Not Thriving but Surviving Challenging Times

By Cam Mather

It’s been over 2 months since Super Storm Sandy hit New York and on the news recently they showed some residents who are only now moving back into their homes.

I watched “Rock Centre” on NBC just after Hurricane Sandy. Most of the show consisted of interviews with people on Staten Island, or in New Jersey, or anywhere in the huge swath of the most populated part of the U.S. that was in Hurricane Sandy’s bull’s eye. It’s kind of ironic when you think about it. Of all the places, the super storm picked one of the most populated parts of the U.S. to make landfall. And just days before the election. Kind of makes you think.

As we watched the news coverage during the storm Michelle kept commenting on how disconcerting it is to watch people in such stress. And these were not the type of people you’re used to seeing in distress on the news. These are people who live near the richest city on the planet. People who live in the richest country on the planet.

My first reaction was “Come on, how hard would it have been to have been prepared for this?!” I mean as long as your house wasn’t swept away in the storm surge, this shouldn’t have been that big a deal. You should always have lots of food and water at your home. You should have flashlights and candles. If you own a home, you must have a level of income that would have allowed you to make some preparations. And you know what? You could have forgone that trip to Vegas last year and put the money you gambled away into a generator. Then you wouldn’t be on the news screaming at ConEdison to get the power back on, because you know power grids are pretty complex and this storm threw a big monkey wrench into the whole process.

Reading my book “Thriving During Challenging Times” would have helped people prepare for this storm. Of course, even despite the best preparations, you might only be able to “get by” in challenging times, rather than thrive during them.

Then I started thinking about how governments allocate resources to these kinds of disasters. As someone who lives almost completely independently in terms of food and energy it’s easy to fall into the Ayn Rand/libertarian mode of “yup, you’re on your own baby, buck up and get yourself together”. But then I start thinking of how much money the government spends on the military. I loved Ron Paul’s response in the presidential debates to how much he felt the US should be spending on foreign aid. He is unequivocal… none. That includes Israel – they don’t need our money.

Can you imagine if the government took all the military money, or even a fraction of the Pentagons’ $650 Billion budget and put it into FEMA? I guess those people in Staten Island had a point. The U.S. Government got money to victims of Hurricane Katrina in 10 days. To victims of Hurricane Irene it took 12 days. I think they were 70 days and counting and still no money was flowing to New Jersey.

Or what about the money the government used to backstop the banks? Or to bail out the automotive industry? The government has lots of money, or at least it spends lots of money. It had lots of great rationalization to save the big banks in terms of the effect on everyone if they collapsed. But it’s a moral hazard whatever way you look at it. If the banks know they’re ‘too big to fail,’ they take more risks than they should because they know Mom and Pop will bail them out.

But then I think, well, if the government rushes to everyone’s assistance when they choose to remain in the areas they should have evacuated, isn’t that a moral hazard? You tell me to leave, but I know the National Guard will be here to help me out if things go wrong. Apparently I’m a conflicted personality.

My wife is pretty stoic about stuff. Stuff just falls right off her back. But twice she mentioned how disturbing she found those TV images of people in trouble. At one point she commented that she had this feeling of dread, a premonition of this being the way things will go in the future. Holy crap, for my ray of sunshine to be talking like this is not a good thing.

So we got inspired and decided to write a new book called “The Sensible Prepper: Practical Tips for Building Resilience and Emergency Preparedness.” I’m using some of the ideas from “Thriving During Challenging Times” but am going to make it a little more immediate, more urgent. In 2009 after the economic collapse and the reality of peak oil hitting, it seemed to me that people needed to come up with a 5-year plan for personal resilience. This summer with the record breaking heat, the drought that continues and may close shipping on the Mississippi, the tornadoes and that Superstorm that affected almost a third of U.S., I think it is more urgent than ever for people to make plans. You need a “bug out” bag to grab when you’re told to evacuate before the wildfire/hurricane/tornado/flood/(fill in the blank with the natural disaster that hits your neighbourhood). You need a water supply until the water system is restored. You need power. You need food, because if you ask people on Staten Island, you can’t count on FEMA. Not for a few days anyway.

I’m going to use the book to increase our preparedness here at Sunflower Farm. We can go 6 – 12 months with no changes to our lifestyle if no vehicle comes in or goes out of our driveway (okay, we’ll run out of cream for our coffee which would be a bit of a bummer) I still have to try and make sure I’ve got a plan for our daughters. They live in the city. They need bug out bags. They will roll their eyes at me when I deliver them but eye rolling by my daughters hasn’t stopped me yet. We’ve got a new project! Time to start researching! And reasons to hit the Reuse Stores. And distract myself from the chaos that is modern life.

10 Responses to “Not Thriving but Surviving Challenging Times”

  • Nicole, that cow needs to be bred every year in order to have milk. And something needs to be done with the calf if you’re not into butchering.

    I don’t know that bug out bags are the answer for us rural folks. More and better water storage systems are for certain part of the answer though. Cam, if I were you I would look into building a 10,000 gallon cistern. Or two. You may have drought in summer, but you still have snow in the winter. Capturing some of that would be on the top of my list of things to prepare.

    I would definitely buy a book on preparedness if you wrote one. I still would like the last one, just have to convince DH he needs it 🙂

    My personal gut feeling is that there are going to be a large percentage of people who just will continue to refuse to get it, no matter how quickly or slowly things slide down. The only thing I can do is make sure I prepare well enough for us, our children, and work on getting my neighbors prepared as much as I can. Other than that I’m not sure there’s anything to be done for those who apparently have a death wish (evidenced by their deliberate refusal to prepare in the most basic way).

  • Glee:

    That’s a good article, Cam. I have found that being prepared is a good cure for the feeling of helplessness I have about the world situation – Global warming, disasters, shootings, wars, economic collapse – there’s a lot of “churn” going on in the world. At 70 I am not at my peak ability to cope with such things. I find that preparations give me a sense of calm. I have always kept a larder stocked with emergency food. I have much of the stuff I need to survive in place on my own if it comes to that. I don’t have a bug out bag. Exactly what is that? Is it a back pack with stuff for a week-end or a survival pack for wilderness living? I have important documents in an easy access place so that I could grab them, and I have a memory stick with all my computer files on them. I could be packed and out of here in a half hour, but it would be a big help to have a sort of checklist.

    I look forward to reading your new book.

  • Cat:

    Get a goat for your cream. They are excellent multipurpose farm animal foragers that will keep your brush eaten back and keep the grass clipped around the garden. Milking takes minutes, they are low maintainance. Please don’t regeritate stuff from your old books, there is plenty of info online to copy.

  • Musia:

    Can’t wait to read it -during the ice storm in 98 I saw first hand as I was stuck Montreal which got hit bad hubby was in alberta – folks with newborn babes had no heat ,people died as they used BBQ’s to try to stay warm and got CO2 poisoning. This in a country that has freezing winter 4-7 mos of the year -you can freeze to death at minus 5 or – -40 Celsius. Since then we bought the generator, we have flour for 6 mos, 5 cases of bottled water, cases of chocolate milk juice 6 mos worth of pasta a d bottled juice

    For bug out we have had it ready but we call it ‘camping equip’ so we could leave to go camping within 1/2 hour

    Please keep us up today’s with book as I will tell all my friends out west and east about it once its out as those who lived through some of our winter blizzards and ice storms have learned our lesson

    Keep writing your great stuff

  • bunkie:

    great post cam! we started a bug out bag last year. still working on it.

  • I’m in your hip pocket. I have already been pulling together stuff for a bug out bag but it is hard to know what to put in it. What do you prep for? I think economic collapse is a definite and global warming is an over whelming positive since I believe we have passed the point of no return. A bug out bag wont help there. Here where we live earthquakes are a real possibility and our property has a major fault running along one edge and since we live on an island flooding or a tsunami are definitely something to think about. Would love to be in your situation but even you have a calamity brewing in your backyard. Water and a drought. Rain catchment will only go so far. Will be waiting to see what you write about.

  • Baloghsma:

    We just finished putting in an off-grid system for our small farm. It has taken planning and sticking to the program to get it done. Many people I know think I am off on a planetary diversion to put so much into our 105 acres of paradise. But, we decided that with the “writing on the wall” in the US and NO PERSONAL INSENTIVES to preparation for disaster or financial collapse from government sources, it’s our land and we take responsibility.

    Read the January 8, 2013 edition of the Kingston Whig Standard, “A ticking time bomb”, and you will find more compelling motivation to think ahead!


  • Working it, working it!

    Hope to have our bug-out bags ready by end of January.

  • Nicole:

    I think the lesson is your should get a cow! Than we could have super fresh cream no matter what and also, a cow!

  • Gerrit Botha:

    Right on! That’s a great idea; I look forward to buying it and learning more.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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