Earlier this year, an article appeared in the New Yorker that illustrated just how many super-rich folks are getting ready for the end of the world as we know it. In the article, Steve Huffman, the CEO of Reddit, explained why he was building a secret house out in the woods where he can stay when the government has collapsed and the city streets are full of chaos. There are more of these wealthy survivalists than you might think. They even have a facebook page where they share tips on what to do when the end comes and which gas masks you should buy. “We want to be ready,” said one rich venture capitalist, when the great earthquake hits California or when civil war tears apart the United States. Today we are going to take a closer look at such a scenario, in this episode of the Infographics Show, Could You Survive Living Underground Forever?

First of all, no one really lives underground and doesn’t come up at all. Perhaps the closest thing we have right now is a Costa Rican man who presently lives in his underground mansion that he calls Topolandia. He’s been called the Hobbit, and he lives down there with his wife and two kids. His 2,000 square foot place is between 15 and 63 feet underground, has all the mod cons of a normal house, including plumbing. So, that’s a start, but how long could he stay down there and not come up?

When experts are asked this question, one of the things they come up with before food and water – let’s say we have enough for a while – is what would happen if the sun never touched our skin. According to some people, the lack of Vitamin D that we get from the sun would soon make us pretty depressed and grumpy, which might explain the predisposition of people from the United Kingdom. We would not have much energy, either, and maybe start to go a little crazy and experience something close to what’s called “Yukon Fever”. So, first thing, our underground house really should be made with access to sunlight. Call it a sun room. Even with a bit of sun, scientists say that if we were to spend a long time underground, we’d end up having much longer sleep cycles.

We would also require electricity down there, which would either mean there are people up above still helping us out, or we had an amazing automation system run by advanced robots that we could control from our house. In fact, automated processes above ground would be pivotal in our survival. As farms and factories are presently becoming automated, what’s to say that in 50 years from now, above ground advanced AI couldn’t take care of business and even fix itself when things go wrong? But let’s say we aren’t there yet. If we are living in a place with almost constant sunshine, perhaps we could take our energy from the sun using solar panels. We might also take it from the Earth itself, something we call geothermal energy. In all likelihood, if we’ve had time to prepare for our underground life, it’s probable that we could have electricity for a long time to come.

We’d need access to fresh water. The average American consumes 58 gallons of water a year, which is about 7,242 ounces, or about two and a half cups a day; this doesn’t include water that Americans consume via soda and other drinks. One of the ways we could get fresh water would be to dig until we find a source, and it might help if we have brought with us from the top some kind of water purification kit. We would also have lots and lots of stored emergency water, and we would have a way of collecting rain water, providing of course that above ground is not a toxic hell. With all this, we should be able to survive. We’d have to be able to collect the water, but also make sure our cave wouldn’t flood, from water seeping in from above, or from another part of our dwelling.

Now we need food. We have a huge storage of canned food and other goods that won’t perish for a long time, but we are pretty much done if we don’t have a farm. If we have a big enough farm, we could even have farm animals down there with us, and let’s hope a la Noah’s Ark we have two of everything. A book that was published this year states that on average we eat about 35 tons (or 70,000 pounds) of food in a lifetime. Our existence will depend on how we farm underground. We’d grow potatoes and vegetables, employing the hydroponic method or the aquaponics method, and we’d even have a fish farm.

We will need a plumbing system, because if you watched our show on poo and pee, we pretty much fill swimming pools during our lives.  And no, it’s not a good idea to keep drinking our own pee. According to a doctor speaking to Slate, our urine will, “become highly concentrated with dangerous waste products, and drinking it can cause symptoms similar to those brought on by total kidney failure.” As for our poo, well, we’d use it to fertilize the soil in which we grow vegetables. Sanitation would be one of our main concerns, because if we get ill, that could soon spell the end of days for us.  Our cave could also get smelly, so that would mean we’d need some kind of ventilation. In Chiang Mai, Thailand, Forbes recently reported a high-end ultra-secure ultra-expensive villa project. Each villa comes with a nuclear shelter underground that is equipped with what is called a HEPA air filtration system. We are going to have one of those, too. Our main problem would be keeping such a system running while we are underground. Our many plants would also act as air filters.

The fact is, we could no doubt survive for a long, long time underground. But what most experts talking about the matter say, is that psychologically we would suffer. It might even start to feel like hell down there, a kind of situation not unlike philosopher Jean Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit”. And that’s if you are in a group. Isolation, experts say, would also drive us crazy. This was a matter of reality for a cult in Russia that police discovered in 2012. They lived underground, and some of the kids in that cult had never seen the sun. A slew of articles followed this amazing story, with scientists chiming in on what an underground life might be like. A normal lifespan should be possible they said, but chronic illness would occur because of the lack of sun. And yes, we’d all be really, really moody and depressed. According to one story, we could make up for our lack of vitamin D by eating lots of eggs, cereal, fatty fish, cheese and fortified milk. We’d just need to keep producing those things. Other scientists say we could get rickets, diabetes, heart disease, or suffer from multiple sclerosis or asthma, all because our ever-giving star is out of our lives.

In conclusion, it all depends how deep down we have to be. If very deep, perhaps because the atmosphere above is highly toxic, we will struggle. If we are just hiding from Godzilla and can even have a sunroom as we are not far from the surface, we will fare better.

So, do you think you are up to the task? How well would you survive down below? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called What If You Only Drank Coke and Nothing Else?! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!




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