Like most people, your post-apocalyptic fantasy probably involves a move to the local shopping mall, where you'll lash your skateboard to a pack of zombies, tuck a samurai sword into the belt of a pilfered tuxedo and subsist on a steady diet of food court pizza and video games.
Wake up, man! You're not thinking like a survivor. You're thinking like all the other post-apoc losers who -- guess what -- eventually devolve into the very roving bands of deranged marauders they'd hoped to evade.
If you really plan to survive the apocalypse -- be it nuclear, biologic, environmental or cosmic -- you'll want to study up on your tree hugging and know exactly what sort of green products to loot when law and order collapse into half-naked, chainsaw-lobbing chaos.
So seriously, print this article out. Fold it and tuck it into your shorts with all the other HowStuffWorks apocalypse survival articles. Whether the world ends with a bang or a whimper, it'd be nice to have clean drinking water.
Amid all those burning cities and plague-ridden ruins, catching a breath of fresh air might prove a challenge in the post-apocalyptic world.
If the chance arises on the forsaken Earth, loot yourself a gas mask or two. A simple painting respirator should filter out ammonia, chlorine or swirling toxic dust. Just remember that any gas mask you grab from an adult lingerie store or detach from a bong might not provide that much protection.
Even the mutants know better than to pass up a good gas mask, so you might find supplies rather limited. Don't be afraid to create your own out of household items. The first personal air filters from the early 20th century mimicked the body's mucous membranes -- by forcing incoming air through a wet sponge.
In the wake of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring, various do-it-yourself gas mask plans made the rounds on the Internet. These crude devices followed a similar approach, using a soda bottle and a clinical face mask soaked in vinegar [source: Stone].
Other designs incorporate charcoal-based filters made with canisters and mesh flyswatters. The task is still the same: adsorption of harmful chemicals [source: Anderson]. Try to score some activated charcoal when building one of these filters. Treated with oxygen, this really porous form of charcoal traps even more harmful organic chemicals you don't want to fill your lungs with.
If the air's loaded with particularly heinous inorganic compounds, however, you might be out of luck. But hey, even a failing gas mask will make you look like a fearsome, rubber aardvark man.
You take clean water for granted, and when apocalyptic fire sweeps across the continent, you'll quickly learn what much of the world already knows: Water purification is life.
Sure, you might get by on secret watercooler stashes and allegiance to a water baron or two, but there will come a time when the only available drink is questionable at best. You'll want to purify that stuff before you ingest a bellyful of pathogens or chemical poisons.
If you run across a CamelBak All Clear UV water purification system (or something similar) amid the rubble of your lost civilization, add that puppy to your gear. This $100 bottle uses a built-in, battery-powered ultraviolet light to kill waterborne bacteria, viruses and protozoa in 80 seconds flat [source: LaBarre]. Other on-the-go water filters such as the LifeStraw instantly turn a questionable puddle into a potable mouthful.
When all the CamelBaks and LifeStraws are gone, however, there are still ways to ensure your water won't kill you. Boiling will kill most types of disease-causing organisms. And if the water appears murky, you can strain it through a cloth or allow it to settle and skim from the top. You can also use a barrel with several feet of sand in the middle to filter collected rain into potable drinking water [source: Green].
Or, buy it from your local wasteland warlord with your undying service. Look, we can't tell you how to live your post-apocalyptic life.
Still here? Good. As I was saying, sunlight is a potent energy force. It powers the Earth's vegetation, warms the planet and can even fire up a lifesaving gadget or two. As you roam through the half-looted storehouses of this devastated world, you'll likely come across any number of solar-powered LED flashlights, radios and glowing lawn squirrels.
While you might aim to ride out the apocalypse inside a fortified anti-zombie fortress or an underground bunker, passive solar design offers an excellent opportunity to maximize the sun's energy -- while also conserving energy in the pre-apocalyptic world. Homes designed with passive solar power in mind collect solar energy during the day, soaking it up in the walls and floors through large, south-facing windows. These surfaces then emit heat during the night to keep everyone warm.
Sure, solar energy of this nature won't power your Xbox, but it will help you survive the ravages of winter.
Here's a shocker: In the wild, lawless world of post-apocalyptic Earth, it sure will help if you have the ability to produce your own food.
Yeah, you'll scrape by on canned goods and military rations for a while. Fall in with the mutant hordes and cannibalism will provide necessary protein, as well as some unnecessary prion disease. But eventually even the Twinkies will go bad, and the meat of your fellow man will become harder to come by.
So, you'll need to grow your own vegetables. If you can't live without meat or fancy your hunting skills, you'll need to know how to preserve your food. Have you ever pickled a beet or a pig's foot? Know how to make beef jerky or fruit leather? Don't even get me started on beer and wine.
Without the aid of large-scale industrial agricultural techniques (or chemicals), you'll have to turn to the traditional farming methods. In rural areas, this might mean family gardens. Amid the ruins of major population centers, you'll want to seek out the guidance of the hipster pickle enthusiasts, beer brewers and urban farmers. With any luck, they'll take you under their wing.
Also, they might practice a little cannibalism on the side, so keep your guard up.
Information is power, and telecommunication unites us across vast distances. Too bad we put all of that stuff on the Internet, right? When society collapses and the zombies roam the streets, will the World Wide Web collapse into ruins as well?
Surprisingly enough, the answer is "no." Data hosts around the world have taken their servers deep underground -- into the sort of bunkers normally reserved for Earth's seed wealth and the British royal family.
Norway's Green Mountain Data System holds up in a former munitions storage site, protected from electromagnetic pulses and fire. The data center uses hydroelectric energy for power and depends on water from a fjord that's close by to cool everything down [source: Hudson]. Sweden's Pionen Data Center is a former military command center buried deep in the heart of a mountain, fortified enough to withstand a thermonuclear bomb. It's cooling system depends on mountain water and naturally cool mountain temperatures.
So, even if the world as we know descends into a living hell of atomic firestorms and mutant war bands, the few human survivors will still have the power to vandalize the Wikipedia article about it all.
How has home delivery affected the cardboard industry? Learn more about cardboard, recycling and shipping in this HowStuffWorks article.
Author's Note: 5 Green Methods to Survive the Apocalypse
How might we survive the apocalypse? It's a question we all think about from time to time, equal parts survival instinct and anxiety over our technological and organizational dependence. A world without readily available drinking water, breathable air, electricity, food and Internet is daunting, but rest assured that these necessities won't completely fade away.
Don't get me wrong, I'd be a goner. After all, I'm a professional writer whose key skills involve reaching things on high shelves and painting tiny miniatures. At best, I could maybe talk my way into a position of chief science adviser to a fortified commune -- or high wizard for a wasteland warlord.
"You can't kill me! I wrote 'How Weather Works!'"
We'll see how it goes. In the meantime, it does everyone good to realize how hard-won our modern conveniences really are -- and how tragically scarce they are in many parts of the world.
- Chelsea Green Publishing. "Project: Harvest Rainwater with Sand Filters." June 20, 2008. (April 9, 2012) http://www.chelseagreen.com/content/project-harvest-rainwater-with-sand-filters/
- Chua, Jasmin Malik. "Designer Gas Masks Question Our Psychological Reliance on Luxury Labels." Ecouterre. Nov. 2, 2011. (April 9, 2012) http://www.ecouterre.com/designer-gas-masks-question-our-reliance-on-luxury-labels/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Ecouterre+%28Ecouterre%29
- Ethical Energy. "What Is Passive Solar Energy?" 2012. (April 9, 2012) http://www.ethicalenergy.net/energy-basics/what-is-passive-solar-energy/
- Hudson, Gavin. "6 Green Data Centers that Could Survive a Zombie Apocalypse." Matter Network." Feb 13, 2012. (April 9, 2012) http://featured.matternetwork.com/2012/2/6-green-data-centers-could.cfm
- LaBarre, Suzanne. "Gallery: Apocalypse Now." Popular Science. Aug. 3, 2009. (April 9, 2012) http://www.popsci.com/gear-amp-gadgets/gallery/2009-06/gallery-apocalypse-now
- Peterson, Josh. "Use Sand Filters to Make Rain Water Drinkable." TLC Home. Jan. 11, 2012. https://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/sand-filters-rain-water.htm
- Popular Science. "DIY Gas Mask: A PopSci Fan's Step-by-Step Guide." Dec. 15, 2008. (April 9, 2012) http://www.popsci.com/diy/article/2008-12/diy-gas-mask-popsci-fans-step-step-guide
- Stone, Jerry James. "$5 DIY Gas Mask for Surviving Occupy Wall Street." Treehugger. Nov. 13, 2011. (April 9, 2012) http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-product-design/5-diy-gas-mask-surviving-occupy-wall-street.html
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water." March 6, 2012. (April 9, 2012) http://water.epa.gov/drink/emerprep/emergencydisinfection.cfm