You're Not Going to Make It
I read about this one family...
They were tired of society. They thought civilization was unraveling. They wanted to live off the grid. Authorities found their mummified remains a few months later.
The family died from exposure and malnutrition.
They didn't make it.
A while back, a prepper tried to ride out an arctic blast with canned food and survival gear. He didn't realize his electric can opener wasn't going to work until after the power had gone out.
He was helpless.
Prepping and homesteading have entered the mainstream over the last few years, helped by doomsday shows along with a growing sense of dread about the future. A lot of people have no idea what it's about.
They think they're living off the grid.
None of us are truly living off the grid. We take it for granted. We watch homesteaders and bushcraft masters post videos about living in the woods in huts, but we don't see all the production that goes into making it look fun and simple. We don't think about where we'd go to the bathroom. We don't think about how we'd filter our water. We don't think about what we'd do without all these survival tools made in a factory somewhere.
There's nothing wrong with watching bushcraft videos and fantasizing about life in a mudhole. It only becomes a problem when millions of people become convinced they can all do it, and they forget that their mudhole isn't going to have bluetooth. If we had any idea what living off the grid was like, I think a lot of people would be trying a lot harder to protect it.
Prepping can get you through an emergency. It can get you through a disaster. It can get you through shortages and supply chain problems. It's not designed for life on an uninhabitable planet.
We need to talk about this, because a lot of newbie preppers and bunker babies seem to think it's possible.
If you know what you're doing, you're probably not going to die making some rookie mistake. You could build a little cabin out in the woods with a solar power system, a root cellar, a rain harvesting system, a well, a composting toilet, and a small farm. You'd be okay for a while. It would still cost a lot. You would still need the luxury of time to get it all set up.
You still wouldn't make it.
There's people out there who know how to make their own batteries. They know how to take a car apart. They know how to build a solar power system without any help. They know how to dig an earth shelter.
They won't make it either.
In Texas in the 1950s, it didn't rain for seven years. People barely had enough water to rinse their dishes. Dust storms and heat waves brought life to a standstill. Those kinds of droughts lie in our future.
I've often daydreamed about having a cabin in the woods where my family can go as the unwinding of global industrial civilization accelerates. It's ironic that homesteading now evokes a sense of privilege. Rural hipsters want to homestead like their great grandparents, but they also want the comfort of the grid, along with its hospitals and drivable roads.
They like indoor plumbing.
The original homesteaders of the 1860s got their land for dirt cheap, even free. They filed claims under the Homestead Act. All they had to do was promise to live on the land and "improve it." There was a small registration fee. That was it. Now, nobody just gives you land anymore.
Talk about privilege...
Of course, the original homesteaders didn't have an internet where they could look things up. They didn't have indoor plumbing. They didn't have central heating. They didn't have hospitals where they could go if they fell and broke their arm. They didn't have antibiotics. They knew a simple harsh truth. If you truly lived off the grid, then you also died off the grid.
Most of us aren't ready for that.
Some of us have delved into prepping out of necessity, as a hedge against a world on fire. The more I've learned, the more I've come to an uncomfortable conclusion. It's no match for climate change.
It's not going to save you.
A rain harvesting system can't help if it doesn't rain for seven years. You're not going to hide from wildfires in a bunker.
You're not going to wait out social collapse in a cabin in the woods. You're not going to grow food if it's raining microplastics. You're not going to live off those emergency food kits, either.
Look at the sodium.
Your solar panels and batteries will eventually need replacing.
You can't smelt your own silicone.
You're not going to shoot your way through the apocalypse. There's always someone with a bigger gun and a better aim. There won't be an end to the number of hungry families who want your stuff and don't share your warm fuzzy view of humanity. Even if you killed them all, you'd have to bury them somewhere, and probably not next to your victory garden.
I've done the survival calculus.
You can't store 20 years of food in your home. You can't protect it from the elements. You can't build a bunker on an uninhabitable planet. Even if you did, someone would take it from you.
At any rate, you probably aren't going to die from famine or thirst if you're living in the first world. You're probably going to die from heat stroke. You're probably going to die from a disease. You're probably going to die from a hospital acquired infection. You're probably going to die from a heart attack or cancer from all the toxins you don't even know you're ingesting.
Eight billion people can't live off the grid.
We tried that with a far smaller global population. It didn't work. That many people can only live in societies where we carefully manage our resources, including food, water, and medicine.
Once you've constructed a network of people to provide all of each other's needs, you've basically built... a grid.
Look at history. People formed cities and societies because they got tired of living and dying off the grid. The grid is a wonderful thing when it's not run by kleptocrats.
It's good to be ready for emergencies.
It's good to have food and water for yourself and your neighbors. It's good to have a backup power source. It's good to know how to change a tire. It's good to know how to get through a heat wave without air conditioning. It's good to know how to prepare for a storm or a flood. It's good to have alternate transportation. It's good to have outdoor camping skills.
It's good to have matches and a compass.
It's good to know first aid.
It's good to know how to garden. It's good to be okay eating rice and beans every meal without complaining. It's good to know just how much you can depend on yourself, and the limits to your own resilience.
The more I've learned about it, and the more I've read into the scope of our oncoming climate dystopia, one simple truth has been waiting down at the bottom. The best kind of prepping is emotional.
You aren't going to escape.
This disastrous summer has made one thing painfully clear. Nowhere on earth is safe from the consequences of climate change. If it's not wildfires, it's the smoke from the wildfires. If it's not drought, it's floods. You can build a community, but you also have to remember that it's hard to get along with people. They can be irritating, even when they're not batshit crazy. All we can do is be ready, and then be ready for when it's not enough.
One day, it won't.
You will die.
None of us are guaranteed a quick and painless exit from life. None of us are entitled to go peacefully in our sleep.
As for all the fantasy survivalists out there who play commando on the weekends and then stop at Chick-fil-A on the way home...
If you think you're going to defect from the social contract but still get to enjoy all the benefits of society, I have bad news.
You're not going to make it.