BUSKIRK, N.Y. - A few years ago, Kathleen Breault was just another suburban grandmother, driving countless hours every week, stopping for lunch at McDonald's, buying clothes at the mall, watching TV in the evenings.
That was before Breault heard an author talk about the bleak future of the world's oil supply. Now she's preparing for the world as we know it to disappear.
Breault cut her driving time in half. She switched to a diet of foods grown near her Upstate New York home and lost 70 pounds. She sliced up her credit cards, banished her television, and swore off plane travel. She began relying on a wood-burning stove.
"I was panic-stricken," the 50-year-old said, her voice shaking. "Devastated. Depressed. Afraid. Vulnerable. Weak. Alone. Just terrible."
Convinced that the planet's oil supply is dwindling and that the world's economies are heading for a crash, some people around the country are moving onto homesteads, learning to live off their land, conserving fuel and, in some cases, stocking up on guns they expect to use to defend themselves and their supplies from the desperate crowds who didn't prepare.
The exact number of people taking such steps is impossible to determine, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the movement has been gaining momentum in the last few years.
These energy survivalists are not leading some sort of green revolution meant to save the planet. Many of them believe it is too late for that, seeing signs in soaring fuel and food prices and a faltering U.S. economy, and are largely focused on saving themselves.
Some are doing it quietly, giving few details of their preparations - afraid that revealing information about the location of their supplies will endanger themselves and their loved ones.
They envision a future in which the nation's cities will be filled with hungry, desperate refugees forced to go looking for food, shelter and water.
"There's going to be things that happen when people can't get things that they need for themselves and their families," said Lynn-Marie, who believes cities could have a rise in violence as early as 2012.
Lynn-Marie asked to be identified only by her first name to protect her homestead in western Idaho. Many survivalists declined to speak to the Associated Press for similar reasons.
These survivalists believe in "peak oil," the idea that world oil production is set to hit a high point and then decline. Scientists who support the idea say the amount of oil produced each year has already begun or will soon begin a downward slide, even amid increased demand. But many scientists say such a scenario will be avoided as other sources of energy fill the void.
On the PeakOil.com Web site, believers engage in a debate about what kind of world awaits.
Some argue that there will be no financial crash, but a slow slide into harder times. Some believe the federal government will respond to the loss of energy security with a clampdown on personal freedom. Others don't trust that the government can maintain basic services in the face of an energy crisis.
Determined to guard themselves from potentially harsh times ahead, Lynn-Marie and her husband have already planted an orchard of about 40 trees and built a greenhouse on their 71/2 acres. They have built their own irrigation system and have begun to raise chickens and pigs and learned how to slaughter them.
By 2012, they expect to power their property with solar panels, and to produce their own meat, milk and vegetables. When things start to fall apart, they expect that their children and grandchildren will return and help them work the land.
She envisions a day when the family may have to decide whether to turn needy people away.
"People will be unprepared," she said. "And we can imagine marauding hordes."
So can Peter Laskowski. Living in a wooded area outside Montpelier, Vt., the 57-year-old retiree has become the local constable and a deputy sheriff, as well as an emergency medical technician.
"I decided there was nothing like getting the training myself to deal with insurrections, if that's a possibility," said the former executive recruiter.
"I remember the oil crisis in '73; I remember waiting in line for gas," Laskowski said. "If there is a disruption in the oil supply, it will be very quickly elevated into a disaster."