Why Slow Disasters May Be As Serious As Sudden Disasters
Much of what we think about and prepare for involves a sudden massive disaster that occurs with little or no warning. We consider the effects of a sudden EMP or power grid failure that almost literally switches our lives and lifestyles from normal to nothing as quickly as flicking a light switch.
These are all valid concerns and preparations, of course. But we sometimes overlook the slower sorts of disasters that might also overwhelm society as we know it, and end up, not immediately, but gradually over time, with a Level 2 or 3 scenario just as seriously as a sudden unexpected disaster.
The real danger of the slower unfolding disasters is that by the time we even realize they are enveloping us, we might find our options have become constrained and reduced. This is akin to the story of how to kill a frog – you place it in warm water, then very slowly increase the temperature, and the frog won’t even realize it is being cooked, and by the time the water has reached boiling point, the frog has succumbed.
To look at it from another perspective, activists seeking to change some thing have learned that the best way to make a major social change is not to attempt a sudden revolution in public thought, but rather to make a series of gradual changes. There are many examples of this. To offer up several – and without expressing any moral judgment, but merely observing the huge change in social values that have occurred, we point to :
(a) Drunk driving. Two or three decades ago it was normal and acceptable for people to drink as much as they wished and then to drive home, somehow. People would boast about their crazy/dangerous driving the next day; and if they were pulled over, they’d usually be let off with little more than a warning. As you surely know, today people are ashamed to admit to driving drunk; the fines and penalties (including imprisonment and alcoholism treatments) have gone up and up, and the permissible levels of blood/alcohol have gone down and down.
(b) Gay marriage. It is not all that long ago that people could be sent to prison in some western nations if they admitted being homosexual, and it was widely ridiculed and decried by most people in general. Now the opposite applies – people can be sent to prison for ‘hate crimes’ if they express a dislike for gay people, and society is now inexorably tilting towards allowing not just gay relationships but also passing to such people all the rights and privileges of marriage and allowing gay people to be married. One advocacy method used by gay rights advocates is to ‘name and shame’ people who oppose them – people are now embarrassed and ashamed to admit they dislike the thought of gay sex.
(c) Guns. A couple of generations ago, gun ranges were to be found in the basements of many schools. Guns were common in schools and in society as a whole. Nowadays, if a child even draws a picture of a gun in a schoolroom, they are liable to be expelled under a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards guns in schools, and anyone bringing guns into a school is likely committing both a federal and state crime.
Okay, enough on that – point well taken, we hope. In all these cases, the changes did not occur overnight, but have instead evolved, little by little, over years and even decades and common social custom now is pretty much the complete opposite of what it was a generation or so back.
It can be the same thing with negative situations – they start off subtly and slowly, and at first seem temporary, but as time passes, what was temporary becomes permanent, what was a problem becomes the new normal, and so it goes. By the time we realize we’re in a severe situation, our options and ability to respond positively have diminished.
We’re not saying that an EOTW disaster would happen quite that slowly (although it might), but we are pointing out that things have a habit of ‘catching us unawares’ if we’re not closely monitoring whatever the process is that is evolving and thinking through its implications.
Furthermore, the reality is that no matter how keen a prepper we are, few of us really want to activate our prepping plans, possibly prematurely, and there’s also a subconscious inertia and resistance to change that will unduly delay our responding to events that need a timely response. We need to be alert to changes and ready/willing/able to respond to them at the appropriate point – a point which of course should be before rather than after the time at which it becomes too late!
Some Slow Disasters
Let’s now think about some types of slowly evolving ‘disasters’ that might occur. These tend to be more economic in nature than anything else – the first two examples are country-wide in nature, the third is regional, and the last two are more personal.
We have seen electricity shortages come and go over the years, particularly in California in 2000 – 2001. With the continued restrictions on building just about any type of new power station these days, it is far from inconceivable that electricity may not become in short supply again – a situation initially masked by it simply becoming more and more expensive, and then perhaps becoming rationed.
The ugly flip-side of ‘smart energy management’ is a move away from a universal expectation that electricity should always be available to us, 24/7, whenever we want it, and for whatever purpose we need it for. As we know from our planning for ‘grid-down’ futures, electricity today truly is one of society’s greatest blessings, and whether we pay 5c or 50c per kWhr, it is a great value.
At what point would you decide that electricity had become too expensive and too short in supply, and in effect respond by going ‘off-grid’ and ‘growing your own’?
Some parts of the country have seen gas prices brush and even break through $5/gallon on occasion in the past, sometimes for months at a time. How long will it be before gas prices reach $5/gallon, all the time, everywhere? And then $6? And $7? Even $10 and $15?
If that sounds unlikely, think of this. Less than 25 years ago, gas was under $1/gallon. It has gone up in price almost five-fold in 25 years. For decades, petrol and other oil products were steadily reducing in price each year (in real terms after adjusting for inflation), and then they sort of flattened out, and now they are increasing at rates greater than inflation. Here’s a useful graph showing prices from 1896 forwards in the UK, and here’s a spreadsheet of prices in the US from 1949.
Proponents of the ‘peak oil’ theory predict that gas prices will skyrocket in the next decade or less. At the same time, it will become in shorter and shorter supply. The latest move towards shale recovery has bought us some more time, and some more oil, but the ‘greenies’ are objecting and fighting this as furiously as they can. A large – and growing – sector in our society doesn’t wish us to have access to cheap oil products. They wish us to become oil-poor, as a way of – they believe – ‘saving the planet’.
At what point, at what price, will you say ‘enough already’ and give up on your present gas-based lifestyle? And what will you have as an alternative?
One of the biggest constraints on growth in much of the country is the availability of fresh pure water. It is hard to know which is the bigger blessing in our modern lives – abundant affordable electricity, or abundant affordable water. Happily, we presently have both, with the worst form of water shortages typically being nothing more severe than some restrictions on watering our lawns and washing our cars during some of the summer months.
But the cost of water is steadily increasing, while its availability is becoming more and more constrained. This year (2012) we saw some of the worst droughts in decades affect crop production in much of the mid-west; all that means to us as consumers currently is little more than increased prices for meat, wheat and corn based products. But with a decent steak now costing $15/lb or more – three times what it cost a decade or so back – how much further will we allow the costs of the basic essentials of our diet rise?
At what point do water (and sewage) costs and possible water restrictions cause you either to move to a new region, or to retreat from normal society and to set up an alternate lifestyle, independent of your increasingly problematic and expensive city water and sewer services?
Maybe you lose your job. Maybe you don’t get another job. Month after month, you see your savings dwindle, and also, month by month, as time passes you become less and less appealing to potential employers. All employers prefer to hire someone who is already employed, and all employers feel uncomfortable and worried if they see a person who has been out of work for many months.
As each month passes, you have less and less remaining capital. At what point do you switch gears and change objectives and either move to another city to find work there, or instead ‘bug out’ for economic reasons, and switch to building a self-sustainable life elsewhere?
This is an interesting one (it has happened to me). What happens if the area you live in – the area you own a home in – starts to suffer from evolving urban demographics and becomes increasingly down-market? Property prices and relative values compared to other parts in your region start to drop, and keep on dropping. The nice middle class people who used to be your neighbors are leaving, and are being replaced by people you’re less comfortable living alongside. Crime rates start to increase, and so on and so on.
At what point do you bail out yourself? Do you simply move across town, or to a different city entirely, or is that the point where you move to your retreat? Each month of delay sees your property value diminish, slowly but steadily.
Faster Evolving Disasters Can Catch You Unawares Too
Although we’re talking primarily about how a slow change in something can catch you unawares, by becoming something unexpectedly different without you realizing it, similar affects can come from faster developing problems too.
For example, a forest fire heading your way. At what point do you respond to the potential of being trapped? Sure, you could rely on waiting for the authorities to officially notify you and command you to evacuate, but you might then find yourself with too little time to do a well planned well prepared bug-out.
The Longer You Wait, the Fewer Your Choices
It is most obvious from the last two examples that the longer you wait to respond to a negative event, the less well able you are able to do so. As you burn through your cash, it becomes harder and harder for you to consider options that don’t immediately start to bring in a cash flow again.
We’re not saying that you should panic the first time things turn sour on you in any part of life and living. But we are saying to be careful about slow creeping problems that take away your independence and freedom, little by little.
The biggest problem people face is knowing when to say ‘enough, already’ and to activate some sort of formal response to a problem that has been gradually worsening. Which brings us to :
The Need to Create Lines in the Sand
If you’ve ever been taught a good self-defense class, you’ve been taught about the need to create clear ‘lines in the sand’ – events that clearly signal that the person who you are concerned about has evil intent, and events which cause you to confidently respond appropriately.
For example, you don’t like the look of the people walking towards you, so you cross the road. If they cross the road to intersect with your path, that’s a clear ‘line in the sand’ that has been crossed. You then might choose to turn the corner or cross the road back again – if they cross the road again too, then you know, for sure, this is not random circumstance. You might then call out – ‘Stop, Back Off, Go Away’. If they continue towards you, you then present your pistol and say ‘Stop or I shoot! Back Off! Go Away!’
If the person still moves towards you, you then know ‘Okay, so he crossed the road to follow me when I did, then he crossed the road back to keep following me when I did, he ignored my warning, and now, with my gun pointed at him, he is still ignoring me’ and that gives you the confidence to know that your next action – an extreme one, but now an essential one, is justified and appropriate.
It is the same with anything else in your life. You need to set lines in the sand so that when they are crossed, you are aware of the event and ready with an appropriate response.
For example, you might decide ‘If gas prices reach $x, I will get an ultra-fuel efficient car’ and you might further decide ‘if gas prices reach $(x+y) then I will move from my current suburban lifestyle in which I need a car to an alternate lifestyle where the essential things are either within walking distance or conveniently served by public transport, or reachable by bicycle’.
For example, you might decide ‘When electricity prices reach a point that solar cells can be paid off within x years, I will invest in a solar cell array on my roof’. You might also decide ‘When electricity prices reach a price of $0.xx/kWhr, I will re-insulate the house, and when they reach a price of $0.yy/kWhr, I will replace the windows with new energy-efficient windows and insulating blinds’.
You might decide ‘If my house price drops by x% relative to the broader region I live in, and if it is due to the changing demographic nature of my sub-region, I’ll sell up and move on’.
You might decide ‘When food prices reach x% of my weekly budget, I’m going to start growing my own vegetables and start raising some animals, and if I have to move to where I can do that, that’ll be part of the deal’.
There are other things, too. You might decide ‘When the taxes in this state exceed the taxes in (another state you’d like to live in) then I’m going to make the move’. You might decide ‘If this state restricts firearms and my right to self-defense, then I’ll move to a state with a more enlightened social policy on such things’.
Don’t risk becoming a boiled frog.
Create ‘lines in the sand’ that will sound alarms in your life when events cross over them, so that you realize ‘Hey, this is very different to what it used to be and what I want it to be’ and to allow you the freedom and flexibility to respond to changes in your life and lifestyle and life standards before it becomes too late to do so.
In particular, monitor the changes in your local environment and compare/contrast them to the changes in possible bug-out locations. Maybe things truly are better somewhere else in the US, and maybe you should act positively to respond to the chance of a life-style improvement in such a better location.