Sunday, September 18, 2005

Survivology: The Science and Art of Human Survival
Survivology is the science and art of human survival. It is also a yogic discipline. Everything we do, from what we eat for breakfast to creating powerful international organizations, affects our probability of survival in one way or another. Survivology is therefore seeks to find the best way of doing things in every facet of our lives. It is the art of survival at all levels of organization from the individual to the biosphere.

Over a total of eight months in 1987 and in 1989 I walked from my home in Clearwater, British Columbia, to Toronto, Ontario, a distance of about 4,000 kilometers.
My walk was to have been the start of a round-the-world pilgrimage to India and back to honor Mahatma Gandhi, the man who led the nonviolent struggle for India's independence. Unfortunately, in Toronto I developed a minor but long-lasting foot injury (plantar fasciitis) which forced me to return home.
On the face of it my walk achieved a good deal less than I had hoped. However, as a result of the walk I developed some ideas that I believe could be potentially useful. I call these ideas Survivology.
To many, yoga is simply a series of stretching exercises, but it is more than that. Yoga practitioner seeks moksha (liberation or salvation) by concentrating on one thing or idea. Everything else is discarded as maya (illusion) until just that one point of meditation is left. When that single point can also be eliminated, then the practitioner achieves unity with the cosmos.
The Survivology practitioner (or Digger) tries to peel away wishful thinking, unsupported assumptions and other illusions (maya) to find the course of action that leads to the maximum probability for survival, then attempts to religiously follow that path, tao or dharma.
By reading this document you will learn:
A. The four major threats to our existence, and the techniques needed to live through their effects.
B. Three possible outcomes of the present crisis, which outcome we should choose, and why.
C. A general theory about the origins of those threats, and how we can use that theory to develop a solution to control them.
D. A program to implement that solution at the international, national, regional, local, small group, family and individual levels.

The approach I am proposing largely is based on the Swiss model, but with elements from other democratic and communistic systems and even some religions thrown in. I believe that we need a worldwide political organization to promote direct democracy, egalitarianism, federalism and a universal militia system on the international, national, regional and local levels. On the small group, family and individual levels, we need to promote preparedness for what lies ahead.
In addition to being a yogic discipline, Survivology is the science and technology of survival. It seeks to maximize the probability of survival by using a scientific approach to study the dangers that threaten our survival, and then apply that knowledge as a technology to lessen those dangers.
Because it takes a scientific approach, Survivology offers no illusion of certainty. This document seeks to be a Bible for planning our survival, but it is a loose-leaf Bible - certain parts will need to be amended as more information comes in. However, I am confident that, while small details may need to be changed, the general outline of the plan is sound.

The smell of smoke. That's the strongest memory I have of the summer of 2003. In late July and early August of that year, the McLure Fire swept through the forests of the lower North Thompson Valley in British Columbia, Canada, destroying the village of Louis Creek and threatening the nearby village of Barriere.
The fire cut the single power-line to the valley, leaving all the valley communities north of it without electricity, including my hometown of Clearwater.
Louis Creek and Barriere had been evacuated, and many people wanted to leave Clearwater as well. Unfortunately, only two service stations had back-up generators and so were able to pump gasoline. Long line-ups formed at the stations, which happened to be located near each other.
In my role as editor of the local newspaper, I climbed up onto the abutment of a nearby bridge to take a photograph. The sky to the south was red-orange, and the air smelt of smoke.
As I looked through the viewfinder at the gas station line-ups and the unearthly sky in the background, and smelt the smoke, I thought to myself, "This is what the End of the World will look like."

Then I realized that I really was witnessing really was the End of the World, if only a first step.
The McLure Fire was triggered by an unusually hot and dry summer. Unusual weather is an unavoidable consequence of the greenhouse effect. As the effect takes stronger hold of the World's weather, we can expect to see more forests burn, crops fail, rivers flood and other calamities associated with extreme weather events.
Nuclear weapons, global warming, new epidemic diseases, killer robots - no matter what your religion might be, it is evident that we face, if not the End of the World, certainly the Day of Judgment, or Days of Judgment.
Many religions forecast the End of the World - a time when one cycle of life ends and another begins. An explanation of this is that, by forecasting a time of tribulation to be followed by a time of redemption, a religion prepares its followers difficulties and gives them hope. Now it appears that those forecasts are finally coming true.
The fate of the human race, in fact of all life on Earth, depends on what you and I do during the next few years and what happens during the next few generations. This is pretty scary stuff, but we need to think about it, and to act.

When I began my walk in 1987, the purpose was simply to perform a round-the-world pilgrimage to honor Gandhi. I believed at the time, and still believe, that his message of nonviolence, simple living, appropriate technology and self restraint offer our best hope of meeting the challenges that threaten our survival as a species.
That December I returned home to spend Christmas with my relatives and to rebuild my finances. While I was home I gave some thought to how Gandhi would have used such a walk to promote his cause - after all, he didn't just walk to the sea in his famous Salt March in 1930, but picked up a piece of natural sea salt while he was there, and then sold it without paying the British-imposed salt tax, challenging British rule in India, and the whole concept of the British Empire. And he encouraged thousands of others to do likewise, helping to expand on the movement he had created.
Therefore, during the second part of the walk, in 1989, I expanded its purpose to publicize a petition I had drawn up that called for reform of the United Nations. The petition was modeled after the Swiss constitution, which states that if just 100,000 signatures are put on a petition calling for a constitutional change, that change must then be brought forward to all the people in a binding national referendum. At the time, 100,000 people was about one percent of the population of Switzerland. My petition aimed to get 50 million signatures, which was about one percent of the world's population. It called for an international convention to develop reforms to the United Nations, reforms that would then be taken to the world's peoples in a binding referendum.
My petition had a precedent. In 19th Century Britain, the Chartists collected more than 3 million signatures on a petition calling for reforms to Parliament. Most of the leaders of the movement were arrested, but within a few years, nearly all of the reforms they had called for had been enacted.
I met many positive responses to my petition, and I received a certain amount of support from members of the World Federalists of Canada. I submitted weekly reports to the Clearwater Times newspaper, and I got good coverage from other community newspapers along the way, although I was never able to get my story into the major newspapers or other national media.
I collected several hundred signatures on my petition - far short of the 50 million I had envisaged, but enough to convince me I was on the right track.

I was intrigued that so many people (including myself) would so comfortably make a connection between Gandhiism and the Swiss constitution. After all, Gandhi promoted nonviolence as a central part of his message, while Switzerland is one of the most heavily armed nations on earth. Nearly every adult Swiss male is a member of the militia and has a gun at home. Logically, there would seem to be a contradiction, but most people I met seemed to feel intuitively there was not.
The answer to this, I believe, is that both Gandhi and the Swiss belong to a common thread that reappears throughout history, at all times and in all places. I call that thread the "green tradition."
To understand the green tradition, consider a traditional village of 25 families somewhere in the world. The village has a common pasture that is capable of supporting 50 cattle, or two cattle per family. However, if one family decides to put three cattle on the pasture, it will be 50 percent better off. All the other families will be only slightly worse off, because their cattle will have somewhat less to eat, but the difference would not be enough to make it worthwhile for any of the other families to oppose the first family. Instead, they would be tempted to add an extra cow of their own. And if one extra cow is good, two or more would be even better. The pasture would be quickly overgrazed and, instead of each family having two cattle, all would have none.
This is called the "tragedy of the commons" and it has proven to be a powerful theory that explains why human beings tend to destroy rather than preserve goods that are owned in common - whether a common pasture, a fishery or a forest. It has been used as an argument against public ownership and in favor of private property and free market economics.
The theory only tells part of the story, however. People all around the world have held property in common successfully, and continue to do so. In fact, some of the most modern and progressive farms in the world (such as the kibbutzim in Israel and those of the Hutterites in North America) are operated communally. How do they avoid the tragedy of the commons?
(The theory also ignores the observation that, while private property is private property, private property rights are a common, as is a free market).

In all part of the world and at all times in history, when people have needed to manage a common, they have met in a village assembly. They discussed the matter and arrived at a consensus about what they should do.
This simple act of a group of people meeting under a tree is the root of the great system of government we call democracy. It is based on communism - the ownership of property in common. If the people of the village did not have something in common to discuss and make decisions about, there would be no need for democracy.
Democracy and communism are therefore two sides of the same coin.
For hundreds or even thousands of years, villagers in what is now Switzerland have sent their cattle to pasture in the high meadows or alps. These pastures are held in common by everyone in the village, because it would not be economic to fence them. Even today the villagers meet in a general meeting or landsgemeinde to discuss how to manage the alpine pastures.
This village democracy is found around the world wherever certain conditions are met. These conditions include:
1. A common resource to be managed;
2. A tradition of managing that resource through direct democracy, such as the Swiss landsgemeinde, the Hindu panchayat or the Icelandic althing.
2. An egalitarian socioeconomic structure, so that no individual, family or group can control the village assembly through undue economic pressure;
3. The absence of a separate military clique that would otherwise control the assembly through intimidation. The people of the village either are pacifists, or rely on themselves for defense through a militia system.
4. If the village democracy is part of a large political unit, then it is through a decentralized, federal constitutional structure.
The green tradition occurs whenever people organize themselves to manage a common resource or threat, without recourse to an elite. It is the origin of both Marxist-Leninism and liberal democracy, but both have strayed somewhat from their roots. The Marxist-Leninists have forgotten that communism without democracy is not communism at all, but state slavery. Liberal democrats ignore the danger that the increasing concentration of wealth we are seeing around the world poses to our democratic institutions.

Like many who grew up during the Cold War, I am something of a survivalist. In the early 1980s, fearing nuclear war, I lived in the woods of western Canada with a supply of food and other supplies.
Nuclear war isn't the only threat the human race faces, however. Global warming, AIDS, terrorism - the list goes on and on. Then there are the everyday, individual ways of dying, such as heart attack, stroke and cancer. A person could be fully prepared for atomic Armageddon, and then get hit by lightning or run over by a truck.
One person living in a hole in the ground, waiting for the bombs to drop, has a difficult time surviving, even in the best of times. If nuclear war or other major disaster actually should strike, that person's chances of living through it might be better than those who had done nothing to prepare, but they would be still problematic.
The solution many survivalists find to the hole-in-the-ground dilemma is to settle in small, rural communities that have the capability of self-sufficiency if the larger economy collapses or is destroyed. This is a somewhat better approach, but it still doesn't quite answer the question.
What was needed, I believed, is a sort of "big boat" survivalism whose objective is not just ensuring that an individual or small group lives through a short-term emergency, but that some representatives of the human race and, indeed, earthlife itself, survive for the maximum period of time possible.
Survivology can be compared to the philosophy of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism seeks the greatest good for the greatest number. Survivology recognizes that something is good if it enhances survival (and that, in the long term, being good is the best approach to survival - which says something about the Universe we live in).
If you are relying on a community to help you survive, then obviously the survival of that community is of utmost interest. In fact, in extreme situations, just as an animal caught in a trap might gnaw off a limb to escape, so the individual must be prepared to sacrifice himself or herself to allow the community to survive.
Similarly, the community must be viewed as expendable if it means saving the nation, and the nation is expendable if it means the survival of all humanity. Even the human race itself would be expendable to save the biosphere (although obviously we hope it doesn't come to that).
That is the ethics of Survivology. Unfortunately, human beings are not genetically programmed that way. Although we are capable of great feats of self-sacrifice, over the long term we seek our own survival and that of those closely related to us. Any program that seeks to increase our collective chances of survival must take into account this inherently selfish aspect of human nature.
The essential element of Survivology is what I call the Green Tradition - that the best way to survive is to build community so that individuals can work together. Building community has been the common message of all great religious leaders throughout the ages. Community is built on reciprocity - doing unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Survivology borrows elements from Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, Marxism and other religions. It does not borrow these elements arbitrarily but because, in the final analysis, a major role of religion has been to pass on, from one generation to the next, behaviors, skills and values needed for survival.
For example, in one Australian Aboriginal tribe, children are given a certain plant to eat during a religious festival, a plant that requires careful preparation to be made safe, and that is not otherwise eaten except during starvation times.
The Jewish practice of eating bitter herbs as part of the festival of Passover may have had a similar origin. Similarly, the Mormons advocate keeping a year's supply of food and other essentials on hand, a religious practice with obvious survival implications. The health benefits of the Seventh Day Adventists' diet, which has little or no meat, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, are well documented. Students of Zen Buddhism learn meditation techniques that can be valuable in controlling stress during extreme situations. The Muslim zakat or wealth tax would appear to have some usefulness in lessening the growing gap between rich and poor we see around the world.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (or, if you prefer, four internal positive feedback loops) threaten the survival of the human race. These are the arms race, the population explosion, industrialization and the information explosion. All four feed on themselves and on each other to grow larger. Planet Earth isn't getting any bigger, and so there is the danger that the Four Horsemen will overshoot their respective limits of growth and then collapse.
Of the Four Horsemen, the arms race, and in particular the increasing danger from nuclear weapons, is by far the most dangerous. The world has not seen a nuclear weapon exploded in anger since 1945, but that should not blind us to their horrendous destructive power.
The development of gunpowder had profound effects on how cities were built and how society was organized. Before cannons, every city had a city wall. After they became common, there was no point, and cities relied on other means for defense. Before cannons, the nobles in their castles could rule over their immediate locality with impunity. Cannons battered down castles quickly and economically, helping to make nation-states possible.

These four positive feedback loops are manifestations of one syndrome - the planet Earth is pregnant. We are seeing the creation of a new form of life, a form of life that will have the potential to expand off the surface of this planet to colonize other planets and travel to other stars.
Any pregnancy is dangerous, but this one is particularly so. There are three possible outcomes: we can abort the fetus, we can allow the mother to die, or we can try to ensure the survival of both mother and child.
1. Aborting the fetus (Neo-Luddism): The Luddites were English workers during the early 1800s who wrecked machines in an effort to protect their jobs. They did not succeed in stopping the Industrial Revolution, but there are several examples in history of societies that succeeded in "turning back the clock" and stopping or even reversing technological change. Two examples would be the Ming dynasty in China and the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan. Both preserved the status quo for the benefits of certain elites, but both also resulted in major lost opportunity costs to their societies.
2. Destroying the mother (Disposable Planet): Allowing planet Earth to become uninhabitable to all forms of life more complicated than single-celled bacteria would seem to be such an obvious evolutionary dead-end that it should require not discussion. Unfortunately, many of our present practices appear to be directed precisely towards that end.
3. Preserving both child and mother (Star Child/Garden Planet): Moving from Earth to Space is necessary to avoid putting all our eggs in one basket. It also is necessary because only by studying other planets will we learn enough to save our own (for example, we learned about the possibility of nuclear winter by studying dust storms on Mars). Reversing global warming on Earth cannot be done just by reducing the use of fossil fuels, but appears to require enormous reflectors in Space.

We need to take what steps we can to protect both the child (the new forms of life going out into Space) and the mother (the biodiversity of planet Earth). Any goal that is outside these two objectives is an illusion (maya).
We only have one chance to have a successful birth. If we delay too long, we risk so depleting the planet's resources that we can never leave.
An example would be Easter Island. Hundreds of years ago it had many trees, and the people living there were able to make canoes and leave. Overpopulation and, I suspect, a series of wars over resources left the island essentially treeless. Until the arrival of Europeans in their ships, the islanders could not leave, even if they wanted to.

Calamities other than nuclear war could strike, in fact, will strike. There is the case of a famous proponent of nuclear preparedness in California who built a fallout shelter out of railroad ties - only to have it destroyed by a forest fire.
The greenhouse effect likely will cause more forest fires, more crop failures Historically; epidemic diseases have killed far more people than wars. Terrorists have killed thousands to promote their political agendas, but there is no reason why they could not kill millions.

The Four Horsemen all involve mismanagement of a global commons. Throughout history and in many places, people have managed commons through the process of village democracy.

If we are to successfully negotiate the transitions we face, we must bring the core values of village democracy to the global village in order to manage the global commons. These core values include direct democracy, federalism and decentralization.
In order to do this, we will need a worldwide political organization - a Green Internationale.

There are certain things that we must do if we are to survive. We are climbing a mountain up a knife-edge ridge. On one side of the ridge is the cliff of global catastrophe. On the other side, many paths lead off to apparent short-term safety, but all lead to inevitable destruction.

CHAPTER ONE: What you need to know about nuclear war

Nuclear war is “The Big One.” All the other problems we face appear to be manageable. If we have a general nuclear war, however, or even a series of escalating nuclear exchanges, all bets about the future of the human race are off.
A nuclear explosion is like any other explosion, but with a difference Â… a hell of a difference Â… with emphasis on the word hell.
Part of the difference is that a nuclear explosion is big, big big Â… much bigger than a conventional explosion Â… a hell of a lot bigger. When you hear the term megaton used, it means the equivalent one million tons of TNT going off.
One ton of high explosive is enough to flatten most buildings (the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 involved about two tons of explosive, but it was at some distance away from the targeted building).
One megaton would be like 500,000 Oklahoma City bombs going off all at once Â… enough to flatten a city.
A one-megaton warhead, exploding at the surface, would leave a crater 300 meters across and over 50 meters deep.
Nothing would be left standing for one kilometer around the center of detonation.
At three kilometers from ground zero, there might be a few remnants of reinforced concrete structures.
A typical North American family home would be blown apart, with only the foundations remaining, at a radius of five kilometers.
Severe damage to buildings would extend as far as 12 kilometers away.
The bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War were in the 10 to 20 kiloton range.
They werenÂ’t really that big, in other words. Much of the devastation we see in the photographs taken after atomic bombs were dropped on those two cities was not caused so much by the bombsÂ’ blast as by their tremendous heat, and the fires that heat created.
Traditional Japanese homes and other buildings are largely built of wood. The bombs ignited firestorms in the cities, mass conflagrations so huge that they create hurricane force winds, pulling air, fuel and people into their interiors.
Another difference between conventional and nuclear explosions is radiation. The bomb itself contains radioactive materials, such as plutonium. It also produces a flood of very strong radiation when it explodes, which in turn creates more radioactive material out of any soil or water that are touched by the exploding material.
Generally speaking, those close enough to the explosion to be killed by the weaponÂ’s initial radiation would already be dead Â… killed by its blast and heat.
The radioactive soil and water, however, would be carried up by the mushroom cloud and then almost immediately begin falling out of the sky Â… and that is where we get the word fallout.
One hour after the explosion, 30 km downwind (assuming a 30 km/hr wind), radioactive fallout would begin falling out of the sky. Two hours after the explosion the radiation there would reach a peak, strong enough to kill in half an hour to anyone out in the open.
Within six hours the radiation level would have dropped enough that it would take two hours to kill.
At one week, the rate of radiation 30 km downwind would be enough to make a person sick in a day, and would be unlikely to kill.
After one month the radiation rate would be low enough that people could move about without any immediate risk, but it would take two or three months before the area 30 km downwind would be more or less safe to reoccupy.
There is no need to memorize these numbers. They are intended only to give you a sense of the power and danger of a nuclear explosion. There are so many variables in a possible nuclear attack that it is impossible to predict what the consequences will be for any particular location.
For example, real nuclear attack likely would not involve a one-megaton blast. Most intercontinental ballistic missiles these days are smaller, from 100 to 500 kilotons (one kiloton is equivalent to one thousand tons of TNT). Instead of one great big bang, it is more effective to have three or four smaller big bangs.
It is also unlikely to be a ground burst, unless the target is a missile silo, such as those in the American Midwest. A nuclear explosion that occurs in the air is much more efficient at spreading its blast and heat effects than one at ground level. There is less radioactive fallout with an air burst, but that can be seen as a good thing by attack planners, since we all live downwind, and even a nuclear attack halfway around the world could have negative consequences at home.
So far we have been discussing the more or less local effects of a possible nuclear war.
There are some larger scale effects you need to be aware of as well.
The first of these is electromagnetic pulse. When a nuclear weapon explodes high in the atmosphere, it creates something like an invisible circular bolt of lightning, expanding outwards.
The American military discovered the power of electromagnetic pulse while conducting a high altitude nuclear bomb test over a South Pacific island in the 1950s. Even though the test was hundreds of kilometers from the Hawaiian Islands, the electromagnetic pulse disrupted the islandsÂ’ electrical power system.
Several multi-megaton bombs exploded high over the United States would largely destroy North AmericaÂ’s power transmission grid and fry nearly all unprotected electronics. The military shields or otherwise protects its essential systems, but that would not help the rest of us.
A second large-scale effect to be aware of is what happens when a nuclear weapon is used to attack a nuclear power plant.
We all know that a nuclear weapon produces radioactive fallout, especially if it is a ground burst.
We also all know that a nuclear power plant can release radioactive material if it suffers a serious accident (such as Chernobyl) or an attack with conventional explosives.
When you talk about a nuclear attack on a nuclear power plant you get, so to speak, the worst of both worlds.
The blast effects of a nuclear weapon mean that all the radioactive material inside the reactor is dispersed, as well as any radioactive waste products that were stored at the site. Even the worst-case accident or conventional attack would only disperse a small fraction of this material.
In addition to this, the nuclear weapon would irradiate the already radioactive material from the reactor, and make it even more radioactive.
We are talking major catastrophe here.
We saw the disruption that occurred when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in New York. That was just two buildings. Given the right weather conditions, a nuclear weapon exploded next to a nuclear reactor upwind from New York could make the city uninhabitable for decades.
Twist number three is the possible global environmental impacts of nuclear war, in particular nuclear winter and the depletion of the ozone layer.
Nuclear winter was first made famous by a group of five scientists that included Carl Sagan (TTAPS, 1983).
The story of the TTAPS report is that it came out of studies done to explain a massive dust storm that had been observed to envelope the planet Mars. The same calculations used for Mars were then extrapolated to look at what affect the dust and smoke thrown up by a nuclear war would have on the Earth.
The calculations showed that even a relatively modest nuclear exchange would throw up so much dust and smoke that it would block out the sun. The average global temperature would drop below freezing for months. The implications would include crops failing, people starving, species going extinct, and possibly the end of civilization.
Later calculations by other scientists predicted that the effects would not be so catastrophic. There was considerable criticism of Sagan and others supporting the original thesis about the way they had gone about promoting their findings, making use of the popular media rather than limiting themselves to scientific journals (possibly they felt they were justified in the approach they took because they wanted to counterbalance a strong pro-war bias among many in the American administration at the time).
Would there be a nuclear winter after a nuclear war? There appears to be considerable politics involved in both sides of the debate, and it is impossible for a non-specialist to make a definitive answer.
My own sense is that it would depend on the circumstances at the time. For example, if the war occurred during the summer in the northern hemisphere, it would be more likely to cause widespread forest fires and urban conflagrations.
Another important unknown would be the size of the nuclear exchange.
Even in the worst-case scenario, the widespread consequences of nuclear war do not appear to be as serious as predicted in the TTAPS paper.
Nevertheless, we should be aware that there is the likelihood of local and regional climatic effects that could be severe. Even without nuclear winter, there would a high probability of major global disruptions to agriculture, food supplies and ecosystems.
Another potential twist would be the effect of nuclear war on the worldÂ’s ozone layer.
Nuclear explosions produce large quantities of nitric oxide. This chemical reacts with and destroys the ozone molecules in the upper atmosphere. We rely on that layer of ozone to protect us from harmful levels of ultraviolet light from the sun. If a nuclear war reduced the ozone layer by 30 to 70 per cent, as has been predicted by the American Academy of Science, then there would be major consequences, all of them negative.
People, especially light-skinned, blue-eyed people in sunny locations, would be susceptible to increased skin cancer and eye problems. However, the environmental impacts likely would be far more serious.
Many animals would be blinded by the increased UV radiation, particularly those that hunt using sight. Others would learn to stay out of direct sunlight, or move around more at night. Also, a number of plant species are susceptible to damage by ultraviolet, and they do not have the option of moving out of the way.
Fewer sight-hunting predators likely would mean more pests attacking crops. Those crop plants susceptible to UV damage would suffer additional losses. The ultimate outcome could be disruption to an agricultural system already severely dislocated by the war.
This all sounds pretty doomy and gloomy, but here are some numbers to think about.
Just by being in a hole in the ground, something like a standard soldierÂ’s foxhole, you would reduce the radioactive fallout your body would receive by a factor of about 10. Covering the hole with a poncho or tarp, to keep any radioactive dust falling from the sky out of the hole, would add to that protection factor.
Move into the basement of a solid, well-built house, stay away from outside walls, and get some furniture or other objects between you and the exterior, and that protection factor can go into the 10 to 100 range.
The key is to get distance and mass between you and the fallout. Radiation weakens with distance. You want to keep it as far away from you as possible, which is why you want to remain in the middle of the home as much as possible. You donÂ’t want any fallout to get on your skin, which is why you see people working with radioactive substances wearing moonsuits. You definitely donÂ’t want to eat, drink or breathe in anything radioactive. You get that stuff inside you, and even the weakest form of radiation can do a lot of damage.
Mass also weakens radiation. Get under a table in the middle of the house, after you have piled books, furniture and anything else you can find around and on top of it, and you add to the protection you receive.
Passing through one meter of soil reduces radioactivity to about 1/1000th of what it was.
A purposely-built shelter, with at least one meter of soil on top, plus an air filter system, gives a protection factor of about 1,000.
If equipped with blast doors, such a shelter likely would be strong enough to also give good protection for all but the closest nuclear explosion.
One of the main stumbling blocks people face when contemplating building a bomb shelter in their home is the “shoot thy neighbor” question. If you have a bomb shelter, and your neighbor does not, are you going to allow your neighbor to use your facility in the event of a nuclear attack, or are you going to try to keep him out? If you try to keep him out, how are you going to do that, other than by using deadly force?
The Swiss have got around this question in a practical way. They require everyone constructing a new building, or doing major renovations on an old one, to include construction of a bomb shelter in the basement, adequate for all the residents of the building.
They also have public shelters, and underground hospitals, food storage depots and so on.
The end result is that, today, there is adequate shelter space for nearly everyone in the country (possibly with a little crowding) in the event of a nuclear attack.