Duck and Cover: It's the New Survivalism

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>By ALEX WILLIAMS Published: April 6, 2008
>
>THE traditional face of survivalism is that of a shaggy loner in camouflage,
holed up in a cabin in
the wilderness and surrounded by cases of canned goods and ammunition.
>It is not that of Barton M. Biggs, the former chief global strategist at Morgan
Stanley. Yet in Mr.
Biggs's new book, "Wealth, War and Wisdom," he says people should "assume the
possibility of a
breakdown of the civilized infrastructure."
>
>"Your safe haven must be self-sufficient and capable of growing some kind of
food," Mr. Biggs
writes. "It should be well-stocked with seed, fertilizer, canned food, wine,
medicine, clothes, etc.
Think Swiss Family Robinson. Even in America and Europe there could be moments
of riot and rebellion
when law and order temporarily completely breaks down."
>
>Survivalism, it seems, is not just for survivalists anymore.
>Faced with a confluence of diverse threats - a tanking economy, a housing
crisis, looming
environmental disasters, and a sharp spike in oil prices - people who do not
consider themselves
extremists are starting to discuss doomsday measures once associated with the
social fringes.

>They stockpile or grow food in case of a supply breakdown, or buy precious
metals in case of
economic collapse. Some try to take their houses off the electricity grid, or
plan safe houses far
away. The point is not to drop out of society, but to be prepared in case the
future turns out like
something out of "An Inconvenient Truth," if not "Mad Max."
>
>"I'm not a gun-nut, camo-wearing skinhead. I don't even hunt or fish," said
Bill Marcom, 53, a
construction executive in Dallas.
>
>Still, motivated by a belief that the credit crunch and a bursting housing
bubble might spark
widespread economic chaos - "the Greater Depression," as he put it - Mr. Marcom
began to take
measures to prepare for the unknown over the last few years: buying old silver
coins to use as
currency; buying G.P.S. units, a satellite telephone and a hydroponic kit; and
building a simple
cabin in a remote West Texas desert.
>
>"If all these planets line up and things do get really bad," Mr. Marcom said,
"those who have not
prepared will be trapped in the city with thousands of other people needing
food and propane and
everything else."
>
>Interest in survivalism - in either its traditional hard-core version or a
middle-class "lite"
variati>It spikes at times of peril real (the post-Sept. 11 period) or imagined (the
chaos that was supposed
to follow the so-called Y2K computer bug in 2000).
>
>At times, a degree of paranoia is officially sanctioned. In the 1950s, civil
defense authorities
encouraged people to build personal bomb shelters because of the nuclear
threat. In 2003, the
Department of Homeland Security encouraged Americans to stock up on plastic
sheeting and duct tape
to seal windows in case of biological or chemical attacks.
>
>Now, however, the government, while still conducting business under a yellow
terrorism alert, is no
longer taking a lead role in encouraging preparedness. For some, this leaves a vacuum of
>reassurance, and plenty to worry about.
>Esteemed economists debate whether the credit crisis could result in a complete
meltdown of the
financial system. A former vice president of the United States informs us that
global warming could
result in mass flooding, disease and starvation, perhaps even a new Ice Age. >
>"You just can't help wonder if there's a train wreck coming," said David
Anderson, 50, a database
administrator in Colorado Springs who said he was moved by economic
uncertainties and high energy
prices, among other factors, to stockpile months' worth of canned goods in his
basement for his
wife, his two young children and himself.
>
>Popular culture also provides reinforcement, in books like "The Road," Cormac
McCarthy's novel about
a father and son journeying through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and films
like "I Am Legend,"
which stars Will Smith as a survivor of a man-made virus wandering the barren
streets of New York.

>Middle-class survivalists can also browse among a growing number of how-to
books with titles like
"Dare to Prepare!" a self-published work by Holly Drennan Deyo, or "When All
Hell Breaks Loose" by
Cody Lundin (Gibbs Smith, 2007), which instructs readers how to dispose of
bodies and dine on rats
and dogs in the event of disaster.
>
>Preparedness activity is difficult to track statistically, since people who
take measures are
usually highly circumspect by nature, said Jim Rawles, the editor of
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a
preparedness Web site. Nevertheless, interest in the survivalist movement "is
experiencing its
largest growth since the late 1970s," Mr. Rawles said in an e-mail, adding that
traffic at his blog
has more than doubled in the past 11 months, with more than 67,000 unique
visitors per week. And its
base is growing.
>
>"Our core readership is still solidly conservative," he said. "But in recent
months I've noticed an
increasing number of stridently green and left-of-center readers."
>One left-of-center environmentalist who is taking action is Alex Steffen, the
executive editor of
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a Web site devoted to sustainability. With only slight
irony, Mr. Steffen,
40, said he and his girlfriend could serve as "poster children for the
well-adjusted, urban liberal
survivalist," given that they keep a six-week cache of food and supplies in his
basement in Seattle
(although they polished off their bottle of doomsday whiskey at a party).
>He said the chaos following Hurricane Katrina served as a wake-up call for him
and others that the
government might not be able to protect them in an emergency or environmental crisis.
>
>"The 'where do we land when climate change gets crazy?' question seems to be an
increasingly common
one," said Mr. Steffen in an e-mail message, adding that such questions have
"really gone
mainstream."
>
>Many of the new, nontraditional preparedness converts are "Peakniks," Mr.
Rawles said, referring to
adherents of the "Peak Oil" theory. This concept holds that the world will
soon, or has already,
reached a peak in oil production, and that coming supply shortages might
threaten society. While the
theory is still disputed by many industry analysts and executives, it has
inched toward the
mainstream in the last two years, as oil prices have nearly doubled, surpassing
$100 a barrel. The
topic, which was the subject of a United States Department of Energy report in
2005, has attracted
attention in publications like The New York Times Magazine and The Wall Street
Journal, and was a
primary focus of "Megadisasters: Oil Apocalypse," a recent History Channel special.
>
>Another book, "The Long Emergency" (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005), by James
Howard Kunstler, an
author and journalist who writes about economic and environmental issues,
argues that American
suburbs and cities may soon lay desolate as people, starved of oil, are forced
back to the land to
adopt a hardscrabble, 19th-century-style agrarian life.
>
>Such fears caused Joyce Jimerson of Bellingham, Wash., a coordinator for a
recycling-composting
program affiliated with Washington State University, to make her yard an
"edible garden," with fruit
trees and vegetables, in case supplies are threatened by oil shortages, climate
change or economic
collapse. "It's all the same ball of wax, as far as I'm concerned," she said.
>Scott Troyer, an energy consultant in Sunnyvale, Calif., said he was spurred by
discussions of peak
oil - "it's not a theory," he said - and other energy concerns to remake his
suburban house in
anticipation of a petroleum-starved future. Mr. Troyer, 57, installed a
photovoltaic electricity
system, a pellet stove and a "cool roof" to reflect the sun's rays, among other measures.
>
>Mr. Troyer remains cautiously optimistic that Americans can wean themselves
from oil through smart
engineering and careful planning. But, he said, "the doomsday scenarios will
happen if people don't
prepare."
>
>Some middle-class preparedness converts, like Val Vontourne, a musician and
paralegal in Olympia,
Wash., recoil at the term "survivalist," even as they stock their homes with
food, gasoline and
water.
>
>"I think of survivalists as being an extreme case of preparedness," said Ms.
Vontourne, 44, "people
who stockpile guns and weapons, anticipating extreme aggression. Whereas what
I'm doing, I think of
as something responsible people do.
>
>"I now think of storing extra food, water, medicine and gasoline in the same
way I think of buying
health insurance and putting money in my 401k," she said. "It just makes sense." >
>Jan Rasmussen
>
"Pax Americana is a philosophy. Hardly an empire.
Making sure other people play nice and dont kill each other (and us)
off in job lots is hardly empire building, particularly when you give
them self determination under "play nice" rules.
Think of it as having your older brother knock the shit out of you
for torturing the cat." Gunner
Reply to
Gunner Asch
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