For my purposes, this world is in a state of catastrophic collapse from environmental degradation, climate change, resource shortages, pollution, vanishing food production, energy scarcity, societal collapse, civil unrest, extreme competition for the basics of survival, and the overall failure of civilization.

A catastrophic collapse of the entire ’modern world’ has occurred, where even primitive-level survival (foraging) is difficult to impossible. World populations are in severe decline (die-off) on every continent due to starvation, thirst, resource shortage, lack of basic medicine and care, shelter and access to energy. Civilization itself has completely collapsed.

For my purposes, I’m only interested in saving the lives, essential habitat for their survival, skills and knowledge of a few human survivors.

Which skills, disciplines or professions will be required to preserve the lives of the survivors and pass this knowledge and skills on to their progeny, generation by generation?

If there are sufficient thoughtful answers, I will expand this theme in a follow-up scenario inquiring how more advance human knowledge could be preserved.

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    $\begingroup$ There are literally a billion people who live by subsistence farming, and billions more who are capable of subsistence farming. What kind of disaster are you imagining that would reduce the number of potential subsistence farmers to "a few human survivors"? $\endgroup$ – Jasper Jan 19 '17 at 3:27
  • $\begingroup$ Multiple disasters - droughts, floods, extreme weather events, rising sea levels, oxygen depletion (phytoplankton die-off), extreme temperature variations, etc., but your question is misleading. I didn't state that there would only be a "few human survivors". I said that I was only interested in saving the lives of a few human survivors (versus saving the rest, which can't be done anyway). $\endgroup$ – Survival Acres Jan 19 '17 at 3:36
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    $\begingroup$ A few survivors? They will be the wealthy and powerful, because they the ones who have the social & political organization to protect themselves from the depredations of the collapse. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 19 '17 at 7:30
  • $\begingroup$ @SurvivalAcres You should probably elaborate on what exactly you are asking. There are answers which answer your question quite well which have comments left by you wherein you elaborate that the environmental problems make normal farming impossible. That is not evident from your question. I think I know what you are looking for, after reading your comments elsewhere, but I cannot be sure and would not want to write an answer which could likewise miss your target which I cannot see. It sounds like it could be a good question if improved. $\endgroup$ – Aaron Apr 24 '17 at 22:52

The four most important skills, without which you won't last long, are:

  1. Locating potable water. You are gone in a week if you cannot do this.

  2. Hunting. Farming won't cut it, because law and order will have ceased to exist. Robbers will take your harvest and you will starve before the next harvest comes in. If that happens when you're a hunter, you can hunt the next day.

  3. Building a simple shelter.

  4. Building and tending a fire. You'll need to keep warm.

Once these are done, you will have time for other things that you probably will need:

  1. Killing other human beings. If you're not prepared to do this, don't expect to last much longer.

  2. First aid.

  3. Making things like clothing, weapons, pottery and utensils, and the other paraphernalia of day-to-day living that you are not able to scavenge from the ruins of civilization.

  • $\begingroup$ I think you (and everyone else) is forgetting the parameters defined. Primitive level survival is almost impossible - environmental collapse has occurred. Therefore, foraging, hunting, etc., are "out" (non-viable survival options). So running out of food happens very, very quickly. But this isn't the question either. The question was about what skills and disciplines would be required to preserve life under these conditions? $\endgroup$ – Survival Acres Jan 22 '17 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ That is not exactly what the OP said about the environment. $\endgroup$ – EvilSnack Apr 20 '18 at 2:10
  1. The basics:

    • They must be able to farm to grow their own food. Better make sure that in the group there are enough peasants/farmers from the area, who know how to work the land and grow crops and animals.

    • You need people who know how to extract fibers from cotton, flax and hemp, people who know how to spin fibers into threads, weavers to make cloth out of yarn, and tanners (to process animal hide into leather).

    • Potters are vital; ceramic pots will make a tremendous comeback.

    • Unless you want to throw the group back to the stone age you should make sure that they are in an area with coal and iron reserves (copper and tin would be nice too, and that in the group you have chemists (to smelt the metal), engineers (to direct the mines), metallurgists (to make steel) and mechanics (to use the steel).

    • To transmit knowledge to the future generations they need to be able to write and to make writing materials and implements.

  2. Nice to have:

    • Glass makers.

    • Artists, or at least people who are able to draw pictures and can teach the techniques.

    • Medical doctors (especially from less developed countries) may be useful, doubly so if they have the knowledge of using medicinal herbs.

And so on.

One important thing to remember when populating the group of survivors is that the knowledge of making things from raw materials is nowadays held mainly by hobbyists. You may want to have some people who make steam engines as a hobby, for example; people who work metals using antique technology. How will they mingle with the subsistence farmers from a 3rd world country will be interesting.

The group of survivors needs to be fairly large, some thousands of people. Without machinery, you need at least two farmers for each person not engaged in farming, and that's being optimistic.

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    $\begingroup$ The problem with subsistence farming is that it requires a certain level of law and order, or bandits will simply show up at harvest time and take what you have. $\endgroup$ – EvilSnack Jan 20 '17 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with subsistence farming is that, depending on the timing of the catastrophe and your climate, you may easily need to wait 3 to 9 months before the first usable calories - and that assumes that you (a) stumbled on a large enough quantity of seed material and (b) didn't have to eat it, so you actually managed to plant it for the future. $\endgroup$ – Peteris Jan 20 '17 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with subsistence farming (as described, ie., "farming") is it will not work in the conditions prescribed (total environmental collapse). Essential elements for plant growth and photosynthesis are absent (temperature, predictable rain, severe depredation from whatever else is trying to survive and so forth). While food production is paramount, it is but one "skill" required, and the skill needed will not be "normal farming methods" we take for granted today. $\endgroup$ – Survival Acres Jan 22 '17 at 21:32

Modern technological civilization has something on the order of 100,000 specialties (as estimated by Charles Stross). This is a big deal, because it means you can't send out a colony ship with 50 people on it and expect anything but collapse to happen.

Sure, you can pare down the specialties you want to preserve, but generally speaking, the more you pare away the less viable your survival population becomes. They're not all Norman Borlaugs of course, but maybe that one weird oncology subspecialty is the one you'll need to keep the Norman Borlaug alive.

It is unlikely that there is any viable strategy that will prevent extinction in the scenario you outlined.

  • $\begingroup$ Good point. Advanced technological civilization can only exist with resource abundance, which won't be possible in a collapsed civilization, which means no advanced civilization would be possible, therefore less specialties, less 'advanced' level of living and required skills. But still, which ones? Ancient humans had totally different and fewer skills in a healthy environment, and survived just fine. In a failing environment, there would be need for the right balance of artificial support (technology) and the skills to keep it all going, indefinitely. $\endgroup$ – Survival Acres Jan 21 '17 at 7:25

Before getting to technicalities (branch of knowledge, skills worth preserving) you need a highly self-organised self-governing group of people with a sense of mission that could do the job. Most likely they would be followers of religion that gives you sense of living and death, gives meaning to your suffering and strength to not be fearful of death and allows for a rise of some kind of warrior code (maybe among caste/clan of warriors). They would have a developed law system (not necessarily a complex one, but strictly adhered to), that will satisfy the need for justice and would be envyed by outsiders. In post-apocalyptic world they would appear most likely first as followers of some highly revered figure, maybe considered prophet.

This group must also be self-perpetuating, either through recruiting new members, or natural growth. Preserving knowledge MUST be essential to its stated purpose: rebuilding God's Kingdom, or whatever purpose you give them. If the group considers knowledge evil and root of problems, they won't try to preserve it.

Examples: early Church communities, highland clans (these are less likely to be concerned about knowledge preservation), Jewish people throughout most of their history, etc.

Once you have your group and where it exists (decaying cities, as early Church in late Roman Empire; group of highly protected sheltered compounds in srarcely populated areas, what would likely be a feature of some reclusive Christian denominations in US) it can be easier to determine what kind of knowledge they need, as it is highly unlikely they could or will attempt to preserve all knowledge.

  • $\begingroup$ Religion requires an existing hierarchy; existing resource production; existing social norms; all of which are no longer, well, existing in a collapsed civilization. Religion did not appear in human history until all these elements were in place. Religion does not hold much knowledge either, and almost no essential skills, professions or disciplines. Religion can only exist (and survive) if other essential skills and disciplines provide for it, because it does not deal with earthly matters (reality and survival) at all. Religion seeks to impose itself as an authority over a working class. $\endgroup$ – Survival Acres Jan 21 '17 at 7:18

Okay, I'll take a stab at it.

Different Types of Habitats

So first off you mention an essential habitat for their survival, so I'll start there. There are two possible types:

  1. Natrual
  2. Artificial



If this habitat is artificially constructed, you're going to need some engineers and maybe an architect or two. This is so the structure that's built can be maintained. Inside, assuming it's designed to be insulated from climate change and environmental degradation, you are going to need a ventilation system, and if there are air-born hazards an air filtration system as well. This adds HVAC Engineers and HEPA Engineers to the list.


Considering power-generation needs, if you have the resources and expertise nuclear is the way to go, as it provides the most power... otherwise, you'll have to go with renewables like solar, wind, and water. I'm going to assume nuclear is out of the question and target the renewables.

  1. solar
    • You'll need Solar Engineers for this.
    • These panels would also need to be cleaned off regularly in sandy or snowy weather conditions.
  2. wind
    • These wind turbines would need Wind Turbine Technicians (also known as windtechs) for installation and maintenance.
    • These are best if your Habitat is located in a plains like area clear of obstructions for the wind.
  3. water
    • You'd need a flowing source of water and some hydro-electricians for this.
    • If you were to go for this make sure the habitat is away from the damn, as the water build-up would eventually form a lake (may be to your advantage if you habitat was on an island in the middle of said lake.)


You mentioned a lack of food and water so assuming the damn helps with water you can get the most bang for your buck with hydroponics for your food! This will probably need some Botanists to really help maintain the health of your crops.

Medical Health

You have to make sure your people don't get sick and spread disease, so go ahead and add Doctors to your list, and remember there are many different types of doctors, so you'll have to take that into consideration as well.


You'll need guns, lots and lots of guns. A Mechanical Engineer would probably be best for maintaining the guns and somebody ex-military to teach others how not to shoot themselves in the foot.


This is for low-budget habitats that are built by-the-people, for-the-people.


For low budget habitats, you don't actually need anything fancy, if you or your people find dilapidated housing or even an Abandoned Base they'll be pretty well off, basic repairs are a learn-as-you-go type of thing.


This would be trickier, assuming they didn't have access to generators and such they'd need at least an Electrician there are some interesting tricks you can do with a high voltage DC motor to generate power: DC Motor Wind Turbine

Otherwise, you'd have to have an expedition to the nearest substation or power plant.


Any nearby survival/outdoor sporting goods store (assuming it hasn't been already ransacked) will have Iodine, drinking canteens and self-filtering water bottles.


This gets tricky... as most people will automatically go for grocery stores for canned goods etc. remember the outdoor sporting goods store? go ahead and get yourself a hunting bow or two


Again, the outdoor sporting goods store should have some guns and ammo as well.


SPORTING GOODS STORE!!! it'll have first aid kits, or if your lucky most firemen, police officers and of course EMS have at least a little medical training.

I think that's it... Hope this helped!


I'm going for a more abstract answer. In my opinion the other ones are so specific that inevitably they become one answer among lots of equally right ones.

I assume that overpopulation was already solved (by mass death), so the group doesn't need to compete a lot with other similar groups. If you want it to work during your apocalypse, well, then you need to specify which kind and I think that question would then be too broad.

  • You need a minimum population size to make reproduction sustainable. This has been asked and answered before.
  • You need the following attributes in your group of people to maximize their chance of success:
    • Creativity: Mainly the technical sort of creativity, you could call it the capability to improvise, but it goes further than this.
    • Health: You need physically and mentally healthy people, preferably in their prime of life.
    • Endurance: They need endurance both physically because they might need to move (i.e. run) a lot and do lots of manual work and mentally because they will face hardship and can't give up.
  • Organisation: Your group will be comparable in size to a village. So basic direct democracy is feasible. You probably won't have an elite or poor people: a group of that size and which as a whole is dirt poor tends to self regulate to make the material distribution pretty flat. Obviously charismatic leaders still have more power than average in a democracy like that.

Because of the first point, your group will be large enough to make it likely to have at least one farmer in it (many more depending on where you choose your group), who can teach/lead the others in that area. The same holds true for other basic stuff like making backpacks, huts, fire, cloth, rope, clothes... mining metals wouldn't be a problem because there would be plenty already on the surface which you can use. It would be rather unlikely to have someone in your group who knows how to manually work metal, but they'll learn (that's why you need creative people).

You would inevitably fall back to medieval technology (have you ever thought about the supply chain for solar panels? You certainly won't get anything of the like!). But statistics make it likely that a group large enough to replicate would also have all the knowledge and skills needed.

  • $\begingroup$ A tiny group has no chance, I agree. A direct democracy can only exist if there are sufficient resources (for all), otherwise it will be brute survival of the fittest, strongest, most violent (preying upon everyone else). So the problem becomes in any sizable group, the appropriate size with sufficient resources for life (in a collapsed environment). They will need skills beyond basic survival skills (which produce no abundance), they will need to be able to produce or procure essential resources (grow, find, build, maintain, repair, replace). The key is abundance, group size, required skills. $\endgroup$ – Survival Acres Jan 21 '17 at 7:34
  • $\begingroup$ @SurvivalAcres Actually no, even when there is lack of basic resources, a kind of direct democracy will work, where no stronger one can steal from "the poor" because the poor are so poor that even with minor infractions they would unite and fight back. Actually this stops working as soon as there is surplus (and only starts working again once there is a huge surplus like today). There is no room in comments to debate this basic statement, I fear, although I'm sure it would be interesting to do so. $\endgroup$ – Nobody Jan 22 '17 at 8:16
  • $\begingroup$ Also I'm not saying a tiny group faces worse odds - I'm saying that in the long term, a tiny group won't be able to replicate. You can certainly survive in groups smaller than the minimum size needed to reproduce (for longer than a couple of generations). $\endgroup$ – Nobody Jan 22 '17 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ You have not described a direct democracy. You have described something that does not actually occur in real life. All groups cooperate if beneficial to their members; disenfranchised members either tolerate, leave or resist. In all three conditions, this is not a true democracy. Democracy requires abundance; which results in individual expression (freedom at varying degrees). Once abundance is gone, there is no opportunity or even tolerance for "democracy". We do what we've always done, survival of the fittest. The point is irrelevant as it does not address the skills and disciplines anyway. $\endgroup$ – Survival Acres Jan 22 '17 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ @SurvivalAcres You can define democracy like this, but I don't think it matches the usual meaning well and even if I accept it like this your statements don't seem to be fully self-consistent to me. I told you it was no discussion for a few short comments. $\endgroup$ – Nobody Jan 23 '17 at 12:45

Survival skills depend crucially on the specific type of disaster:
in a plague scenario, medical care would be key, but fallout-shelter-building skills, not so much.
That said, there are three general classes of skills that are literally vital:

  1. Resource acquisition: The ability to get enough of the essential resources such as air, water, food, warmth and medical supplies.

  2. Defense/Organization: The ability to defend one's self, family and community, including the resources they need to survive. This includes finding/making allies and governing in the small/immediate. (Or defense by being inaccessible, on an island or in an underground bunker, etc.)

  3. The knowledge and experience to do things previously done by specialists or machines: medical care, food production/preservation, keeping warm.


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