. It would have to be paired with a satellite inspection system to ensure that no one would hide a nuclear weapon inside a non-military satellite. Also, such a system could be overwhelmed by multiple weapons or sophisticated evasion or decoy systems. Nevertheless, though it wouldn’t be foolproof, I think it would be worth the cost. After the first use of nuclear weapons to mount an EMP attack, there is likely to be enough political capital to make this investment. Let’s just hope we are not the target of that first attack.

Oceans of Gasoline and Diesel Fuel

A typical service station can store 20,000 gallons of liquid transportation fuel. This fuel source would become critically important during an extended emergency (an extended emergency is one which is both widespread and prolonged).

During an extended emergency, failure of the electrical grid would make it hard to pump out this fuel. Civil disorder would make it dangerous to travel and use fuel in any case. Lack of food would quickly reduce the population. For these three reasons, this resource is likely to remain relatively untapped and intact during the emergency. This means it will be available for farming, transportation, and small-scale power generation to those who survive the initial dieback.

One challenge often mentioned with regard to liquid fuels is degradation over time. Gasoline these days contains alcohol, which absorbs water from the air. Air in tanks also allows slow oxidation of the fuel. The products of oxidation and biological activity (due to water) can plug up engines. Yet these problems are not intractable. These fuels have survived as part of petroleum for millions of years, simply by being kept sealed away from air. Diesel fuel and gasoline sealed in drums should last a long time. Oxidation products can largely be filtered out, or even removed by distillation if necessary.

What is needed to tap this resource is a simple automotive fuel pump connected to a hose which can be dropped down into service station tanks. It can be powered by a car battery or small generator, or simply the power system of the vehicle that will be transporting the fuel. A fuel filter can be included to ensure the fuel drawn out is clean.

The best plan would be to store your own fuel to meet your needs during the first few months of an extended emergency, and tap service station tanks later on when it is safer to go out. You are unlikely to need much fuel during this initial period, since running generators, cars, and farm equipment might draw unwelcome attention.