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Meet James Lovelock, the man who invented the Gaia Hypothesis: The Earth is a self-regulating organism [which, incidentally, has no any inherent need for us humans nor any particular obligation to provide us an environment we find pleasant].


In his 2006 book,

The Revenge of Gaia, [he] predicts that by 2020 extreme weather will be the norm, causing global devastation; that by 2040 much of Europe will be Saharan; and parts of London will be underwater.

He thinks we’ve passed the point of no return. It’s irreversible now. His advice:

“Enjoy life while you can.
Because if you’re lucky you’ve got about 20 years before it really hits the fan.” 

His argument is simple. It’s the big things that are doing the damage, not the small ones. Banning plastic shopping bags, setting the thermostat lower, recycling your garbage all do bugger-all apart from making us feel smug, as if we’re making a difference for future generations of people who will be as ungrateful as we are. We’d be better off thinking more about what needs to be done to survive.

This blog has often featured buildings for extreme environments from desert to polar and highlighted how man’s intelligence and ingenuity has made human life more comfortable and even possible in those environments. It might be a good idea to start thinking about how to apply some of this ingenuity closer to home.


We already know how to deal with cold. Many a person this last winter would have appreciated living in one of these.

halley unit


Some parts of the world will have to get used to having more rain than they have been. The UK has had its wettest winter ever and has found out that its rivers don’t flow fast enough to drain all that water to the sea. It’s a bit late, but people are starting to think of floodproof houses, even if it’s in a pilotis-with-benefits kind of way.


It’s a step in the right direction but, with all that timber in the rain, it’s still retro design for  a time when prolonged rain and frequent flooding was not the norm.

oil rig close

Violent weather

Storm shelters are designed to protect their occupants from violent weather and tornadoes in particular.

An average storm cellar for a single family is built close enough to the home to allow instant access in an emergency, but not so close that the house could tumble on the door during a storm, trapping the occupants inside. This is also why the main door on most storm cellars is mounted at an angle rather than perpendicular with the ground. An angled door allows for debris to blow up and over the door, or sand to slide off, without blocking it, and the angle also reduces the force necessary to open the door if rubble has piled up on top. 


Tornado shelters are a good idea but perhaps a house in Tornado Alley would do better by being a bit more like a tornado shelter?


Maybe underground houses will become more the norm there. It’s nice to survive, but it would be better to be left with something you can continue living in.


It’s not quite what I was thinking but Hong Kong architects are on the case. Their tornado-proof house retracts into the ground.

tornado proof house

Sorry – can’t not share this. [We’re doomed.]

Random acts of violence

When extreme have-nots are forced to live near to extreme haves, people tend to take matters into their own hands and things seem to find their own level. Wealth causes crime. There are companies that provide rooms, the primary security feature of which is a secret entrance. We won’t worry about these.


Something a bit more serious might be called for when things get nasty. Luckily, Latham’s Steel Security Doorsets will be there for you.


The panic room of today can be considered the contemporary version of the fallout shelter of the past. Panic rooms are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. With the alarming rise of property break-ins and with what seem to be more volatile weather swings than in the past, panic rooms of all sizes and with a wide number of amenities are being built across the land.

Panic rooms range from the ultra-high-end to the basic survival and safety room. The concept of the panic room is to protect inhabitants from natural or man-made disasters or home invasions. In its truest sense, the panic room is an impenetrable fortress that contains necessary systems and contents to enable the occupiers to keep would-be intruders out and exist in a self-contained environment.

The desire to have a safe room or vault is not new. Medieval feudal lords designed elaborate safety rooms to protect against sieges. The safe rooms of today can be high tech. Some upscale panic rooms even feature fully stocked wet bars.

The most elaborate panic rooms consist of multiple rooms. The most basic can be as small as a 6 x 4 secure room. Obviously, budget is a major determinant in the size and scope of the panic room.

It’s a growth industry.

Aerial bombing

The effects of relative wealth and poverty side by side are not that much different between countries. We have history for limited aerial bombing. It’s always been something that’s been dealt with on a case by case basis, and never continual or continuous enough to warrant more lasting solutions. Air-raid shelters won’t survive direct hits but will offer a degree of protection from the shock waves produced by exploding munitions.

fallout shelter

Limited (as opposed to all-out) thermonuclear war

Fallout shelters are designed to withstand much larger shock waves. If you’re in a Swiss fallout shelter built after 1978, it would have been built to withstand the shock wave from a 12 megaton explosion at a distance of 700 metres. Lucky you! Listen good. A one-megaton explosion is 80 times larger than the “Little Boy” uranium-235 fission bomb dropped on Hiroshima but only 50 times larger than the “Fat Man” plutonium-239 bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Note that the vertical scale of this next graph is logarithmic.


How you’re going to deal with gamma radiation is another matter. This protection is all about putting molecules (preferably the heavy ones) in the way of the gamma rays. Use this next chart as a guide.

halving thicknesses

The last column in the chart above indicates the mass of material required to reduce gamma radiation by 50%, in grams per square centimetre of protected area.

The period of occupancy of fallout shelters is much longer than tornado shelters and air-raid shelters.


One hundred days should see you through the worst of the gamma radiation when compared to the “idealized” [!] Chernobyl fallout falloff. There’s nothing wrong then, with making your fallout shelter comfy to while away those nuclear winter nights. I don’t know why but this next reminds me of TGIF’s.


A hundred days post-apolcalypse, it won’t be a scenario anymore. You’ll finally get to apply those video game skills. 


Good luck.