Dewy Lawrence is owner and manager of Ziptac Outdoor Equipment in Bargo in NSW’s Southern Highlands. His business has been growing rapidly since he founded it two years ago. He has around 2000 customers a month and about 30 per cent of them are prepping for disaster. Quite a few are high-income urban professionals.
Solar flares, asteroid hits, nuclear war, terrorism, pandemics, revolutions and even a potential zombie apocalypse are top of the fears list for many people involved in the growing “prepper movement”.
The most expensive escape bunkers on the market such as Vivios Europa One in Germany, presume that at some stage the occupants can re-emerge armed to the teeth and driving tanks to embark on a mission and restock their supplies.
But as more and more cities declare a climate emergency, including just this week deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s headquarters of Wagga Wagga, we bet that back of mind the prospect of global heating is also increasingly stoking their agenda.
Certainly a recent report, Existential Climate-Related Security Risk: a Scenario Approach, published by The National Centre for Climate Restoration would agree.
Authors David Spratt and Ian Dunlop stress that mass mobilisation is required now to avert the total collapse of society as we know it, within the next few decades.
They argue for a Marshall-plan style approach where we urgently shift to a low-carbon industrial system.
The US Defence Department and the Australian Defence Department are both putting climate change impacts on the danger radar.
The report suggests the military and security forces should provide leadership. In some ways’ this is already the case. The US Defence Department and the Australian Defence Department have both put climate change squarely on the present danger radar.
However, in the absence of buy-in from either our respective governments, it is hard to see it happening.
OK, we declare a climate emergency – then what?
The question for councils and others who declared a climate emergency is, “then what?”
Who’s coming to the rescue when we dial the existential 000?
Many preppers probably won’t help because some are still in denial about climate and just want to run away.
Running away with a stockpile of things and skills to help them, though.
Nick Sais, a leader of Australian Preppers, who is profiled in the Radio National Series The Apocalypse has a plan that involves having enough gear on hand to get to a safe place with a cache of food, weapons, tools and other survival gear.
Here are some fun acronyms involved in navigating prepper-world:
- The “bug out bag” (BOB), a portable kit of essentials that can be grabbed on the way out the door – a bit like a birthing bag for the apocalypse
- The Get Home Bag (GHB) which hard-core preppers carry pretty much everywhere in case the apocalypse happens while they are doing the shopping or at work
- The SHTF (Shit Hits the Fan) kits, which you can even build up through a monthly mail order. A bit like one of those knitting, quilting or Dora the Explorer cookware series
- WTSHTF (When The Shit Hits the Fan), because apocalypse of some kind appears to be inevitable
You can train for this thing
There are training courses for middle class American women run by paramilitary guys teaching survival in bombed out ruins in Bosnia, there is even a training course for surviving the zombie apocalypse in the US, because the organisers believe if you can survive that, you can survive anything.
The military theme is rife in online retail shopfronts, forums and organisations, complete with weapons, bullet proof vests and ammunition.
Survival gear includes a handy lock picks and petrol siphons so you can thieve freely, while fleeing disaster
Then there’s the real estate play
Take Vivos, the multi-million dollar property entity that is developing a range of bunker projects including the massive x-Point in South Dakota, designed to provide a refuge for around 5000 people who can afford the escape route.
And tools to let you thieve freely
Its retail offer includes nifty items to let you thieve freely on the way to the hideout. How about some lock picks and petrol siphons to help you on your way?
Not all the prepper retailers take the guns’n’ammo approach.
The Fifth Estate spoke with Dewy Lawrence, owner and manager of Ziptac Outdoor Equipment in Bargo, located between Campbelltown and the Southern Highlands.
He says his business has grown rapidly since he founded it two years ago. He has around 2000 customers a month and about 30 per cent are prepping for disaster, with a growing number of these high-income urban professionals.
His customers envisage bushfires, severe weather events, and for a small number, an end-of-the-world apocalypse.
The most popular prepper items include food, cooking gear and equipment fuelled either by gas or powered by solar-rechargeable batteries that will work off-grid. Almost all electrical equipment including torches, lanterns, radios and other gear is now rechargeable through a USB connection to a portable solar charging unit. Water purification technologies are also a steady seller.
Asked what the three most important things are any prepper needs to have, he says the most important “are not actually things”.
“Skills are number one – the skills to look after themselves.”
Then comes water, food and shelter.
The climate escapers driving real estate markets
Some people are taking a less Bear Grylls approach, and simply purchasing property in areas they think are less prone to cyclone, bushfire, extreme heat and sea-level rise.
New Zealand was a popular choice for some of Silicon Valley’s tech billionaires, until the Ardern Government tightened the rules on foreign purchases, and Tasmania has seen an influx of buyers looking to escape the Australian mainland’s rising heat.
In the USA, an expert on urban development and climate change adaptation, Harvard University lecturer, Jesse Keenan, was getting so many emails asking him to advise on the best place to relocate to in terms of minimising climate change impacts, he spun an entire marketing campaign for Duluth, Minnesota off the back of Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Index ranking of 270 US cities.
Prepping is a marketing angle
For one Australian concrete water tank manufacturer, there is a whole marketing angle not only around climate-change adaptation and readiness but also how their tanks can be used by preppers to store food or even live in to survive catastrophe. The comprehensive preppers information even explains what foods are ideal for storing and what type of glass jars will work best.
But is there anybody out there?
We can see something of a theme in the prepper domain, of an individualistic or small-scale clique approach to survival. None of the prepper forums or websites we researched focused on the collective survival of the majority of us through working together. A major problem you’d have to agree.
The climate apartheid
Late last month, a UN report warned the world faces a “climate apartheid risk”, as the wealthy seek to escape the impacts without altering the habits that are creating the emergency, leaving the majority of the world’s most vulnerable communities bearing the brunt of the emergency.
UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, says even in the best-case scenario of a 1.5°C temperature increase by 2100, extreme temperatures in many regions will leave disadvantaged populations food insecure, with less incomes and worsening health.
Many will have to choose between starvation and migration.
“Perversely, while people in poverty are responsible for just a fraction of global emissions, they will bear the brunt of climate change, and have the least capacity to protect themselves.”
“We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”
What we can learn from imagining a zombie apocalypse
According to an Australian researcher who has looked at how to best survive a zombie apocalypse, the individualistic approach is not the soundest strategy, whether the threat is a flesh-eating pandemic that turns people into zombies or climate change-related disasters.
The University of Melbourne’s Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety was approached by Xbox Australia in 2018 to model how cities across Australia and New Zealand would respond to a zombie attack.
The researchers, Professor Greg Foliente and Dr Benny Chen, ranked Darwin the highest on the Zombie Survival Index.
People really want to know about the zombie apocalypse
Professor Foliente, who is a specialist in infrastructure engineering, extreme events, sustainability in construction and property sector energy-efficiency, tells The Fifth Estate the research draws the highest readership of any he has produced.
He says in the scenario they were presented with, zombies infected with a flesh-eating organism were more powerful than any individual. The key to survival starts with detection of a zombie, followed by overpowering them as a group.
All the resources need to be dedicated to that end, he says.
If that fails, running away is the next-best solution.
“You either overpower them early or stay away,” he says.
The crux is zombie attack needs to be tackled as a group problem.
“If you are not united in your response, it is not a good thing.”
The whole zombie attack strategy is a useful metaphor for responding to the climate emergency.
Foliente says it is a similar thing, in that if the community steps up in collective action and decision -making, it is possible to win the day.
But if we do nothing, we get defeated, he says.
While it is a “valid response” to seek to isolate oneself from the rest of society because it is the source of the problem – as bunker-down proponents like Vivio suggest – there is a question there as to how successful isolating will be in the long-term, Foliente says.
“The problem is likely to just become worse, and worse and worse while you are in isolation.”
As a community, he says the first step is to avoid exposure to the specific hazards the climate emergency presents. For costal communities, this means engineering, planning and policy moves to reduce exposure to sea-level rise and storm impacts.
For an inland community like Wagga Wagga, he suggests drought-resilience may be key.
Resilience planning at the community level means allowing the physical infrastructure to be helpful, and also anticipating breaches of that infrastructure and planned-in operational resilience in event of a breach.
Not all climate emergencies are or will be the same. Some events will have major impacts, but there are decades to prepare for them, such as sea-level rise. Others like tsunamis, cyclones and bushfires may have a lead time of hours or days.
Food, water and shelter are fundamental for the community survival kit.
The first level solutions are the design solutions, adaptive measures to address the “things we can plan for”.
The next level of resilience is to adjust the way we operate our essential systems such as power and water.
“If that breaks, the need is to bring the community in as part of the solution – the whole of society,” Foliente says. “Everyone ideally will be helping each other out.”
As to whether some of the self-sufficiency approaches gaining popularity such as rainwater harvesting, solar PV and battery systems and backyard food growing have value in terms of emergency survival, Foliente says there is a “balance” between those sustainable living concepts and the need for wider adaptation and resilience.
“Anything you can source locally like food, water or electricity is helpful.”
But it is both designed-in community-wide redundancy and thinking of self-sufficiency in balance that may be most useful.
Currently, popular opinion is divided on whether there really is a climate emergency, and to what degree it even matters. For those not already affected, there is a tendency to wait until impacts are felt, Foliente says.
“That’s why we can’t get a coherent response yet.”
In the absence of “100 per cent agreement” it is still time to take action, he says.
Unlike outside threats like killer asteroids hurtling towards Earth, which NASA tips might get too close for comfort in October 2022, Foliente says the forces of climate denial are like the “enemy among us”.
“It may be human behaviour in the end that brings catastrophe.”
To gamify the situation, we probably need to ask ourselves, how are we going to band together and overpower the carbon zombies? The state of emergency is being declared, what’s in our collective BOB?