Prepping: Just How “Sustainable” Are Things?

The short answer is “Not very sustainable, at all.”

Worse?  We lie to ourselves about this whole “sustainability” notion day-in, and day-out.  Don’t even blink an eye about it.  Corporation X-Y-Z says “Yup, we’re “sustainable” and surprise!  No questions asked.

That’s because A) most people lie to themselves about how “normal” things are and B) even if they are preppers, they don’t think through every step of their day.

Today we fix that with a simple visit to (pardon my directness) the throne room where it’s very relaxing to have many months of toilet paper on hand.

Here’s the view, by the way.  Not many bathrooms have as nice a view (and now need for window shades) as we do around here:

Not the finest photography in the world, but who takes pictures from the throne except crazy people…er...

Point is, while sitting there, realizing that not many people likely have “staged toilet paper”.  In other words, nice mega rolls that provide for a soft-start to the EOTW.  After that, a little less fluffy and therefore longer storage times, and finally ending up with the kind of “basic paper” that you find in cheap joints south of the border.  (Well, what used to be a border…)

If you travel by car around the country, the topology of toilet tissue is really interesting.  First noticed it going from Seattle (ah…soft tissue) to San Francisco (a bit firmer, but still working fine) to L.A.  (definitely a land of smaller tissue budgets) until finally, walking over to Mexico via San Ysidro, I was confronted with what was more like lightweight tracing paper.

But(t) this, you see, sneaks up on this morning’s point.

Paper-making is not particularly sustainable.

What occurred to me (in mid-flush) was that when Weyerhaeuser, or whoever you happen to be talking with about “sustainable forestry” is looking at the world, their definition of “sustainable” is way off base.

If you “farm trees” (remember Ure owns his own USDA numbered tree farm of big oaks and Southern Pines because Texas is not what Wylie Coyote was running through) “sustainable” means you can keep on producing “TREES.”

And sure, after many PR department aerial tours of the PNW, no question about it, there will be trees around long after we get through the human bloom we’re in from an historical perspective.  When the humans get through their die-off, it’s nice to know that we will still be able to fire up a cook stove and have enough trees around for T1-11 siding and 2-by-4’s.

Here’s How “Sustainable Blows Up”

Inspired by the view, and not longer worried about siding, the questions expanded and the inquiry became more wide-ranging.

“OK, we have trees.  But(t) what does it really take to make toilet player?  How sustainable is all that other shit?

Er….now that I was listing things…no very sustainable at all.

Here’s some of the problem:

  1. Trees require gasoline and diesel for harvest.  Therefore, in order to be “sustainable” we need to ensure that we don’t run out of US-based energy sources.  Why, just bringing down a few bridges along the Mississippi River could halt energy shipments up and down stream.  Point being?  No diesel, no gasoline means no tree harvesting.
  2. But now, let’s suppose we come up with a few barrels per acre of energy for the harvesting.  How “sustainable” is the Caterpillar Company, John Deere, and whoever else makes the big tree-ranching equipment needed for harvest?  And what about how sustainable is Kenworth truck production?  I haven’t researched, but because they are metalworking, computers, rubber and so on, the supply chain while presently robust, seem a little on the weak side to be called “sustainable.”
  3. OK, let’s skip all these risks and get on ,to the main question because it’s a “gimme” that documented tree cutters (whose I-9’s match-up, a tanker each of diesel and gas, but an armload of “sustainably produced Husqvarna commercial chainsaws with Rapco Industries carbide chains all show up on command….  Where’s our  next “sustainability” issue? I figure it’s the Highway system, the Rail system, or the Internet.
  4. Are the highway systems sustainable?  Hell no.  Right here in Texas our State Department of Transportation has an annual budget over $1-billion dollars, or so I’ve been told.  Put another way, highways are NOT sustainable without taxpayer’s pouring on layers of money.
  5. Same think with the railroads.  By the way, if you think you are are prepper, do you have maps of all the abandon railroad rights-of-way in your state and region?  Great ways to get around with a dirt bike because they grades are modest and…well, you save this for a future throne room musing, right?
  6. And if the Internet goes down, everything goes down.  Because without the web up and robust, there’s no banking and with no banking who is going to go to work?  Of course Bitcoins will bounce!  You faith in the Internet is remarkable (and misplaced).  Until it happens, I admit to being wrong in advance, but when it fails, I expect a mailbox full of apologies…except that may not be running, either, since ATC and all the air traffic system depends on data moving around and everyone being able to land and taxi and…
  7. Whew!  Let’s suppose even all this stuff works – without being ultimately “sustainable” – do we still get to a place where there is a 6-month recovery to self-sufficiency for Americans of such things as sanitary napkins, toilet paper, and how long before paper towels come back?
  8. If you visit the American Forest and Paper Association website, you will see a lot of talk about “Sustainability” but(t) as I’ve been pointing out, little discussion of “time to recovery” in the event of a real serious problem.  Massive earthquakes, energy shortages, internet collapse, or economic collapse in general.

That that’s my point:  We know that nuclear power plants (generally) have enough diesel fuel on hand to run generators to do a “cold shutdown” and a “restart.”  Name another industry, however, that has such a regulatory requirement.

A simple one – pulp and paper (toilet paper, medical paper products and such)  What’s the plan?  What are the “worst case” and how does the product get made, distributed, and recycled.

As I sat there looking at a dogwood from my tree farm throne (throne #3, if you must know), there was a moment of amazing clarity.

Like so many things in America (as in politics, climate, gender, and on goes the list) the national narrative has been focused on a single word (like “sustainability” here.

In fact, we need another word or concept.  One that encompasses 50% of its meaning in baseline sustainability locally, but which incorporates the integrated supply chain’s operational readiness on the other.

As a small-fry investor,  what became clear was that corporations focused on sustainability was only a good start.  “Robustness” in a wider concept.  It applies to companies that will be around even after taking some pretty good “hits” and still bouncing back.

In most industries, “sustainability” is still subject to a couple of “master switches” than can be thrown any time.  And it’s my ongoing complaint about system “Anti-fragility” treatises.

As a prepper, if you believe PR nonsense about “sustainability” you’d do well to study Marine Lietenant-General Paul K. Van Riper’s tactics in a wargame called Millennial Challenge 2000.

Sometimes in war (and in scaling how to prep and how to adjust your thinking) all you need to do is think about where the power switches are.  We’re confident someone among all those people sneaking into our country during compromised borders already has a plan of action against us.

Semper fi, Lieutenant General, sir!  Best warning ever.  And no, I don’t know why people can’t understand the obvious that’s in their faces every day.  Maybe it’s a two-way street.

Write when you get rich,

34 thoughts on “Prepping: Just How “Sustainable” Are Things?”

  1. George

    ” But(t) what does it really take to make toilet player? ”

    The TV series on cable, “How It’s Made”, actually did a segment on how TP is made. It turns out they use a glue solution to hold down that pesky first sheet.

    About five years ago I sold off the timber on five acres of my rural property to get more usable ground space. The loggers told me that the wood, mostly pine, would be chipped and shipped to Europe for use as a fuel. My property is in the Mississippi pine belt.

    That’s not very sustainable for our TP needs.

    • And that’s my point writ large: “sustainability” is a lie to keep us consuming. In the end nothing is sustainable and there’s an “off switch” for it all, even the internet.

      • So please do tell George where you and I are going to sell our one coin that we each own? I live at 9330 feet above sea level in the Rockies and none of the 2 legged or 4 legged mammals would be open to barter. Any suggestions?

      • Great Post George…

        “Today we fix that with a simple visit to (pardon my directness) the throne room where it’s very relaxing to have many months of toilet paper on hand.”

        Isn’t it funny that Toilet paper.. and other paper products was one of the reasons why Members of the Puppeteer club petitioned congress to declare HEMP a dangerous plant..

        When it has over fifty thousand uses besides Medical and use for recreation..

        all of it.. the medical miracle drugs that are available the wonderful food products and building materials. Hemp makes a wonderful fire proof building panel.. you can build bricks with hemp the oils.. the same with algae.. you can make your own fuels out of algae.. so why not make co2 filters for the cities the artificial trees and then convert the co2 collection material to oil.. amazing in the end its all about the dollar ..

        When I was a little boy..My parents bought an older home that hadn’t been upgraded so. we lived in a house that didn’t have but one running faucet in the kitchen and we heated with coal and corn cobs.. the main lights were gas lamps.. my sister and I would fight over who got to put the pellets in the gas chamber and who got to put the water in.. then turn it on.. wait a couple of minutes then mom would light it..
        We had an outhouse and in the outhouse was a Sears catalogue. at night if we had to go to the toilet.. dad would light the lamp and we would make the long walk out.. the fridge was a dumbwaiter that we would crank down into the basement which had a drain chamber that ice would be stacked on .. . LOL… the year that my dad worked feverishly outside digging trenches.. everyone laughed at him at the gas station who ever heard of such a thing.. only rich people or city folks had that..He dug in a septic system by hand.. and put a toilet in the closet..
        that was the same year my mom told him she was tired of heating water from the cistern on the cook stove for baths.. we had a tub that hung on the wall and she would heat water then the sisters would use it first then the older boys then us little kids.
        My mother had the rule of three.. she would discuss something with dad and they would decide.. yes no.. then a month or so later she would remind him of their decisions.. strike two.. the third time she would ask.. we are you planning on getting at the project.. strike three.. if he hadn’t started working on it.. one day he would come home and it would be finished.. she would hire someone to fix it..
        the look on dads face when he walked in a new refrigerator the house was wired for electricity and a hot water heater and bathtub the pantry turned into a bathroom and everything done..
        they never argued.. I never seen them say one foul word to each other my whole life.. they took walks..
        us kids played at the playgrounds and they went for their nightly walk.. hand in hand..
        My first house was an older home that hadn’t been brought up.. it did have sewer in but no bathroom.. I had to build that on the same with wiring.. we had electricity but it was old and outdated..
        an outhouse behind the house then became a storage shed.. Holloweens were real fun.. seems the boys all would go tip outhouses for tricks.. I would get hired by the older generation to move the outhouses off of the holes.. One year the now mayor went to push it over and fell in.. the trick was on him.. LOL
        Its amazing how easy it is for all of us to take for granted.. it was easy to convert hemp without caustics to turn into paper where wood pulp has to be broken down using caustics.
        That is why I teach the kids how to make paper.. at some point in time during their early years.. the same with pencils..
        My thought has been in a SHTF scenario where necessities are gone.. We really did it to ourselves by doing away with industrial ..
        for a period of time there would be resources available.. it just doesn’t disappear.. what is lost is the ability to replace what is gone. the knoweledge the talents.. all of that has been neatly transferred to a country other than the USA. which is why I learned how to make my own beer,cheese,grind my own wheat make vinegar and collect my own wild yeast..

      • LaBear, if you shoot that deer, someone would give you their lone coin for the carcass. Your lone coin could get thee something good, too. “Barter, it’s what for the future.”

  2. Of all the things to focus on!

    TP and Bathrooms . . . right time of year, the South has some very leaves – there are reusable cloths – and for that matter consider the meaning and history of the words right and left, dexterous and sinister.

    And it is possible though difficult to distill fuel from trees . . . per an old chemistry text.

    • One thing that needs to be posted in big, bold letters in everyone’s throne room is never, NEVER flush the disposable wipes down the toilet. It matters not whether you’re connected to a municipal sewer system or your own personal septic tank – they may SAY “flushable” but they ain’t. The danged things just don’t break down and will always clog up the system leaving you without a very important service in your household.

      • Don’t forget..if you have a double Y in your septic system always put some enzymes in each drain. When I was building maintenance we did that a tablespoon once a week. Otherwise the paper hits the Y flows up but there isn’t enough water in the system to flow it back..

    • It isn’t that hard to distill alcohol from wood or grass.
      Its easier if you have something with a higher sugar content.. Its easier to convert it to wood gas.
      Which anyone can do with materials that almost everyone normally has on hand.
      The original fema SHTF manual had a version in it for rebuilding emergency infrastructure. Early America created cengas for street lights and industry.
      During ww2 when fuel was rationed units were bought from Swedish companies to run tractors to plant crops.

    • That’s also what makes cardboard such a versatile commodity. There’s so much you can do with it.
      Evidences of this can be seen through studies of ancient Egypt and the ruins of Turkey ,and the ruins on and around the Mesopotamian river valley.

  3. I’m blessed enough to have run into and claim as a friend a local version of you, George. This person is a master businessman who’s integrity is more important to him than becoming part of our local “group think” cartel and can easily boil things down to my level of understanding of “business” when communicating with people.

    One aspect of “sustainability” he’s described to me that needs to be considered with utmost seriousness is the quality of lower to mid-level business leadership within the major industries. Upper level management seems to be a goner now anyway. My friend has cut a pretty wide swath through several heavy industries in which he maintained much success and professionalism with aplomb. So much so that he had many upper level management types begging him not to retire a short few years ago.

    What he observed first hand was that all too many “management types” have achieved their positions simply due to what hangs on the walls of their offices and/or ‘daddy’s coattails’. Other than that they’re engaged in getting as much out of their regional areas of responsibility without actually maintaining what their predecessors built or looking toward future trends and opportunities. In other words they’re simply there to suck as much out of the company for their own benefits and ego trips as they can. Few recognized the damage they’re doing to their companies nor do the upper management people seem to either. Everyone is riding on the coattails of those that built the businesses that enrich them and care little to none at all for the people that work for them.

    This is an aspect of “sustainability” that hampers and weakens American business leaving them open to external defeat or takeover and efficient use of our national resources. There are soooo many different threats to our national economy and ecosystem that I do not see how our house of cards will stand for very much longer if we can’t/won’t strengthen it or defend it.

    • It is that way with nearly every business.

      Not an absolute rule, but ISTM for about 70% of businesses:

      The first generation builds it.
      The second generation maintains it.
      The third generation destroys it.

      And the hangers-on leech from it until its veins run dry.

  4. Dude George,

    Sustainability only really works in 3rd world countries..out of necessity.Why even one of my fav Fish to eat down here in Belize is Dorado/MahiMahi. MahiMahi is a very sustainable fishery, a beautiful fish, awesomely mild and tasty.
    You troll for these guys along floating beds of SargassoGrass/Sargassim. The reef is protected – a World Heritage Site, Lobsters have strictly regulated season as does Conch…yum Conch Fritters – both gastronomic delights must be caught Free Diving – No Boottles G..not even Nitrox for you “more experienced” in life peeps.
    Trying to figure out how make a bottle Belizean Big Titty Rum more sustainable – my mental faculties seem to get clouded every time I try concentrating on filling the bottle back up…

  5. 2 man saws have grips for 2 hands at each end; we lost most of the country’s forests that way. Every area has a stream named Millcreek. Just tighten the belt to the central power shaft for whatever machine needs to work. Windmills are called that because the business attached was a mill (or maybe a pump.) You’ll get laughed at for trying any of that because the power will be back on before you can build the pond and wheel. Prefer bidets myself.

    • That depends upon “what takes the power out.”

      ‘Been investigating windmills, water wheels, and water screws myself, for many years now… ‘Might even have one o’ them thar belt-driven sawmills layin’ around the “back 40…”

      Everyone who’s thin-skinned enough that they care about their neighbors’ gossip, won’t live through a SHTF situ. Everyone whose families or friends ridicule them for having “primitive esoterica” as a hobby, hasn’t any.

      BTW, “primitive esoterica” is MY phrase. I expect credit when it begins appearing on crap “prepper” sites and “news” networks…

  6. There’s a broad leafed weed up here in north central Texas called “Cowboy Toilet Paper”. I don’t know the scientific name, but my science teacher wife probably does.

  7. Whenever a major disaster of any sort looms, people go out and buy toilet paper and bottled water. This issue is not new to American consumers. All this disaster talk is shaking my consumer confidence. Maybe I need to add a couple of items to my grocery list …

  8. Hi George, since you’re a “tree farmer” you absolutely-positively must get “The Hidden life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. Did you know trees have feelings? And they communicated with each other? It’s a great, insightful book and once you read it, you’ll not look at your “forest” the same way! I checked it out from the local library and am about 100 pages in.

  9. General Van Riper’s MC2002 actions should serve as fair warning that today’s military planners and commanders should ‘expect the unexpected’ from the opposition. In fact, history is replete with such warnings (the Trojan War, Pearl Harbor, the Tet offensive, the German blitzkrieg on the Maginot Line and the Revolutionary War’s battle of Trenton [Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas eve] chief among them). Unlike scripted exercises, you cannot ‘reset’ a real world adversary’s forces in your favor during a blood and guts armed engagement. Failure to ‘expect the unexpected’ in any kind of warfare will almost certainly end poorly for the pompous and the presumptuous.

  10. Stress induces diarrhea. A sustained grid hard-down would be very stressful. My tp in hermetic lockdown is not there to help me survive such. It is there to help me survive for one year, until I can make my own. I’m not concerned with maintaining the sustainability of my tree supply line, only maintaining the sustainability of my home, and for that, I have a crosscut saw and a Michigan axe. A SHTF is not a hiccup in “business as usual,” it is (at an absolute best-case scenario) prairie farming, circa 1850, except the “roving bands of Indians” won’t be noble, nor American Indian, nor likely as reasonable as warring Cherokee or even Kiowa (for the uninitiated, that’s analogous to “infantry” and “cavalry,” respectively), and they’ll be a whole lot more dangerous.

    I can handle 1850s frontier life. I can’t handle 1750s frontier life, so I intend to make it not necessary for me to try to do so…

  11. Mr. Ure,

    Is it possible to be any more barbaric than Utilizing paper products to clean ones derriere, while in ones own throne room?

    Water is obviously the optimum choice when evaluating “tools” for personal hygiene.

    Do you barbarians use colored paper to wipe during the holidays, like pink around Easter, red and green on Christmas, and orange and black at Halloween..glitter paper around New Years?
    This must be where the term “tough ass” comes from..paper hasgot to be harsh on the ole keister.

    The more civilized peoples of this planet use water..see Bidet..aint nothing quite like a gentle stream of warm water on a “dirty” bum!

  12. Thats why God invented Phone books, dude. Whooooooaaaaaa serious dejavu!

    Anyway, i dont mean to be a smart ass, but, uhmm er. Uhh. 3 or 4 phone books laying around is quite a few years worth if but- wipe. If ya crumple a page up and rub it back and forth on its self its pretty soft and durable.

    Not only that, you can take the pages out of a phone book crumple them all up, get two 50 gallon size plastic bags. place bag inside of the other. Step into the center one, then start filling inbetween the bags with crumpled up pages from the phone books and whalah you have a water proof sleeping bag.

    And if SHTF and its winter and cold? Using the same principle,
    With some duct tape you can make a helluva warm winter water proof coat.

    Take a sharpie and write North face on it if that makes ya feel better.


    Although, er. Uhhh probably dont wanna use them pages as TP before you make your home made sleeping bag. Lol

    Saw this Youtube video on the best legal advice id ever heard. Ever! There may actually be good lawyers out there. Lol although it is not Friday, yet. Someone may find it as useful as i did. Ha ha ha ha ha! :)

    Thats my cue. On the flip side.

      • That may be true george, we still have 4 or 5 old ones laying around out in the shop.

        Might i make an alternative suggestion just as pliable?

        suscribe to finger hut’s free catalog.


  13. ” A) most people lie to themselves about how “normal” things are and B) even if they are preppers, they don’t think through every step of their day.” ;-)

    The advantages of being (very) old is A) one knows that it’s (perhaps?) just a number of days and B) prepping is just short of a joke, because no ‘prepper’ will know what will be requiered in the future, except toilet paper, IMHO.

  14. My musings on the TP prepper problem are a bit different…

    When the children were very young we opted for cloth diapers and things worked out well for us. (For those not familiar: Dirty diapers were rinsed in the toilet (clean water) and placed in a diaper pail. Wet diapers went straight to the pail. The pail was partly filled with water and a little bleach for odor control. Every other day or so the entire contents went in the washing machine. It isn’t so bad once you figure it out.)

    For prepping purposes I propose that a pile of washcloths within reach of the throne will work well. The diaper pail can be replaced with a 5 gal bucket with a gamma seal lid. The rest of the process remains the same.

    It may not be quite as pleasant and convenient as regular TP, but then there’s no need to store a truck load of TP. I put about 100 washcloths from Wal-Mart into a 5 gal bucket and called it good. Add a bucket of laundry soap and this should keep you “going” a long time – not forever, but long enough to figure out alternatives.

  15. Was musing about prepping during a recent boat trip on Amazon tributaries in Peru. A visit to a riverbank village at least 60 miles from the nearest town with electricity showed what self-sufficiency looks like in 2019. Food came from small vegetable plots, gathering in the jungle, and fishing a river rich with fish. Most shelter was stuccoed mud brick with thatch roofs. Medical care was sub-optimum: the local shaman had cures for some maladies but with a serious illness or injury, you would die. Boats were made from hand-sawn planks caulked with a locally made concoction that included sap from rubber trees. The only routine inputs from the outside world were missionary-donated clothes, $150 Chinese outboards for the canoes, chainsaws, and fuel for the outboards, saws, and lighting. A few houses had solar lanterns. One had satellite TV run by solar cells. If the village laid in a few drums of gasoline, some bolts of cloth, some hand saws, and spare parts for the outboards and chainsaws, it could likely exist for months to years after Final Fission Day. As for TP, banana leaves do well enough.

  16. Sounds to me like the “south of the border ” toilet paper is really John Wayne toilet paper. Rough as a cop, full of grit and wont take no crap of indian.

  17. Another thing to consider WRT paper making. The drum. In a paper factory there is a big heavy drum with tight tolerances – its mass is such it needs to be kept spinning otherwise gravity will deform the drum and to get the paper machine back into spec in-place machining of the drum has to be done. In this future of fail – will the factory with the drum have a steady supply of current to keep that drum rotating? Plenty of industries have specs that need steady power otherwise the resetting process makes the thing they are making uneconomic.

  18. Something else to consider: If the way the TSHTF is with a population correction there will be plenty of goods on the secondary market. The property market will also collapse.

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