I’d like to offer an honest, critical critique, of the prepper movement. Since I am by no means a seasoned prepper (sounds like a dish) I will be speaking primarily from the perspective of a curious (but detached) observer. While I myself have spent little time prepping, I can certainly see the argument for pouring some energy in this direction. Weather or not that argument sends me trailblazing into the great unknown world of prepping is yet to be seen.
Humanity faces a number of global catastrophic risks which carry the potential to slow the development of civilization, or, in a worst case scenario, could spell the complete extinction of life on Earth. These risks are broken down into anthropogenic (human induced) and non-anthropogenic (“natural”). Note that I am addressing global catastrophic risks, as opposed to regional risks. Localized events, including earthquakes, storms, wars and terrorist attacks will not play into this discussion, as they do not present a threat of global proportions (although carry the potential to trigger a total global risk). Prepping to even the slightest extent, say, keeping a flashlight on hand, can do wonders in the face of a localized disaster. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said with regards to true global catastrophe. The experts have spoken, and the global catastrophic risks are as follows (in no particular order).
Anthropogenic: global warming, artificial intelligence, biotech, experimental technology accident, nanotech, war, overpopulation and agricultural crisis
Non-Anthropogenic: asteroid impact, climate change, geomagnetic reversal, electromagnetic pulse, volcanism, extraterrestrial Invasion, mega tsunami, global pandemic, cosmic threats
Any of these events carry existential risk, that is, the potential for human extinction (or multigenerational misery). Some of these disasters have already struck numerous times, while others, sound like the plot of a science fiction movie. It’s important to recognize that any of these events are possible, weather today or in the coming centuries, and therefore pose a tangible risk. This planet has a number of massive asteroid impacts under it’s belt. Earth is no stranger to super volcanoes and climate change. Cosmic threats come with the whole “universe package”. While war, famine and pandemics are written into our history since the dawn of agriculture. These events are almost a given, so it’s fair to ask, “Why isn’t humanity a little better prepared?”. Perhaps this question underlies the entire prepping culture?
The only problem is, no one can truly prepare for a worst case scenario. I’m talking the worst of the worst. On an individual basis, or even a community level, we are currently unable to prep for any event that carries existential risk. A gray goo scenario (nanobot attack) is un-preppable. A pandemic that will eventually infect all mammals, is un-preppable. A scientific experiment gone awry, unpreparable. A gamma ray burst, un-preppable. A supermassive volcano, a large asteroid impact…not preppable.
Now there are less severe and slower developing risks in which prepping may be relevant. For instance, both anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic climate change is a fairly gradual process when compared to asteroids, volcanoes, and malfunctioning nuclear fusion reactors. It’s plausible, that somebody (much like myself and Amelia) could develop a set of agricultural methods that are so resilient, they could carry a family and it’s progeny through such an event. War, even a nuclear world war, could be a survivable scenario for the most isolated and well prepared individuals and communities. Agricultural disaster, and famine, is a totally survivable scenario for a well prepped community.
But, in my personal opinion, few preppers are actually in a position to survive even the most mild global catastrophe. The likelihood of a prepper’s survival is situational. There is no, one size fits all to disaster preparedness, and this is precisely what makes prepping such a monumental undertaking. I’d like to reiterate, Amelia and I are not in a position to survive many of the global risks mentioned above. So my critique is not from a point of expertise, just a curious observer. It is my belief that the only people poised to survive a global disaster are those relying on stone age technologies or primitive agricultural techniques. If your survival hinges on industrial imputes, you are much less likely to survive a doomsday scenario. If industry collapses, you can no longer rely on industrial products. Yes, a photovoltaic system, water pump, and shot gun can make life a little easier in the face of disaster, but inevitably, these products will break down. Without an industrial stream of products to dip into, our off grid infrastructure will slowly succumb to entropy. Off grid technologies built by the grid will not secure multi generational survival of people using such technologies, in a post apocalyptic environment. Ironically, indigenous people who may have never heard of the term “prepping” are perfectly poised to survive many global catastrophic risks. These people can survive the collapse of industry, because they have little or no contact with industry. So how then, are industrialized people supposed to prepare for global catastrophic risk? Is the only option to return to a stone age society? Or is there some alternative, a middle ground perhaps?
It is my belief (and it’s nothing more than a belief) that all risks, weather anthropogenic or not, can be mitigated with enough time and focus. Individuals can do little prepping while living under the umbrella of industry. But, an industrialized civilization as a whole, can do everything to prep for global calamity. Every anthropogenic risk we currently face, could be mitigated over night. Although it would require a potentially catastrophic restructuring of our socio economic infrastructure. But easing into a more sustainable and prudent paradigm over a few generations, might be so mild it goes unnoticed. As far as non-anthropogenic threats go, I believe that humanity can develop technologies that tackle anything this universe has to throw at us. The question is, will we give ourselves enough time to develop such technologies, before annihilating the planet in a slough of anthropogenic induces catastrophes? Unfortunately, only time can tell.
If humanity is, in theory, able to prep as a whole for global catastrophe, would it not be easier to simply arrange civilization in such a way that these disasters become so remote, as to no longer warrant discussion? This is my vote! Can we choose to meet our needs in such a way that cultivates environmental stewardship? Can we continue scientific exploration of the cosmos while continuing to foster well being here on Earth? Can humanity cultivate technological innovation while applying safeguards against technological disasters? I think most readers would agree these are all surmountable goals. So why have we yet to tackle them?
Perhaps, the most important question is not “Can we prevent our own extinction?” but rather “will we?”.