'Recession Apocalypse': Preparing for the End of the World

"Economic survivalists" believe when oil runs out, world will head for calamity.

BUSKIRK, N.Y., May 15, 2009— -- In the serene hills of rural upstate New York, Kathie Breault is hunkering down for doomsday. It's not an all-out Armageddon that the 51-year-old grandmother is convinced of, but an imminent economic apocalypse.

A few years ago, Breault began reading about what happens when the world surpasses "peak oil" -- a point where we will use more oil than we can produce.

"I was afraid that any day that oil would disappear, that gas would start to disappear, that I wouldn't be able to get to work, I wouldn't have money, I wouldn't have food that I needed," she said. "It was frightening -- the picture that was painted."

Breault and a growing number of so-called "economic survivalists," are convinced that when oil supply wanes, the world will head for calamity; governments and the global economy will dissolve into chaos and collapse, the group believes, changing life as we know it.

"Everything that we do in our lives is dependent on abundant, cheap energy -- all the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the transportation. We've lost everything that we know about how to live in a different way," she said. "I'm totally dependent on a system that I think isn't going to be there in the future."

To prepare for a looming catastrophe, Breault began eating healthier, walking four miles a day and biking. She lost 100 pounds as a result. Getting rid of her TV and credit cards, she slashed her monthly expenses and now heats her entire house with a tiny wood-burning stove.

"It gets cold, I wear a hat to bed and I wear lots of layers. I wear long underwear all winter," she said.

Breault's survivalist lifestyle marks a radical departure from the consumer-driven life she used to lead.

"I was in the malls -- big Christmases, big holidays. Every weekend, I was entertaining my family, we had great get-togethers, lots of food. I took trips to Mexico and Ireland and across the country, conferences. Eat, drink, have a good time," Breault said. "I had a wonderful life. I traveled where I wanted to, I did what I wanted to, and I bought what I wanted to. And I overconsumed."

Some Survivalists Stockpile Food and Guns

Breault isn't alone in her transformation. Thousands are hunkering down for an economic apocalypse and share comments about converging catastrophes on Web sites and Internet message boards, like Peakoil.com.

Some survivalists have moved to rural homesteads, or what they call "doomsteads," where they can live off the land, raise their own livestock and grow their own vegetables. Others are stockpiling food and guns in case widespread panic breaks out.

While fellow survivalists online are convinced, Breault's family isn't.

"She was going a little bit too far. She was really worried; I think it kind of depressed her a little bit," said her daughter-in-law, Jenny Breault, 30. "And I was kind of scared a little bit -- just because I thought she was taking it too far."

Breault's husband, Michael, 58, didn't support her lifestyle change, and they divorced in 2006.

"My husband was convinced that this wouldn't happen in our lifetime and that things would be worked out and we'd be OK. And we just really disagreed about this," she said.

Despite her family's hesitations, there is evidence that the sluggish economy, rising food, fuel prices and uncertainty about the future have triggered a movement toward conservation and self-sufficiency.

As a result of the recession, people are staying closer to home. In March, U.S. airlines saw passenger traffic fall by 10 percent, and Americans have driven fewer miles for the past 14 consecutive months.

The National Gardening Association says 7 million households will plant vegetable gardens this year, up 19 percent from last year.

Breault gets most of her food from Cedar Hill Farm, a local farm in Bennington, Vt., tended to by Lisa MacDougall and Chuck Currie.

"We try to grow everything from artichokes to zucchini," Currie said.

MacDougall gave the rest of the farm's grocery list. "Strawberries, eggplant, red peppers, leaf lettuce, spinach, onions, sweet potatoes, potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, celery, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage."

Layoff Forces Breault to Become More Self-Sufficient

Since ABC News sat down for an interview with Breault earlier this month, she was laid off. That means she'll have to cut back even more -- eliminating some of the few frills, like juice, she still indulges in.

"I get myself a treat every once in a while," she said. "I don't feel guilty about it, I just think I don't need to do it anymore and that'll stop with my job loss."

Breault sees unemployment as a good thing -- an obstacle that will force her to become even more self-reliant. Eventually, she hopes to sustain herself entirely from fruits and vegetables grown on her own lawn.

"It's been probably the most difficult years of my life, but I feel like I've come through and I'm really in a good place," she said. "I'm happier, I'm healthier, I feel better, I have a good relationship with my grandchildren. ... I'm in a much better place now."