In the last few weeks I have had no fewer than four conversations about the impending apocalypse. Not ironic conversations, either. (Well, one of them involved zombies, but the others were in earnest.) One of my friends has a plan for what to do if America annexes Canada. Another is trying to work out how to feed her family with what she can grow in her backyard.
We are all serious. We all believe that the world is going to change drastically in the next twenty to fifty years, and it's by no means clear that the changes will go smoothly. We face climate change, a crisis in the food distribution networks, a global pandemic, peak oil, economic collapse, and even (this one is new!) loss of electrical service due to a massive solar storm. There's a palpable sense among my peer group that we're living in a fantasy, that the life we live is too good to last. We've built an edifice so high, so fragile and so glorious that it is bound to come tumbling down.
Does anyone else feel this way? Is it just me and my weird friends? Admittedly we all tend to be overthinkers, we are all a little fringey and cynical and mistrustful of common knowledge and received wisdom. The mainstream media seems oblivious: articles in the Globe only occasionally mention climate change, apart from the articles on climate change off in the "Science" ghetto. There was fear of a flu pandemic a few years ago, but after it died down no-one mentioned the danger again until this latest outbreak of swine flu, despite the fact that the risk of a flu pandemic never actually changed. As for the food thing, no-one seems to be acting on the fact that our food production and distribution system is a house of cards, apart from a few urban foodies who are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a share in a nearby farm. There doesn't seem to be a meaningful political response to any of these threats, perhaps because the time-frame is so vague, so unfittable into four-year terms.
Ever since the 9/11 / blackout / SARS conflagration of debacles the Government has been encouraging us to have an emergency preparedness kit containing enough food, water, flashlights, blankets and medical supplies to last 72 hours. That's a good start, but that's so not the scale of emergency I'm worrying about. I'm talking weeks or months or years of upheaval followed by an entirely new way of life.
So what am I doing? Well, mainly just worrying, and speculating. What's gonna happen if... the power goes out? How long before Toronto cuts down all its famous trees for heat and cooking? What if... Canada is deluged by climate refugees? How many people will we have to share our 2700 square foot of land with in order to live sustainably? What if... there's a flu epidemic? Will the grocery store shelves be empty? Should I buy more flour?
We've done all the major things we can afford to do. We live centrally so we don't need a car. Just by sheer luck we happen to live in the middle of one of the best patches of arable land in Canada, so provided they don't build McMansions all over it we should be well-placed for a mainly-local-food diet. We have a tiny house which is cheap to heat and stays pretty cool in summer. We're trying to grow our own vegetables. One day we'll get some solar panels so we aren't entirely dependent on the electrical grid.
But we're not that crazy! We're not stockpiling food, or medicine, or seeds, or guns. We're not going off the grid. We're not building a bunker. It's hard for me to discern what's too crazy. I was wondering if it would be worth learning how to salt-cure meat, in case the power goes off when we have a freezer full of beef. But then I'd have to stockpile a lot of salt, and that seems to be beyond the too-crazy mark. On the other hand I do intend to find out how to purify water so we can drink the water from the rain barrel if the taps dry out.
Sometimes I feel stupid, worrying about this stuff. Other people don't seem to. What if everything turns out fine? Won't I look silly then? But stupid doesn't begin to describe how I'll feel if something does happen and I'm not prepared, at least as prepared as I can be. In the meantime, life goes on; I shave my legs and get my hair cut and sing and take my children to school. I carry on. I bet you can't even tell I'm crazy.