Head for the hills – the new survivalists

Published on Thursday, November 23, 2006 by The Weekend Australian Magazine

So what do you do when you’re pretty sure that the end of the world as we know it is coming soon, but your girlfriend doesn’t believe you? Sure, she might nod her head when you confront her with some of the gloomier facts, but then she shrugs and goes back to her pursuit of modern pleasures. She doesn’t like it when you talk about it to other people, either. No one likes being told their hopes and dreams are about to turn to dust.

This is the problem confronting Adelaide aircraft engineer Steve McReady. Sick of trying to warn people who won’t listen, he is bugging out. He has sold four of his seven investment properties, and has a fifth on the market. He’s putting his collection of 10 classic Triumphs and BMWs up for sale. The girlfriend begged him to keep the BM convertible, but there won’t be much use for it in the world he sees coming.

He has bought a property in New Zealand – which he says fares well in climate-change models – and once he gets his affairs in order he’ll move there to learn about growing vegies and raising chooks. He wants to build a big shed to stock with all the important things that will become difficult to obtain, such as fencing wire and Band-Aids. But he worries that he’s left it too late, and that the world might start getting ugly before he can learn how to make cheese and grow potatoes.

He would have been talking marriage with his girlfriend now if it weren’t for all this. “She’s a really nice person, great morals, but the lifestyle she aspires to is what most modern women want,” McReady explains the first time we talk on the phone. “We’re still going out and doing things together. We have talked about this issue but we really haven’t resolved it. I’m relying on time. Maybe $2-a-litre petrol by Christmas or if the United States invades Iran … Perhaps if she saw that what I’m talking about was true, she might change her attitude. But currently I can’t see it happening.”

When I meet McReady a few weeks later, they have split. He says he was unable to devote himself to her the way she needed. How could he when the calamity ahead colours his every waking thought? His whole future has spun off its steady track since he first picked up a document from a colleague’s desk about the end of the oil age. At 44, he had worked hard to be able to talk about early retirement. He was going to develop an industrial block, rent out two factory units and use another to tinker with his cars. But he’s sold the block now because in a future without cheap oil to power the modern way of life – and therefore without cheap food, without cheap anything – he can’t see much call for industrial blocks. He also can’t see much use for
aeroplanes, so he sold his half-share in one of those, too.

He’s well aware that the economy is booming, unemployment is low, the sun is shining. Surely the system is working?

“This is what a peak looks like,” he says. “That’s where the economists and cornucopians get it wrong. They don’t see that for every bright day there’s going to be a grey day.”

Sober and serious, McReady is part of a new wave of survivalists making plans for big trouble. Whereas once it was nuclear holocaust, big-government paranoia or religious rapture that motivated such people, now it is more likely to be climate change, energy shortages and economic collapse. This story is not about whether what they think is true, but more about the social phenomena of what they’re doing about it. Most never discuss their beliefs with friends and colleagues because they’re frightened of ridicule. But they are getting ready for a world morphed into “Argentina on a very bad day” or plunged into a never-ending depression, or famine, or, worst-case scenario, Mad Max IV and the die-off of billions of people.

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One Response to “Head for the hills – the new survivalists”

  1. Kathy says:

    Dennis,
    Good article! I see a lot of myself and Bruce in here. Many of the things that are motivating us today were mentioned. Good to know we aren’t the only ones sharing this thought about where the world is heading and taking the steps to prepare for a very different looking future!!

    -Kathy