Tue, May 06, 2008 - Page 9 News List

The new trend in survivalism is community-based

Rising oil prices, global food shortages and the economic crisis are proof for many survivalists that society is on the brink of meltdown. But are their predictions all gloom and doom, or a chance to create new communities?

By Harriet Green  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

For three years, my husband has talked about taking to the hills. About buying a small farm where, with our four-year-old daughter, we can safely survive the coming storm — famine, pestilence and a total breakdown of society. I would wait for his lectures to finish, then return to my own interests. I had no time for the end of civilization. As an editor on a glossy magazine until a few months ago, I was too busy. There was always a new Anya Hindmarch bag to buy, or a George Clooney premiere to attend.

But recently, I’ve wavered. Much of what he has been predicting has come true: global economic meltdown, looming environmental disaster, a sharp rise in oil and food prices that has already led to the rationing of rice in the US and riots in dozens of countries worldwide.

Last week, the details got scarier. The UN warned of a global food crisis, like a “silent tsunami,” while OPEC predicts that oil, which broke through US$100 a barrel for the first time a few weeks ago, may soon top US$200.

In the course of an idle conversation at work last month, a colleague casually revealed that he keeps a supply of tinned food in his bedroom “just in case.” He has done this, apparently, ever since the July 7, 2005, bombings in London and the fear of global pandemics such as SARS and bird flu.

And he’s not alone. On the Internet, you’ll find numerous would-be survivalists discussing strategies: where to find a hideout, what goods to stock up on, and the merits of carrying a 48-hour survival kit. In the UK some are even wondering how to get round the country’s relatively strict laws on the possession of weapons.

If not stockpiling food, many others are growing their own, with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver urging us to turn our gardens over to food production: sales of vegetable seeds here in the UK are up 60 percent on last spring. Others still are moving toward taking their homes “off-grid,” with rainwater harvesting and solar electricity, and withdrawing their money from pensions to invest in precious metals and other time-honored securities.

I’ve started to worry. Is my family prepared for the worst? I’m reasonably nimble at the computer keyboard, and a whiz with the hairdryer, but otherwise pretty useless. I’ve barely made or mended anything in my life.

Thankfully my husband is three years ahead of me, and — with help from the many self-sufficiency manuals he’s collected — has evolved (or regressed) into a creature from the past: he’s got an allotment, has turned our garden into some kind of nursery for innumerable apple trees grown from pips (farewell, ornamental rose) and recently started knitting. He even has plans for a composting loo, in the event that water supplies fail.

BACK TO THE 1970S

This kind of survivalism is not entirely new. In the 1970s, with the threat of nuclear war in the air, government leaflets suggested we stock up on food and drink to last 14 days, and advised how to build our own fallout rooms. Some of my cousins left the UK for a nuke-free life in Australia.

Then there was the oil crisis, with associated blackouts and abbreviated working weeks. In 1975, the BBC reflected the forced move towards self-sufficiency and survivalism in two landmarks series: on a lighter note, Tom and Barbara dug up their back garden in The Good Life TV comedy series while, more apocalyptically, the drama series Survivors imagined that 90 percent of the world’s population had been wiped out by a deadly bacterium in just a few days. The series followed a few disparate survivors as they struggled to form ad-hoc communities, relearning ancient skills in order to survive.

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