Beyond the Mayan Calendar: A deeper look into society’s fascination with the End of the World

end of the world 04 trader_1963744b.courtesy.alamy

Economists agree there is likely going to be some painful years ahead, and not one huge meltdown all taking place at once.

“What the big risk is that we’ll have a very, very prolonged period of slow growth and high unemployment,” says Michael Devereux, chair of the economics department at the University of British Columbia.

The Irish-born Devereux, who has a PhD in macroeconomics, says the key vulnerability today is in Europe, but he expects the European Central Bank to bail out the troubled financial institutions in the euro zone the same way the United States’ Federal Reserve underwrote the U.S. banks in 2008.

He says what makes times ahead difficult and uncertain is the lack of both government and corporate spending due to the huge debt constraints that Snyder points out. This lack of spending and growth causes a huge drop in demand and therefore a plunge in wealth and jobs, Devereux explained.

“That, to me, is a lot less exciting than the big fireworks and cataclysm of big collapses and things people may be predicting. Nevertheless, it’s equally as serious.”

And because of the serious state the world economy may be in, many preppers are gearing up whether it’s slow and painful times ahead or total collapse.

“Unfortunately, we live in an increasingly fragile society with government agencies that are woefully inadequate and have proven themselves again and again to let people down,” said author James Wesley Rawles, who is seen as the guru of the prepper movement, in a phone interview.

Rawles, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer, has written an international bestseller “How to Surivive the End of the World as We Know It,”  which has been dubbed the ‘preppers bible. He updates his website Survival Blog almost daily from his ranch that he describes is “somewhere west of the Rockies in the United States … surrounded by national forest.” Because his blog is seen as the go-to source for survival tips, receiving over one million unique visitors per month, Rawles prefers not to divulge his location.

“I don’t want to wake up some day and find my barnyard is full of teepees and tents and yurts and campers,” he said with a laugh.

Echoing many in the movement, Rawles chief concern is an economic collapse.

“We could see bank runs, a cascade of margin calls, stock market collapses and a derivatives market collapse,” he says.

But for Rawles there are a number of other reasons to stock up and prepare. He says we could see a number of situations that could bring down the power grid including a massive solar flare, a large-scale EMP or a hacker attack. Without power, he claims commerce would be shut down, causing chaos in the streets because of how dependent society is on electricity and the Internet.

Photo courtesy of Fabian Bromann

Photo courtesy of Fabian Bromann

Rawles says first off the key and core of preparedness is water filtration and food storage. He says food storage is so crucial because the supply chain is very vulnerable in places like Vancouver and all over North America. Stocks in grocery store shelves require long supply chains, often traveling 5,000 kilometres from places like Mexico, and many stores practice just-in-time inventory control for efficiency purposes.

Rawles says water filtration is vital, but fortunately in many parts of British Columbia there is abundant fresh water sources.

However, for those living in dryer parts such as the B.C. interior, Rawles says they would have to rely on water from open sources like ponds and streams, so it is important to acquire a good quality commercial water filter.

Rawles also urges his followers to stock up on firearms, communication and medical equipment. But he insists it is paramount to get the skills to go along with the gear.

“Owning a gun doesn’t really make you a shooter any more than owning a surfboard makes you a surfer,” Rawles says. “You need the skills to go along with the gear.”

Rawles, a self-declared Christian conservative, promotes charity and suggests his readers follow his lead and re-locate to rural areas and band together with like-minded people.

“I have a three-year supply of food for my family at the ranch,” he says. “But I don’t look at it as a three-year supply for one family, I look at that as a one-year supply for three families. Charity is crucial.”

He says with events like the recession and the Fukushima nuclear disaster, his blog’s readership has doubled in growth year after year from 2008 to 2011 with a more diverse crowd of readers.

“At 2003 most of my readers were Christian conservatives. Now nearly half my readers are left-of-centre greenies that wear Birkenstocks and who knows what god they worship,” Rawles said with a chuckle.

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