Dear Patrick: Lately I have become frightened with thoughts that perhaps I can’t count on civilization to continue to exist in its current form. If climate change continues to accelerate, it may be that I will have to survive in a society that is collapsing or experiencing varying degrees of chaos. I realized that I have come to depend on certain forms of technology to give me a lot of freedom as a woman. For example, birth control. Please don’t try to tell me there isn’t going to be an apocalypse; when I start to panic about this, logic doesn’t calm me down. What helps is to make a plan to cope with some of the things that might happen. For example, I’ve got a small stockpile of water, canned food, and fuel for a small camp stove. I’ve got extra detergent and soap and water purification supplies. I’ve started to save up over-the-counter medications, First Aid supplies, and food for my pets as well as veterinary supplies. I am learning how to use a compound bow. I’m studying local plants and learning which ones I can eat and which ones are poisonous. I’m gradually planting vegetables around my yard, paired up with plants that are supposed to keep insect pests away from them. This has the advantage of making it look like weeds instead of a garden so people don’t come onto my property and steal my food. There’s enough plywood and metal screws in my basement to cover up the windows if I need to make sure people can’t break into my house. But what do I do about not getting pregnant?
Dear Road Valkyrie: This is one of the more original questions I’ve gotten! If you have enough money and you are ingenious about getting prescriptions filled (please be careful not to commit any crimes), you can stockpile birth control pills. Condoms, female condoms, or diaphragms can be saved too. But eventually all of these medications or devices will expire. If you are seriously worried about this, and if you are sure you never want to have children, the only method of birth control that is independent of failing technology would be to get yourself sterilized. Unfortunately, the present forms of getting your tubes tied are not reversible. Once you have this done, you will probably never be able to have one of your eggs drop into position to be fertilized. I want to be very clear here, because there are fertility clinics that advertise operations to reverse fallopian tube closure, but these are rarely successful.
Let me ask you a very important question. If you could trust civilization to remain intact—if there was no apocalypse, no need to bow-hunt for your own meat or grow your own vegetables—would you want to have children then? Would you feel more confident or open to the possibility of finding love, settling down with someone, and raising a family? Does it make you feel sad to give up the prospect of being a mother?
I don’t want to encourage you to get your tubes tied based on a hypothetical notion that a disaster is lurking in the wings. I have been told my whole life that our world is about to collapse around our ears, and yet it still manages to hold itself together. We have no way of knowing, honestly, whether we are about to get nuked back to the Stone Age, drowned by melting ice caps, ravaged by zombies created by viruses released by military laboratories, or rescued by aliens in silent, interstellar, triangular ships. Your preoccupation with a dystopian future may be based on precognition, clinical depression, or a fondness for survival training. I will probably never know, because I doubt I will survive any crisis that kicks things apart.
But I do care that you don’t come to regret a permanent decision. I know people say that about everything from a tattoo to a pierced nipple. But the decision to permanently give up your ability to create a new life is rather more serious. So I hope you will give it the attention it deserves, R.V. And consider the fact that even if we are all struggling harder to survive than we do now, our species might deserve to continue. I say “might” because in my own brain, the jury is still out on that matter.