February 7, 2010

Preparing for Possible Chaos

Garden As If Your Life Depended On It, Because It Does

There are at least five reasons why more of us should take up the spade, make some compost, and start gardening with a vengeance.

By Ellen LaConte, Alternet.org

Spring has sprung -- at least south of the northern tier of states where snow still has a ban on it -- and the grass has 'riz. And so has the price of most foods, which is particularly devastating just now when so many Americans are unemployed, underemployed, retired or retiring, on declining or fixed incomes and are having to choose between paying their mortgages, credit card bills, car payments, and medical and utility bills and eating enough and healthily. Many are eating more fast food, prepared foods, junk food -- all of which are also becoming more expensive -- or less food.

In some American towns, and not just impoverished backwaters, as many as 30 percent of residents can't afford to feed themselves and their families sufficiently, let alone nutritiously. Here in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina where I live it's 25 percent. Across the country one out of six of the elderly suffers from malnutrition and hunger. And the number of children served one or two of their heartiest, healthiest meals by their schools grows annually as the number of them living at poverty levels tops 20 percent. Thirty-seven million Americans rely on food banks that now routinely sport half-empty shelves and report near-empty bank accounts. And this is a prosperous nation!

In some cases this round of price hikes on everything from cereal and steak to fresh veggies and bread -- and even the flour that can usually be bought cheaply to make it -- will be temporary. But over the long term the systems that have provided most Americans with a diversity, quantity and quality of foods envied by the rest of the world are not going to be as reliable as they were.

What's for Supper Down the Road?

As they move through the next few decades Americans can expect:

  • The price of conventionally produced food to rise and not come down again;
  • Prices to rollercoaster so that budgeting is unpredictable;
  • Some foods to become very expensive compared to what we're used to;
  • And other foods, beginning with some of the multiple versions of the same thing made by the same company to garner a bigger market share and more shelf space, to gradually become unavailable.
Tremors in food supply chains and pricing will make gardening look like a lot more than a hobby, a seasonal workout, a practical way to fill your pantry with your summer favorites, or a physically, spiritually and mentally healing activity, or all four. Gardening and small-scale and collective farming, especially of staple crops and the ones that could stave off malnutrition, could become as important as bringing home the bacon, both the piggy and the dollar kind. Why?

Why Is Gardening So Important Now?

There are at least five reasons why more of us should take up spade, rake and hoe, make compost and raise good soil and garden beds with a vengeance, starting this spring and with an eye toward forever.

1) Peak oil

Most petroleum experts agree that we shot past peak oil in the U.S. around 1971. Lest you've missed the raging, that's the point at which more than half the readily, affordably retrievable oil in reserves has been used up, what remains is more expensive to retrieve, and the dregs are irretrievable. We've shot or are about to shoot past peak worldwide, estimates of when ranging from 2007 to 2013, with many oil company execs agreeing to at least the latter. There are no new cheap-easy oil fields coming on line. Any new fields you hear about or new methods, like tar sands drilling are expensive, water guzzling, dangerous, environmentally disastrous and unlikely to produce more than a few years worth of oil, and that a decade or more down the line. That means abundant, cheap oil is about to be history. What difference does that make?

For one thing, there is no replacement for oil that can do all that oil has done as cheaply and universally as oil has done it. I offer an exercise in Life Rules, "The ABC's of Peak Oil" which helps readers imaginatively subtract from their lives everything that depends in one way or another on cheap easy oil. It doesn't leave much. (See Beth Terry's Web site, for example, for what subtracting plastics may entail.)

The global economy that presently supplies us with our food, runs on cheap oil and lots of it. It runs slower and less predictably on expensive oil that's hard to get because it's located in hard-to-reach or high-risk conflict-ridden zones. Cheap, abundant food on the shelves of grocery and big box stores and food banks, on our tables and in our bellies depends on cheap abundant oil for fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, and to power farm machinery and transport food from fields to processors and packagers and then to purveyors and consumers, around the world. Past peak, that system's going to have the half-life of the strontium 90 that's escaping the Fukushimi Dai-ichi reactor: 29 years, or thereabouts. One good global crisis, and not that long.

2) Peak soil & space

A couple of links between peak oil and peak soil: First, it matters that one of the proposed alternatives to oil is biofuels. Acreage around the world is being converted from production of corn, wheat and soy for human and animal consumption -- i.e. food -- to production of ethanol and biofuels to put in trucks and cars and ... which makes remaining corn, et al., more expensive. Some energy economy geniuses are proposing that Afghans, for example, convert the fields of opium poppies that are their primary agricultural export, not to growing grains or legumes or other staple foods, but to biofuel, which would, not coincidentally, make the gasoline that goes in American military equipment much cheaper and provide Afghans with a profitable market item rather than food.

According to a 2009 National Geographic staff report,

"The corn used to make a 25-gallon tank of ethanol would feed one person for a year."
Tell that to Archer-Daniels-Midland, Al Gore's deep-pockets friend and mega-ethanol and corn products producer.

Second, the huge oil-gluttonous machinery that has made factory farming possible has compacted soils, literally crushing the life out of them. Arable land in the developing or so-called Third World has been at a premium since time immemorial, thanks to geographic location and/or persistent plundering by empires old and new. Revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East are occurring not just to obtain more democratic governments but also to obtain more food and more affordable food. Revolutionaries are barking up a tree that's seen better days.

In the United States and elsewhere in the developed, read "First" world, arable land has reached peak production. All those petroleum-based products that fueled the Green Revolution of the last century, also produce so many crops, constantly, with support from toxic chemicals and without concern for the microbes that make soil a live, self-regenerating system, that most American farmland -- if its farmers didn't go organic a while back -- is comprised of dead soils. Peak oil makes a repeat of the petroleum-driven 20th century Green Revolution impossible, which is good for soil and other living things, not so much for food prices and supplies.

After peak, in soil like in oil, comes descent. Adding insult to injury, every year farmers lose thousands of acres of arable land to urban and suburban sprawl and more tons of topsoil than they produce of grain and other field crops to attrition. Half the Earth's original trove of topsoil, like that which once permitted the American Midwest to feed the world, has been lost to wind and erosion. Millions of years in the making, it has been depleted and degraded by industrialized agriculture in only a couple of centuries. China's soils ride easterly winds across the Pacific to settle out on cars and rooftops in California while the American Bread Basket's soils are building deltas and dead zones at the mouth of the Mississippi. Like oil, that soil isn't coming back. We can only build it, help it to build itself and wait.

3) Monoculture

We can cut to the chase on this one. The food we eat is produced on industrial-strength, fossil-fuel-driven super farms. Those farms practice monoculture: the planting one crop, often of one genetic strain of that crop, at a time and sometimes year after year over vast landscapes of plowed field. When thousands of acres of farmland are sown with the same genetic strain of grain, uncongenial bout of weather, disease or pest to which that strain is susceptible can wipe out the whole crop.

At present the Ug99 fungus, called stem rust, which emerged a decade ago in Africa, could wipe out more than 80 percent of the world's wheat crops as it spreads, according to a 2009 article in the L. A. Times. Recent studies follow its appearance in other countries downwind of eastern Africa where it originated, including Yemen and Iran (where revolutionaries are already protesting rising prices and shortages), which opens the possibility of its emergence further downwind in Central and Eastern Asia. The race is on to breed resistant plants before it reaches Canada or the U.S. But it can take a decade or more to create a universally adaptable new genetic line that is resistant to a new disease like stem rust that can travel much faster than that. The current spike in the price of wheat is due in part to Ug99 which might properly be renamed "Ugh."

4) Climate instability

Bad -- uncongenial -- weather has lately devastated crops in the upper Midwest, Florida, Mexico, Russia, China, Australia, parts of Africa and elsewhere. Many climate scientists believe we've passed the equivalent of peak friendly and familiar weather, too. And while increasing heat will bedevil harvests, intense cold, downpours and flooding, drought and destructive storm systems will make farming an increasingly hellish occupation if profit is what's being farmed for.

The transitional climate will be unpredictable from season to season and will produce more extremes of weather and weather-related disasters, which means farmers will not be able to assume much about growing seasons, rainfall patterns and getting crops through to harvest. If the past is precedent, the transition from the climate we've been used to for 10,000 years to whatever stable climate emerges out of climate chaos next, could take decades, centuries or even millennia. Especially if we keep messing with it.

When a whole nation's or region's staple crops, especially grains, are lost or on-again-off-again, everything down the line from the crops themselves become more expensive, from meat, poultry and dairy to every kind of processed food. I.e., the food we shop for as if supermarkets were actually where food comes from.

5) The roller-coaster economy

This isn't the place for me to offer my explanation for the probability of global economic collapse. (More on that here.) No pundits, talking-heads or economic analysts (well, very few) deny there are rough economic times ahead. Even many of the cautious among them acknowledge that we may be looking at five or six years of high unemployment and many of the lost jobs won't be coming back. The less cautious, like me, predict the collapse of the whole fossil-fueled, funny-money, inequitable, overly complicated global economic system in the lifetimes of anyone under 50. Well, at the rate we're going in all the wrong directions politically and economically, I hazard the guess, anyone under 80.

Clearly, depending on the present system to provide us with most or all of our food reliably or long-term, is unwise in the extreme. Which is how we get back to why we need to garden as if our lives depended on it. Bringing food production processes and systems closer to home is going to prove vital to our survival. We need to take producing our own and each other's food as seriously as we've taken producing a money income because growing numbers of us won't have enough money to buy food in the conventional ways and there will be less of it to buy. So what's our recourse?

Gardening Like Everybody's Business

Under the influence and auspices of the prevailing economy, most Americans have forgotten how to provide for themselves. We've become accustomed to earning money with which we buy provisions. That process is about to have the legs kicked out from under it. Instead of earning money (or its funny-money kin like credit cards) to buy the things we need, we'll need to start providing more of those things for ourselves and each other locally and (bio)regionally.

Gardening -- and small-scale farming -- while they will need to be undertaken in a businesslike fashion will be less about doing business than about everyone's having something to eat and more people being busy providing it. And while not everyone will be able to garden or farm, we are all able to get up close and personal with those who do.

Where's the Best Location in America to Homestead?

October 2009

According to James Wesley, Rawles the answer is Idaho County, Idaho. For him the following is synonymous with a homestead seeing as he encourages everyone to live at their "survival retreat" full-time, if possible.

In his chapter titled "The Survival Retreat," he says that the ideal location is in a region with most or all of the following characteristics:
  • A long growing season
  • Geographic isolation from major population centers
  • Sufficient year-round precipitation and surface water
  • Rich topsoil
  • A diverse economy and agriculture
  • Away from interstate freeways and other channelized areas
  • Low taxes
  • Nonintrusive scale of government
  • Favorable zoning and inexpensive building permits
  • Minimal gun laws
  • No major earthquake, hurricane or tornado risks
  • No flooding risk
  • No tidal-wave risk (at least two hundred feet above sea level)
  • Minimal forest-fire risk
  • A lifestyle geared toward self-sufficiency
  • Plentiful local sources of wood or coal
  • No restrictions on keeping livestock
  • Defendable terrain
  • Not near a prison or large mental institution
  • Inexpensive insurance rates (home, auto, health)
  • Upwind from major nuclear-weapons targets
As an example of the low population density in the West, I often like to cite Idaho County, Idaho: This one county measures 8,485 square miles--bigger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. But it has a population of just 15,400. And of those residents, roughly 3,300 people live in Grangeville, the county seat. Who lives in the rest of the county? Nary a soul. There are far more deer and elk than there are people. The population density of the county is 1.8 people per square mile. The county has more than 3 million acres of U.S. Forest Service land, BLM land, and designated federal wilderness areas. Now that is elbow room!

-- excerpted from How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It: Tactics, Techniques, and Technologies For Uncertain Times, pgs. 39-41.

Survivalism Lite

They call themselves 'preppers.' They are regular people with homes and families. But like the survivalists that came before them, they're preparing for the worst.

By Jessica Bennett, Newsweek Web Exclusive
December 28, 2009

Lisa Bedford is what you'd imagine of a stereotypical soccer mom. She drives a white Tahoe SUV. An American flag flies outside her suburban Phoenix home. She sells Pampered Chef kitchen tools and likes to bake. Bedford and her husband have two young children, four dogs, and go to church on Sunday.

But about a year ago, Bedford's homemaking skills went into overdrive. She began stockpiling canned food, and converted a spare bedroom into a giant storage facility. The trunk of each of her family's cars got its own 72-hour emergency kit—giant Tupperware containers full of iodine, beef jerky, emergency blankets, and even a blood-clotting agent designed for the battle-wounded.

Bedford started thinking about an escape plan in case her family needed to leave in a hurry, and she and her husband set aside packed suitcases and cash. Then, for the first time in her life, Bedford went to a gun range and shot a .22 handgun. Now she regularly takes her two young children, 7 and 10, to target practice.

"Over the last two years, I started feeling more and more unsettled about everything I was seeing, and I started thinking, 'What if we were in the same boat?'" says Bedford, 49.
Bedford is what you might call a modern-day survivalist—or, as she describes it, a "prepper." Far from the stereotype of survivalists past, she owns no camouflage, and she doesn't believe that 2012—the final year of the Mayan calendar—will be the end of the world.

She likes modern luxuries (makeup, air conditioning, going out to eat), and she's no doomsayer. But like the rest of us, Bedford watched as the housing bubble burst and the economy collapsed. She has friends who've lost their homes, jobs, and 401(k)s. She remembers Hurricane Katrina, and wonders how the government might respond to the next big disaster or a global pandemic. And though she hopes for the best—the last thing she wants is for something bad to happen—she's decided to prepare her family for the worst.

"We never set out to go build a bunker to protect ourselves from nuclear fallout; I have no idea how to camp in the wild," Bedford says, laughing. "But as all of this stuff started hitting closer to home, we [wanted] to take some steps to safeguard ourselves."
In the past, survivalists and conspiracy theorists might go out into the woods, live out of a bunker, waiting (or sometimes hoping) for the apocalypse to hit. It was men, mostly; many of them antigovernment, often portrayed by the media as radicals of the likes of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

In the late 1990s, Y2K fears brought survivalism to the mainstream, only to usher it back out again when disaster didn't strike. (Suddenly, unused survival gear began showing up in classifieds and on eBay.)

A decade later, "preppers" are what you might call survivalism's Third Wave: regular people with jobs and homes whose are increasingly fearful about the future—their paranoia compounded by 24-hour cable news.

"Between the media and the Internet, many people have built up a sense that there's this calamity out there that needs to be avoided," says Art Markman, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Texas who studies the way people think.
And while they may not envision themselves as Kevin Costner in Waterworld—in fact, many preppers go out of their way to avoid the stereotypes that come along with the "survivalist" label—they've made a clear-eyed calculation about the risks at hand and aren't waiting around for anybody else to fix them.
"I consider it more of a reaction than a movement," says Tom Martin, a 32-year-old Idaho truck driver who is the founder of the American Preppers Network, which receives some 5,000 visitors to its Web site each day. "There are so many variables and potential disasters out there, being a prepper is just a reaction to that potential."
That reaction, of course, means different things to different people. Some prep for economic disaster, while others prep to escape genetically modified foods. An organic farmer could be considered a prepper; so might an urban gardener.

Some preppers fear putting their names out in public—they don't want every desperate soul knocking down their door in the event of a disaster—while others see it as a network they can rely upon were something horrible to happen. Some preppers fear the complete breakdown of society, while others simply want to stock up on extra granola bars and lighter fluid in case of a blackout or a storm.

Hard-core survivalists might think of preppers as soft:

"Eventually, the Chef Boyardee is going to run out," jokes Cody Lundin, the founder of the Aboriginal Living Skills School, a survival camp based out of his home in Prescott, Az.
But prepping, says Martin, is just a new word for a very old way of life.
"You don't have to have a survival retreat loaded with guns secluded in the wilderness to be a prepper," adds David Hill Sr., 54, a former jet mechanic who runs the Web site WhatisaPrepper from his home in rural West Virginia. "There are many people who live in urban and suburban areas who don't own guns who also identify themselves as preppers."
Researchers say that interest in survivalism can often be a barometer of social anxiety; and in many cases, says sociologist Richard Mitchell, it can be a response to modern stress. If that's true, it's no surprise we're seeing an uptick in it now: from climate change to the economy, swine flu to terrorism, the current state of the world is enough to make even the biggest cynic just a little bit worried.

As U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano reminded us in a recent speech at the American Red Cross, 90 percent of Americans live in an area where there is moderate or high risk of natural disaster.

"I think what we're experiencing is a kind of generational panic attack," says Neil Strauss, the former New York Times writer whose latest book, Emergency (see story below), is about how to survive in a disaster. "We were born in a good time. We experienced booming technology and rising stock prices. And then all of a sudden, 9/11 happened, Katrina happened, the economy plunged. And it's like the rug being pulled out from under our feet."
While there's no scientific data to track survivalism's recent growth, some preppers have speculated it's reached a level not matched in decades. Emergency-supply retailers say they're seeing business boom; the Red Cross has had a surge in volunteers over the past year (up some 160,000 over 2008), and there are networks of preppers—from Prepper.org to the Suburban Prepper, to Bedford's own blog, "The Survival Mom"—sprouting up all over the Web.

FEMA's new head under Obama, Craig Fugate, encouraged Americans to get in touch with their inner survivalist.

"I encourage all Americans to take some simple steps to make their families more prepared, such as developing a family communications plan," he tells NEWSWEEK.
His organization recently launched a "Resolve to be Ready" campaign suggesting that Americans to make preparedness part of their New Year's resolutions.
"I think what people have come to realize is that [organizations like ours] can't always be everywhere we need to be as quickly as we need to be," says Jonathan Aiken, a spokesman for the American Red Cross. "So I think the messaging has changed, from FEMA on down, that in the event of an emergency, people need to be prepared to take care of themselves for a couple of days until the rest of us can come out and get to you."
Government has always played an active role in emergency preparedness. Nuclear-raid drills were part of everyday life for school children in the 1950s and '60s, and building bomb shelters was encouraged because of the nuclear threat. In 1999, the government set up a $50 million crisis center to deal with the computer threats posed by Y2K; and after 9/11, residents were pushed to stock up on plastic and duct tape to seal their homes in the event of a biological attack.

But in 2010, as we enter the new year under an elevated threat level, the problems at hand can seem insurmountable and unknown, to the point that even Barton M. Biggs, the former chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley, warns in his 2008 book that we must "assume the possibility of a breakdown of the civilized infrastructure." Where that leaves preppers is struggling to fill the void.

"We want people to understand that preparedness is an individual's job, too," says Joseph Bruno, New York City’s commissioner of emergency management, where polling has shown that more than 50 percent of residents are thinking about preparedness—up from just 18 percent in 2004. "I'm a newsaholic, and that probably feeds some of this," says Bedford. "But I like to think that if we're prepared, it's one less family the government has to worry about."
In the end, what it all boils down to, at least for the preppers, is self-reliance—a concept as old as the human race itself. As survival blogger Joe Solomon pointed out in a recent column, during the Victory Gardens of WWII, Americans managed to grow 40 percent of all the vegetables they needed to survive.
"My mother's parents had a 10-acre garden, and my grandfather worked at the dairy farm next door," says Hill, the former jet mechanic. "They worked by raising their own food, they had their own chickens, they canned vegetables, and my grandfather fed a family of 12 like that."
But in the modern world, he says, many of those skills are easily forgotten. Today, our food comes from dozens of different sources. Most of us aren't quite sure how electricity gets from the wires to our stoves. We use debit cards to buy a can of tuna and we wouldn't have the slightest idea how to filter contaminated water. We are residents of the new millennium; we simply haven't needed to prepare.

So for the moment, people like Bedford are reteaching themselves lost skills—and in some cases, learning new ones. Bedford has read up on harvesting an urban garden, and is learning to use a solar oven to bake bread. She is ready with a pointed shot in the event she ever needs to hunt for her own food. And until then, she's got 61 cans of chili, 20 cans of Spam, 24 jars of peanut butter, and much more stocked in her pantry; she estimates she's spent about $4,000 on food supplies, an amount that should keep her family going for at least three months. Now, even if something simple goes wrong, like a paycheck doesn't go through, "we don't need to worry," she says.

Bedford knows it all might sound a little nuts—and she's careful about how much she reveals, and to whom. But she believes that in times of uncertainty, what she's doing is simply common sense.

As for the rest of us, isn't it a little bit crazy not to prepare?

Neil Strauss is Ready for Any Emergency

For his new book, "Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life," the author of 'The Game' steps out of the jungles of pickup bars and into the wilds of surviving possible chaos.

By Susan Carpenter, The Los Angeles Times
March 10, 2009

Neil Strauss hardly seems like a guy who'd kill a goat and gut it with his own hands. A slim intellectual in silver jewelry and designer jeans, he doesn't appear to be the kind of person who would stash food in a forest or plot an escape from his Laurel Canyon home using fire trails and a motorcycle he barely knows how to ride.

Yet that's precisely what Strauss has learned to do over the last three years in an effort to prepare himself should society collapse. It's a journey he not only chronicles in his new book, "Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life," but continues to pursue.

Days before his book's release, Strauss' BlackBerry is brimming with projects. (Get motorcycle license. Take pain-resistance training. Grind grain.) He's looking to strike a few items off his list.

"I'm here to pick up a shotgun," he says, stepping up to the counter at Gun World, a Burbank shop whose anteroom is loaded with ammo and shell cases.
The shotgun is a Remington 870 Wingmaster -- the third part of an unholy trinity that also includes a 9-millimeter pistol and a rifle, all of which he keeps in a hidden safe at his house.
"Three years ago, I never would have been in a gun store," says Strauss, who was a New York Times music and culture critic before writing the bestseller "The Game," a guide to picking up women. He also collaborated with Jenna Jameson on her 2004 memoir "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star."
Strauss' transformation took place gradually. In 1999, halfway through a 10-year stint at the Times, he moved to Los Angeles, where he became a regular participant in what he calls the "stupid human Hollywood thing." He spent sleepless nights with Marilyn Manson, Courtney Love and other musicians, frequently filing articles from their living rooms.

Although he ghost-wrote books with Manson and Mötley Crüe, his breakthrough came when he teamed up with Jameson. That same year he left the Times. In the meantime, he was growing increasingly concerned about societal breakdown and eventually decided to act upon his fears.

It started after Y2K raised the specter of a doomsday, after Sept. 11 prompted him to purchase a gas mask, after the reelection of George W. Bush led him to investigate citizenship in other countries, after Hurricane Katrina made him realize the most powerful nation in the world couldn't protect its own citizens.
"We were born with a silver spoon in our mouths. Bad things happened to previous generations," says Strauss, explaining the original, third-person premise for "Emergency," which evolved into a first-person survivalist how-to.

"We had it all," continues Strauss, who is in his late 30s. "The Cold War was over. The Internet was bringing everybody together. Wars were a thing of the past. Then all the things that happened from 2001 to today, it was like dominos falling over. All of a sudden I realized that all the things you read about in history books, they could happen to you."
So, guns.

Standing between a mounted moose head and a trio of hulking, goateed clerks, Strauss doesn't look like a gun shop regular. The only thing he has in common with most of the other people in the store is the fact that he is male. And as males go, he doesn't exactly play macho.

He is Columbia-educated, petite, soft-spoken, borderline giggly.
He's "a hipster" who "looked quite humorous in a class with a bunch of Blackwater types wearing combat boots and 511 tactical pants," says Kevin Reeve, who taught Strauss how to hijack a car and escape from handcuffs, among other things, in a class called Urban Escape and Evasion.
Survival instincts

Reeve, who runs a New Jersey firm called onPoint Tactical, also coached Strauss on a three-day survival exercise in Northern California's redwood forest, where the author brought nothing but his wits and a knife and lived on foraged food and water.

Wilderness survival is "really hard" for someone "who is not a nature person," admits Strauss, who lived in a shelter of leaves and made fire using nothing but sticks and his shoelaces. But it is also empowering. In many ways, Strauss has only done what a lot of people might consider if they had the time and money.

He's even secured citizenship in another country. It took more than a year, and half a million dollars, but he's now a citizen of the small Caribbean island of St. Kitts. To get there, he's learning to fly an airplane.

Describing his training as "a rabbit hole of preparedness," Strauss has also taken edible plant walks and learned how to fish and to sail a boat.

He has licenses to operate a ham radio and to work as a security guard.

He's apprenticed himself to a knife-making survivalist and trained in CPR and first aid.

He even became an emergency medical technician and joined the California Emergency Mobile Patrol, where he volunteers on the state's search and rescue team.
"Everything is politically strange. Half of what I'm doing is completely right-wing stuff and half is really left-wing stuff," acknowledges Strauss, leaving Gun World after paying $919 for his new shotgun.
He throws the weapon in the back of his silver Dodge Durango.

Along with the gun, the cargo hold contains a mix of merchandise that proves his point. There are survivalist supplies, rescue gear and spilled hay -- feed for the three goats he's raising at home, two of which he delivered himself.

His next errand? Picking up a pair of baby chickens from a feed store.

For a man who once spent 45 minutes staring at a paw print in the woods as part of a survivalist training course called Tracker School, Strauss is surprisingly dependent on technology. Driving around L.A., he's constantly checking his Garmin GPS and listening for directions from its robotic female voice.
"There's a certain crew of people: We're scared enough to get prepared, but we're not scared enough to leave the city," notes Strauss, a Chicago native who has spent his life in urban environments.

"If you really think something's going to happen, you go out to Montana or Wyoming. But when you start sacrificing your lifestyle, the things you enjoy, for safety, you're putting yourself in a prison."
Less worried

Judging from his chic Modernist home, Strauss is hardly living in a prison. He's just folded in a new set of priorities. His goats paw the refrigerator, roaming (and defecating) freely inside the house and around the slate patio that rings his swimming pool.

His kitchen counters hold Godiva chocolates and Grey Goose vodka -- along with containers of homemade strawberry preserves and beef jerky. His garage houses surfboards, a Corvette and a generator.

And yet there's a method to the madness. What began as an exercise in terror has led to self-reliance. Sure, he's made plans to flee, but he's equally prepared to stick around and deal with the aftermath.
"Before," he says, "I really came out of a place of fear. I was scared of all these things that could happen, and I used to spent time worrying about it. There was a big rush, like I've got to get this done before something happens."

But after three years of preparation, "it's literally like I don't ever worry about it. It doesn't mean my chances of surviving are better, but I kind of think that as much as the stuff buys you survival, it also buys you peace of mind."

Suggested Survival List

By Chuck Baldwin, Crossroad Baptist Church
December 15, 2009

One does not have to be a prophet to know that we are on the precipice of some potentially catastrophic—or at the very least, challenging—days.

In fact, most of us are already in challenging days, and some are already enduring catastrophic events. That is, if one would call being out of work, losing one's home, facing life-threatening medical conditions without any prospect of medical insurance, several families being forced to live in one house due to homes being foreclosed, etc., catastrophic.

The potential for an escalation of cataclysmic events, however, is very real. Only a "blooming idiot" would call someone who attempts to prepare for "the day of adversity" a Chicken Little now. Anyone who does not see the storm clouds on the horizon isn't paying attention.

For example, can one imagine what would happen if terrorists nuked a major American city or cities? (Once again, I encourage readers to go get the videos of the CBS TV series "Jericho" to get an idea of how quickly life, and even civilization, could change.) Imagine if there was another 9/11-type event. What would happen if some form of Zimbabwe-style inflation hit the US? What would happen if anything disrupted the distribution of welfare checks or food to local grocers? Imagine a Hurricane Katrina-style natural disaster in your town. I think people everywhere are beginning to awaken to just how vulnerable we all really are.

As a result, people from virtually every walk of life have recently been asking my thoughts on how they should prepare. Therefore, I will attempt to share with my readers some of the counsel I have given these folks.

First, a disclaimer. I am not an economist; I am not a survival expert; I am not a firearms expert; I am not an attorney; I am not a physician. In fact, I am not an expert in anything! For several years, however, I have tried to learn from others. I am an avid reader. My work has allowed me to travel extensively. I have had the privilege of sitting at the feet of—and learning from—many of America's most learned, most trained, and most qualified "experts" in a variety of fields. What I write today, I have learned from others. I've formed my own opinions and priorities, of course, but everything I'm sharing has been said, or written about, before. But if I can share something in today's column that will help someone be better prepared for the days to come, then my goal will have been achieved.


First, analyze your living conditions. Where do you live? Do you live in an urban or rural environment? Is it a big city or small town? Do you live in an apartment or condominium? How close are your neighbors? Do you even know your neighbors? Would you trust them if the electricity was off and they were hungry? Could you grow your own food, if you had to? How easily could you secure your home? If you live in a cold weather environment, how long could you stay warm without electricity? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask yourself now.

Over the past several decades, masses of people have migrated into large metropolitan areas. More people live in urban areas than at any time in American history. While this may be well and good for times of prosperity, it is an absolute nightmare in any kind of disaster. Does anyone remember what New Orleans looked like after Hurricane Katrina came through? Can anyone recall what happened in downtown Los Angeles during the 1992 riots? Needless to say, any inner-city environment could become a powder keg almost instantaneously, given the right (or wrong) circumstances. And the bigger the city, the bigger the potential problems.

If you live in the inner city, I suggest you consider moving to a more rural location. Obviously, now is a very good time to buy property (especially rural property), but the downside is, selling property is not as favorable. If you can afford it, now is a great time to buy a "safe house" outside the city. If you are fortunate enough to have family or some true friends nearby, you might want to put your heads--and some resources--together in preparation for serious upheaval. Obviously, a team of prepared people is much better than being alone.

If you must stay in your urban location, have some commonsense plans in hand in the event of a major disaster. Get to know your neighbors: find out whom you can trust and whom you can't. Keep some extra gasoline on hand, in case you need to get in your car quickly and leave. Have several exit routes planned ahead of time, in case roads are blocked. Have a "bug-out" bag containing essential ingredients to live on for 3 or 4 days. If leaving is not an option, have a plan to secure your home as best you can. You'll need to think about things such as food, water, medicine, warmth, self-defense, etc. But at this point, to do nothing is absolute lunacy!


During a major disaster, food will quickly disappear. Living for over three decades on the Gulf Coast, I can tell you with absolute certainty that whenever disaster strikes (usually an approaching hurricane, for us), food and provisions at the store sell completely out in a matter of a few hours. People panic, and within hours, you cannot find food, bottled water, ice, generators, batteries, candles, etc. In a matter of hours, every gas station in the area will be completely out of gas. Not days. Hours!

Furthermore, almost all disasters include a complete loss of electricity. The water supply is compromised. Bottled water becomes more valuable than bank accounts. Dehydration becomes a very real and present danger. I remember witnessing a man offer an ice vendor $100 for an extra bag of ice during Hurricane Ivan. My wife and I went two weeks (14 days) without electricity in the aftermath of that hurricane. Believe me, I got a taste of just how precious bottled water, ice, batteries, generators, fuel, etc., can become.

I suggest you have a supply of food and water to last at least two weeks. A month would be even better. Personally, I can live a long time on tuna fish or peanut butter. You can purchase MREs from a variety of sources, as well as "camp-style" packaged food from stores such as Academy Sports & Outdoors. Of course, bottled water is available everywhere during normal times. Stock up! Plus, I suggest you have some water purification tablets or a Katadyn water filter on hand. And, if you are able, prepare to grow your own food. Canning food is another very helpful hedge against deprivation. If your parents were like mine, this was standard operating procedure.

Get a generator. Keep a supply of fuel on hand. Stay stocked up on batteries, candles, portable lights, first aid supplies, and personal hygiene items—especially toilet paper. Trust me, during times of intense and prolonged disaster, toilet paper could become more valuable than money. I also suggest you never run out of lighters or matches. You never know when you'll need to build a fire, and during a prolonged survival situation, fire could save your life. If you live in a cold weather climate, you probably already have some sort of wood stove or fireplace.

Obviously, you need to take stock of your clothing. Do you have clothes suitable for extended outdoor activity? What about boots? During a disaster, you would trade your best suit from Neiman Marcus for a good pair of boots. Do you have gloves? Insulated underwear? What about camouflage clothing? These could become essential outerwear in the right conditions. Plus, any "bug-out" bag will need to include spare clothing.

And one more suggestion, while we're on this subject: the best resources in the world are of little use if one is physically incapable of making good use of them. In other words, GET IN SHAPE. During any kind of emergency situation, physical exertion and stamina become immensely important.


I suggest you have at least some cash on hand. Just about any and all disasters will result in banks being closed for extended periods of time. That also means credit card purchases being suspended. You need to have enough cash to be able to purchase essential goods (if they are even available) for an undetermined amount of time.

Of course, some survival gurus insist that during any cataclysmic climate, precious metals will become the only reliable currency. But when most of us are trying to feed our families and pay our bills, it is difficult to get excited about buying gold and silver. Obviously, I would never recommend that anyone jeopardize the present on the altar of the future. My parents made it through the Great Depression with canned goods and garden vegetables; gold and silver were certainly not a priority with them. And maybe it should not be with you, either?

In fact, in a disaster, what is considered a valuable commodity can change rather quickly, as the barter system takes a life of its own. What is valuable is determined by what you need and how badly you need it. In a prolonged disaster, simple things such as toilet paper, canned goods, ammunition, and clothing could become extremely valuable; while cars, video games, televisions, etc., could be reduced to junk status. In antiquity, wars were fought over things such as salt.

Speaking of cars, remember that during a prolonged "national emergency" that might involve some sort of nuclear attack or widespread civil unrest, an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) might be employed; in which case, most every late model vehicle would be completely inoperable. Accordingly, if one can keep an older, pre-computer-age vehicle in good working order, he or she might be driving the only non-government vehicle capable of going anywhere.


Needless to say, during any kind of disaster, your safety and protection will be completely up to you. If you really think that the police are going to be able to protect you during an upheaval, you are living in a dreamworld.

In both the New Orleans and Los Angeles disasters, police protection was non-existent. Lawless gangs quickly took control of the streets, and people were left to either defend themselves or swiftly become the helpless prey of violent marauders. In fact, in New Orleans, some of the policemen actually abandoned their oaths to uphold the law and joined with the criminals, turning their weapons upon the public.

Face it, folks: in any kind of disaster, you must be able to defend yourself, or you and your family will be meat for these animals of society that will quickly descend without mercy upon the unprepared, unsuspecting souls around them. This requires that you be armed! It also requires that you be skilled enough to be able to efficiently use your arms.

Therefore, I strongly suggest that you purchase firearms sufficient to keep you and your family safe, and also that you practice sufficiently to know how to proficiently use them.

Now, when it comes to a discussion of which firearms are preferable for self-defense, the suggestions are as varied as the people who proffer them. These are my suggestions:

I believe every man (along with his wife and children of adequate age) should be proficient with the following weapons: a handgun in .38 caliber or above, a .22 rifle, a center-fire hunting rifle, a semi-automatic battle rifle, and a shotgun.

My personal preference for a self-defense handgun is either a .45 ACP 1911 (either Colt or Kimber) or a .40 S&W. In the .40 caliber, my favorite is a Glock 23. In the 1911, I like the Commander size configuration. I also like the Glock 30 and 36 in .45 caliber. My wife prefers to carry a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver in the snub-nose, J-frame configuration. But this is primarily due to the reduced weight of these weapons for carry purposes. If needed, she could make a good accounting of herself with a Glock 19 in 9mm. If you are someone who has never owned and seldom fired a handgun, I recommend you buy a Glock. They are as simple as revolvers to operate, reliable, and almost indestructible. Plus, they provide increased magazine capacity, and are safe. They are also very easy to disassemble and clean.

For a .22 rifle, I really like the Ruger 10/22. For a hunting rifle, my suggestion is either a .270 or .30-06 caliber bolt-action rifle. (If I had to pick one, I'd pick the .30-06.) I prefer the Remington Model 700 BDL, but there are several fine weapons in this configuration and caliber by numerous manufacturers. For a battle rifle, I suggest an AR-15-style weapon in .223 caliber. Here I prefer a Bushmaster. (Please, I don't need to hear from all you .308 lovers out there. I love the Springfield M1A, too.) For a shotgun, I suggest a 12-gauge pump. Here I prefer a Winchester Model 1300, which is not made anymore. So, you'll probably have to choose between Mossberg and Remington.
Whatever you choose, practice with it to the point that you are able to use it proficiently. And be sure you stock up on ammunition. A gun without ammo is reduced to being either an expensive club or a cumbersome paperweight.

Spiritual Power

I firmly believe that man is created to have fellowship with his Creator-God. I really don't know how people can face the uncertain future that we currently face without the spiritual knowledge, wisdom, comfort, and power that is made available through Jesus Christ. I believe the maxim is true: "Wise men still seek Him." I strongly suggest that you seek to possess a personal relationship with God's only begotten Son.

That we are facing challenging days is a certainty. Exactly what that means is yet to be determined. I trust that some of my suggestions will help you be better prepared for what lies before us.

© 2009 Chuck Baldwin - All Rights Reserved

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