New Risks and Vulnerabilities

Our society today is very deceptive.  On the face of it, we seem to have become thoroughly safe in every respect; indeed, people these days require and demand extraordinary levels of safety that only a generation ago would have been laughed at (bicycle helmets, anyone?).

The Wonderful Modern World

Today we are blessed with amazing supermarkets beautifully laid out with an enormous variety of foodstuffs from all over the world.  The fresh fruit and produce section has year-round supplies of fresh seasonal fruit; indeed the only time we stop and think about where our food is coming from is when we go to a eco-supermarket that makes a big thing about sourcing some of its food locally.

If we order a new computer from Dell, or an iPad/iPhone from Apple, the device is essentially built to order somewhere in Asia and then shipped directly to us, arriving within a week, and all at a price better than if we went to a local computer store and bought a locally made computer.

The labels on clothing are a world tour around Asia and eastern Europe, and while we might proudly buy an ‘American’ car, many times it has nearly the same amount of overseas content in it as does a ‘foreign’ car – particularly if the ‘American’ car was assembled in Mexico or Canada, and the ‘foreign’ car assembled in the US.

Truly, we live in a global village, something we also appreciate when flying not just from coast to coast in half a day, but all the way to Europe or Asia, at about the same price, and in about the same time.

The Concealed Problems Beneath the Surface

Have you ever seen a ‘Heath Robinson’ device or a Rube Goldberg machine?  These are amusing caricatures of overly complex devices that involve many unnecessary steps so as to achieve a simple task.  If you ever played the Mouse Trap board game, that is an example of a Rube Goldberg type of device, requiring lots of complex steps to do a simple thing (trapping the mouse).

We might not realize this, but our society has become a Rube Goldberg machine – a simple thing such as ‘eat food’ would have earlier involved ‘go to garden, get vegetables, cook them, eat them’.  Today it involves ‘order food from foreign country, have them grow it, have it shipped to a distribution center, have it shipped on to a local supermarket, have it available in stock, travel to the supermarket hoping we have gas for our car, pay for food hoping the e-banking system works, bring it home, hope the gas or electricity is working, cook it and eat it’.  Everything was under our control in the simpler time before, now nothing is.

The really amusing thing is that all these extra steps – things we’d laugh about if we saw it on a machine – are being offered to us in our lives as improvements.  Yes, if everything works perfectly, our lives aren’t improved.  But we’re now relying on so many things for even the simplest action, and a breakdown in any part of the process can destroy the entire process.

Turn the clock back 100 – 150 years, and society and its functions were really simple.  If you wanted something, you made it or did it yourself.  A subsequent level of sophistication put perhaps one or two extra layers of supplies of things, to allow you to specialize in some things rather than needing to be a jack of all trades.

But we were more or less self-sufficient, or, if not, we relied on only a few other people, most of whom we probably knew by name and lived close to.  A worst case scenario disaster might cause us or our small village a major problem, but it wouldn’t impact too much on the next village over, or the next state even further away.

And because of the limited nature of any possible disaster, it was easy for the huge remaining balance of the population to make tiny contributions which in total were more than enough to solve our needs and problems.

There was nothing – absolutely nothing – that could have instantly destroyed ‘life as they know it’ 150 years ago.

Single Points of Failure

While society was very resilient back then, today, there are many things that could, all by themselves, destroy the lives not just of ourselves, but of the entire region, or state, or nation, or yes, even of the entire world.

Remember the oil crisis of 1973?  What’s to stop a repeat of that?  How can we get the food we need if it is grown in South America and there’s no gas first for us to drive to the supermarket, and secondly for the supermarket to drive the goods from its distribution center, and thirdly for the grower’s agents in South America to fly the food to the distribution center?

Maybe you know about our ‘strategic reserve’ – currently it holds 695 million barrels of oil.  But our country uses oil at a rate of 20 million barrels a day.  In other words, our strategic reserve has enough oil for about a month.  That’s not quite so strategic, is it.

What about electricity?  Imagine a world without electricity.  150 years ago, that was an easy thing to imagine – electricity didn’t exist.  But today, we would not exist without electricity.  As we explain in our article about Solar Storms, there is a 12% chance that some time in the next decade we’ll have a solar storm so powerful that it will destroy the country’s power grid (and quite likely, the power grids of other countries too).

How long would it take to recover from this?  That’s hard to say, but anywhere from a year to a decade seems likely.  What would you do if you lost power in 5 minutes time?  No more power in your office, no more power at home, no power for your computers, no power in the stores for cash registers, no streetlights, no power in the hospitals, no power in the elevators, and so on.

Remember that no power quickly translates to no water (electric pumps and control systems for the water utilities), no power for the sewer systems (same reasons), and no power for much of the food growing and transportation systems, and you’ll probably be dead within weeks.

Our threats aren’t limited to natural disasters like solar storms.  How about an EMP?  That is an electro-magnetic pulse, caused by detonating a nuclear device overhead.  A single EMP could destroy not just the power grid – same as a solar storm – but also every piece of electronics, everywhere in the country.

Yes, it would just take one EMP to disable all electronics in the entire country.  How do you feel about that?

In this hate and violence filled world, with countries and factions committed to destroying the United States and the western way of life in general, this is the ultimate weapon.  It makes flying planes into buildings look like inconsequential child’s play.  A single action would destroy the US.  A second would destroy Europe.

If you were a crazed leader of an American-hating country, and if you were developing nuclear weapons anyway (ie Iran, North Korea), how would you choose to use the weapons you developed.  A single weapon, detonated in the center of New York, would of course destroy Manhattan.  That’s a tragedy, but it wouldn’t even impact much on people on the west coast.  But that same weapon, detonated up high above the country, would destroy the entire country.

Which do you think an enemy of the US would rather do?

There are other vulnerabilities too, but this is probably enough unsettling news for one page.  However, we’re not done.  Click to the next page to read about how we have less emergency support resource than ever before to help us withstand and recover from such catastrophic collapses of our society today.

Return to An Introduction to Prepping

Please click the link to return to the main Introduction to Prepping page and for links to other pages in this series.



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