Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Economist: "When civilisation collapses, will you be ready?"

This is a repost from 2014 but evergreen.

"In a post-apocalyptic world, which task would you assign the highest priority? Locating a sustainable food source, re-establishing a functioning government, procreating, or preserving the knowledge of mankind?" *
Pearson's flagship magazine appears to be listening to Gloria Gaynor.
From The Economist:
Preparing for the apocalypse
I will survive
AFTER “the Crunch”—the total collapse of the global economy—trade seized up, the power grid shut down and paper money became worthless. Riots gutted city centres. Looters picked them clean. Americans went back to growing their own food and bartering with their neighbours. Those who had failed to stockpile beans and bullets were soon hungry and defenceless. The “Great Die-Off” hit Florida especially hard. Millions of suntanned retirees died of starvation or chronic diseases after the government stopped paying for their pensions and pills.

Jake and Janelle Altmiller survived. They were practical people, who knew how to clean a rifle and install solar panels on the roof. But even for them, life was stressful. Janelle’s sister Rhiannon was working as a missionary in the Philippines, which was being invaded by Islamist radicals from Indonesia. Neither telephones nor the internet worked properly any more. How could Janelle find out whether her sister was alive? And how would any of them survive in a world that was falling apart?

At first I was afraid
Readers have always enjoyed scaring themselves with post-apocalyptic yarns, from Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man” to Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. What makes “Expatriates: a Novel of the Coming Global Collapse” different is that its author is not just telling a story. James Wesley, Rawles (he insists on the comma, for some reason) thinks modern society really is likely to collapse. He wants readers to take his novels seriously, and to be prepared.

No one knows how many survivalists (also known as “preppers”) there are in America. Mr Rawles claims that his “SurvivalBlog”, which offers practical tips for remaining alive after The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) has 320,000 readers a week. The American Preppers Network, an umbrella group for those who see storm clouds everywhere, claims 52,000 members; it is anyone’s guess what fraction of the total that represents. The movement is decentralised and full of people who value their privacy.

“You don’t want to be known as the guy who has 3-4 years’ supply of food in the basement. Because one day you could see it confiscated by the government or stolen by neighbours like hungry locusts,” says Mr Rawles. “In the event of a disaster, I don’t want to wake up and see my yard full of teepees and yurts.”
If your neighbour is a prepper, therefore, you may not know it. Yet the stereotypical image of a survivalist as a loner in combat fatigues who hunkers down in a remote bunker is plainly inaccurate. Some do indeed live in rural cabins, but most have jobs, which means many live in cities or suburbs. Survivalists—a group that is at once characteristically American yet marginal and unloved—are much more diverse than you might imagine.

I was petrified
Jason Charles, an affable African-American fireman in New York, leads a group of avid preppers who meet at weekends to practise survival skills and debate impending threats: as well as being more varied, survivalists are much more sociable than they are thought to be. Mr Charles started reading SurvivalBlog several years ago and quickly realised that “these guys don’t live in New York.” For example, Mr Rawles has a ranch; Mr Charles lives in a flat in Harlem. That rules out self-sufficiency: where would he plant corn or raise pigs?

A few weeks before the first Ebola victim in America died, Mr Charles and two dozen others met in a room above a church to discuss how to prepare for an epidemic. Mr Charles has done his homework: he talks of different strains of Ebola, of transmission modes and fatality rates. He takes it for granted that no one in the room trusts the media or the government to be of much help. He warns people to prepare for the worst. If Ebola hits New York, “at some point you’re going to want to bug in [ie, take refuge in your apartment] or bug out [ie, flee].” Practically everyone in the audience has ideas and questions. If millions of New Yorkers are dying of Ebola and you need to escape from the city, don’t go to Harriman State Park. “Every hiker and their mother will be there.” Better to have a bug-out truck packed, fuelled and ready, so you can drive to a pre-prepared refuge in the countryside.

If you have nowhere to go, you should stay at home. And if so, you’ll need food, water, duct tape, garbage bags and sand (for using as a makeshift toilet). Have a blackout at night, so you don’t give your position away to prowling looters. Get plenty of entertainment—“I guarantee you’ll be bored out of your mind,” says Mr Charles. If a friend comes round, put him in your quarantine room. (Don’t seal if off completely or he’ll find it hard to breathe.)

Gruesome practicalities are confronted frankly. If you need to dispose of a corpse, for example, put plastic sheeting on the bed, wrap the body up, seal it with duct tape, and, if you have nowhere to bury it, leave it on the kerb with the deceased’s name and date of birth written on the bag. (Not his social-security number; that would allow someone to steal the dead man’s identity.)

Mr Charles’s group talks a lot about equipment. Should you buy a solar panel that straps to your back so you can charge your phone as you flee the city? Or a “waterbob”: a plastic bag that sits in your bath and can store 100 gallons of water? Should the group club together to buy gas masks more cheaply?

But I grew strong
Preppers love this sort of debate. Mr Rawles’s blog carries endless discussions of the merits of different ham radios or types of body armour, and the best way to build a safe room or smoke a fish over an open fire. It runs ads from (“the largest selection of in-stock magazines anywhere”) and from (“Get ready seriously with a steel-plate Safecastle shelter”). His novels carry nearly as much advice as his instruction manuals, and similar disclaimers, such as: “some of the devices ...described in this novel are possibly illegal in some jurisdictions.”

Many American cities have strict gun-control laws, which is frustrating. And urban preppers face other difficulties. “You have to adapt,” says Mr Charles. In the corners and cupboards of his apartment he has stacked tins of beans and sausages, bags of sugar, rice and ramen noodles and a variety of useful equipment. He has a tank of drinking water in the corridor, a first-aid kit, a portable stove and a crossbow he has not yet got round to assembling. He has more food in a storage unit nearby, and an inflatable raft in case he needs to escape across the river when the bridges are blocked or burning. His “bug-out bag” is always ready.
Mr Charles has written a short fold-out guide of his own: “Emergency Bag Essentials: Everything You Need to Bug Out”. His publishers had one complaint—the bag was too heavy. Mr Charles does not think it was, but this is perhaps because he is, even by the standards of iron-pumping firemen, enormous. Your correspondent tried to help him move a rucksack to his car. It felt like there was a piano inside. It turned out to be full of wet sandbags, which Mr Charles likes to carry up and down stairs....MORE

*The second of Sheldon's three barriers, 'Each more daunting than the last.'
  Big Bang Theory-Series 3 Episode 22 – The Staircase Implementation


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