During the height of the 'Goldilocks economy' of the mid-1990s, Mat Stein wrote When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency, a master compendium of do-it-yourself preparation skills.
Fast-forward to today's Great Recession, drought-stricken, $100+ oil, post-Katrina, post-Fukushima world — many are realizing the prudence of taking basic precautionary steps to reduce their vulnerability to whatever the future may bring. Whether you're concerned about the fallout from a breakdown of today's weakened global economy, or simply want to be better able to deal with the aftermath of a natural disaster if you live in an earthquake/hurricane/flood/wildfire/tornado-prone part of the world, the personal resiliency measures Mat recommends make sense for almost everyone to consider.
In this interview, Mat begins with his universal advice for developing basic preparedness — a 72-hour kit covering the basics needs for living, an emergency plan for your family, lining up local and out-of-town contacts, etc. — and discusses specifics on what gear to procure and steps to take in unexpected emergencies. For more protracted periods without access to central services, many more situations are covered in his books and at his website.
It's important to note that Mat isn't a doomer bent on fanning fears of a zombie apocalypse (though those concerned about social collapse will find much utility in his work). Like Chris, he believes that our current fossil fuel-driven, hyper-consumptive, and over-leveraged way of life is not sustainable. So before the unsustainable, by definition, stops – it's best to invest now in developing the skills and habits that will serve us in this new future; one sure to place a higher premium on self-reliance.
On the Rule of Threes
The Rule of Threes give you an indication of, in a crisis time, where your energies really should lie.
The Rule of Threes basically says:
- If you've got 3 seconds without blood flow, meaning a heart attack or critical injury, then without blood flow to the brain in 3 seconds you pass out.
- If you have 3 minutes without oxygen flow — either you aren't breathing or you don't have access to oxygen — you're out.
- If you have 3 hours without proper shelter or clothing in extreme weather – extreme heat or extreme cold, you get hypothermic or hyperthermic — you start to die or lose your ability to think and function.
- If you have 3 days without water and you have to be physically active and it is fairly hot outside, then people start to die. Water is extremely critical.
- Most people in America could live at least 3 weeks — and many of us far longer than that — without food. You may not be happy. You may not feel good. You might not have a lot of energy. You could do it.
On the scale of things, that gives you an immediate priority list of what things you must address and deal with. Obviously the life-threatening things have to be dealt with first.
On the Approach to Developing Resilience
There are three big buckets of preparedness. There is stuff you have. There is stuff you know. There are the skills and things you can do. This is also including your mindset.
The most important is the skill set, including the mindset. You take that with you wherever you go.
A lot of people have plenty of money. By all means, gather stuff. Gather supplies. Store food. Have some beans, Band-Aids and bullets — the three B's. Beans means your food and supplies. Band-Aids means medical skills and medical knowledge, medical supplies. Bullets means the ability to protect yourself. Again, that is not really my bag, but it's a necessary evil.
Get the stuff. Even if you are not really great at using some of these things, you can trade. You can barter and you can share. You can team up with people. The lone wolf in a collapse situation will probably not do very well, unless he is super-MacGyver. Someone who is meaner, tougher and better organized will come along and take all his cool stuff away from him. It is really in groups that people will do better. Think medieval times, castles, villages and groups. There was safety in numbers. People have skills and talents. It really takes a village to pull through.
Think about your strengths. Naturally if you can develop all three areas, great. If not, if you are stronger in one, focus on that. If you do not have money, focus on your skill set. If you are likeable and get along well, if you have great skills and talents, then you will probably manage pretty well. Maybe you are older and you are not very strong you cannot do much. If you have good financial reserves, then you can stock up on things. You will be able to team up with a whole bunch of people. They will be thankful and grateful for you, if and when that day comes when that stuff is needed.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Mat Stein (59m:45s):
Chris Martenson: Welcome to another Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, of course, Chris Martenson.
Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Mat Stein. Mat is an MIT-trained mechanical engineer who specializes in the design and construction of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly homes. He is also the author of a bestselling book that has a place of honor on my bookshelf, When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency. It is one of the most practical and useful field guides for what to do when our centralized systems suddenly are not available to us, maybe because of a storm-induced power outage or, someday, possibly due to an oil shortage. The list is endless in this day and age.
The knowledge contained within his book and several of Mat's other excellent publications are relevant to anyone looking to live with resilience, whatever the future may bring. That includes his newest book, just out in November 2011, entitled When Disaster Strikes.
Yes, his writings seek to help people navigate difficult times, and Mat is a very hopeful person with a cheerful outlook, as describes many people listening to this podcast, including myself. Mat, I am thrilled to have you here. Welcome.
Mat Stein: Thank you, Chris. It is a real pleasure to be on your show today.
Chris Martenson: Great. Let's start at the very outside. I like to start there. Trained as an engineer, you looked at our highly complex, just-in-time, economic and technical methods and practices. You decided to write a book about the ways in which technology might fail us. At heart, you have trained a cautionary eye toward modern technology when I might say most people's faith in the same is hitting new highs with every release of the next generation Smartphone. What risks do you see in all this technological complexity that a casual consumer might be missing?
Mat Stein: Well, a while back I wrote an article called "The Perfect Storms: Six Trends Converging on Collapse." You and I and most of us grew up in high school. We drew graphs in Algebra class or Geometry, or whatever. If a graph is headed steeply for the bottom, then we know that unless you do something significantly different, it is going to hit the bottom. The problem with our complex world right now is that we have six major trends and many more complex sub-trends that are all headed for the bottom. We have not successfully changed course on any one of these six trends. Logic says, if we keep this up, if we keep doing business as usual, just what we have been doing all along, that these trends will hit the wall and it will collapse the world as we know it. Society will fall apart.
Now on top of that, we live in an extremely complex world. Nowadays there is only an average of three days’ of food in any city in the Western world at a particular moment in time. It used to be that there would be a warehouse with a month’s worth of food, or multiple warehouses, around each city. Now, with computers and the Internet and just-in-time deliveries, basically what you are going to eat next week is on the truck being shipped from somewhere across the country this week. It does not take a real genius to realize that with something complex like that, that is operating on just in time, all it takes is one little glitch and all of a sudden things are backed up for a long time. Nothing is getting there and we are in trouble.
A huge glitch that is certainly a big possibility in terms of major game-changing events is if we had an electromagnetic event, such as an extreme solar storm, which we have had twice in the last 160 years. It is just that the last one was 90 years ago, in 1921. If that one happened today, it would shut down the grid over most of the world. Most the world's nuclear power plants would start burning up. We have multiple individual events that could instantly grind civilization to a halt. We have these long-term trends, which actually are not very long term. They are relatively short-term, like collapsing sometime within the next few decades. If we do not do something major, they are going to shut down the world as we know it.
Chris Martenson: Now these six big trends, what are these?
Mat Stein: Okay – just real briefly, and then we could talk about each individually if you wish – the first one is climate change. I like to call it global weirding; some call it global warming. We are seeing the evidence of a much less stable climate on our planet. We are seeing the evidence that if the trends that scientists predict are correct, the world's main bread baskets will not be producing much food within the next few decades, as they start to fry and cook in a changing world. That is number one.
Number two is a peak in world oil production. As our world goes around today, oil is the number-one energy producing and energy dense material. It is easy to pump and move around to do our cars. We basically go to the easy-to-get and cheap, relatively clean oil. Now we are doing things like drilling for oil five miles underneath the Gulf and in the far north Arctic. We are fracking. We are horizontal drilling. We are doing all kinds of hoops just to keep the world's oil supply running as it is – basically to keep production flat.
Now, for the last 100 years we have been increasing oil production about 10% a year. That has fueled an amazing growth in the industries of the world. Right now, we are struggling just to keep it flat. I do not think we are ever going to do much better than that. As things start to decline really badly, it will cost a huge amount to get the remaining oil out. We will either produce less because it costs so much, or we will spend so much money… We have already seen what that has been doing to the economy.
Chris Martenson: Right.
Mat Stein: Number three is collapse of the world's oceans. It turns out that 11 of 15 of the world's major ocean fisheries are either already collapsed or in danger of short-term collapse. We have acidification. When we burn our fossil fuels and it rains, it makes carbolic acid. It goes in the rivers. That goes in the oceans. We are also collapsing coral reefs, which are like the rainforests of the oceans and part of the lungs of the planet. They keep our atmosphere livable. We are killing the plankton. Since 1950, according to a British scientific study, we have lost 73% of the world's zooplankton. That is the bottom of the food chain. Over half of that, has happened in the last 20 years. We are doing things that are changing the oceans and killing the oceans in a very rapid period of time. They were pretty healthy 30 or 40 years ago. They are not any longer.
The forests of the world, about half of them are gone now. A good chunk of the other half is seriously degraded. The food crisis is a big one. That is a combination of unsustainable use of water, climate change and unsustainable farming practices. We are flushing our topsoil that took millions of years to generate. We are just flushing it down the tube. It is ending up behind dams and in the oceans. It is not in the fields any longer.
Number six is the big kind of driver behind it all. It is the world's population. To give you an idea of how much population has changed, from the time Jesus walked the earth until Abraham Lincoln walked the earth, fewer people were added to our planet from Jesus to Abraham Lincoln than in the last ten years. Think of that. Every ten years, we are adding more people to the world than were added in the 1,800 years between Jesus and Abraham Lincoln. Since we added a billion people between the beginning of 2000 and October of 2011, we added one billion people. That is equal to the entire world population just in the year 1800. In just under 12 years we added more people than were alive in the entire world 110 years ago, 120 years ago. That is something that just cannot be sustained.
We are seeing that. We are collapsing the natural systems of the world. If we do not do things significantly differently, nature is not a little kind and benevolent thing that is going to say, Oh, you human beings. I will take pity on you and I will magically turn the valve on and change things for you. No. When you overshoot nature's natural boundaries, then the result is collapse. We see that over and over again throughout nature, where populations boom and then bust. If human beings do not do something different, we are going to be in the same boat.
Chris Martenson: Well, nature does bat last. My science background is biologically based. I am very familiar with these concepts as they apply to all organisms. I do consider humans a type of organism. I do not know that we are – in fact, I do know this. I will be clearer about this. We are subject to the same rules and regulations that nature sets forth, as any other organism. You went down this list; global weirding, and we have got Peak Oil, obviously. I would add to that potentially other resource extractions which are unsustainable by their very nature. These are non-renewable resources.
Mat Stein: That is correct. There are all kinds of rare earth minerals that are critical to manufacturing the products we use in electronics and solar panels, things like that. Those also have limits to their growth. We have run through a lot of the best deposits of these things. Now we are scrambling to keep things going. Yes, we are running into limits in many directions. Oil is just kind of one of the most obvious ones.
Chris Martenson: Yes. Then you went with ocean collapse and acidification. We have obviously got forest loss. You have a food crisis related to water. There is a big trend in water use there. There is a lot of news coming out about how aquifers are being depleted. Of course population is driving all of this. Around this there is a wrapper of this thing we call the economy. This is how we organize ourselves. It has been fashioned as if none of these trends were real. It has been fashioned as if we can just continue to expand forever. This is where we get to the heart of this story. We can all hope that these things you have just catalogued and other ones that we could raise are not going to bite us at some point. In this story, I think hope alone is a terrible strategy.
Mat Stein: Yes. It is a real strategy for failure. Wishful thinking may be great. You watch the movie “The Secret,” and if you just think good thoughts, then you are going to manifest tons of money and everything is going to be okay. The reality is that we live in a bubble around the planet earth. We do live in a bubble. We do not have a way of getting out of our bubble. We have to live within the means that are contained within this bubble.
There was an experiment, a bio-dome down in Arizona, where they spent $200 million. They built a big geodesic dome. They put systems in there that they designed; supposedly the best scientists worked on it, to make it self-sustainable. They had six scientists in there. They were supposed to stay in there for three years. They had to cut the experiment short. With $200 million on the planet earth, this is not out in space, this is not on the moon, this is not on Mars, this is on the planet earth in Arizona. Two hundred million dollars and they could not make a bubble that kept itself going for only six people. With $200 million. I do not have $200 million in my pocket to make my bubble.
Chris Martenson: It was, of course, the very best of minds. They did think it through. They ran an experiment. Like all good experiments, there were some things that they learned. That is why they are experiments. We do not know all the variables. I believe one of the things that bit them was that the concrete they used to pour much of the footings absorbed CO2 at a much faster rate than they had known about. The point of all this is that technology brings extraordinary advantages. There are these disadvantages that we do not always think about. They just come along for the ride.
Yes, we are getting oil out of shale. It is just amazing. We are taking it from the source rocks. We do this fracking and we get 1,000 barrels per day to flow out of a well. It depletes at extraordinary rates. Within a few years, it is a stripper well, getting less than 20 barrels per day out. All the technology has really done is allowed us to get a little more out of the ground. What it also does is allow us to get it out faster. Yes, we get more out. We also get it out faster so it runs out sooner. Two sides on this coin.
Mat Stein: A good example of that is in the North Sea Oil. Norway and Britain sort of had two different approaches. Norway kind of did the slow, long-run approach for developing it. It is still going to run out. Margaret Thatcher was like, Boom. They just pumped and pumped and pumped. It made for a great boom in the economy in England. They were selling oil at ten dollars a barrel. Now they are importing oil. They have gone from an exporter of oil for 30 years or 25 years off North Shore Oil and North Sea Oil. Now that oil is toast. It is declining rapidly. They have to import. Whereas Norway is now selling their oil at $100 or $140 a barrel. They have still got oil around for another two or three decades, not, like, 200 years. Which was smarter? Was it smarter to go a little slow and steady, or smarter to go boom and bust? Any way you look at it, it is running out. If you are slow and steady, at least you give yourself more time to develop the alternatives, to get off the oil habit while there is still some around to keep things rolling.
Chris Martenson: I have to say that my personal view, and this is a belief of mine, is that watching the current election cycle here in late 2012 for the November elections, I do not see any distinguishable daylight between the two parties. They have different views on how we are going to get ourselves back on the fastest possible path of growth as soon as possible so that it’s business as usual. You just mentioned that there are a lot of things that could disrupt our just-in-time delivery system of food, fuel, medicine and water, virtually everything that we can consider life's essentials. Perhaps it will be a catastrophic banking failure that takes months to patch up. A solar flare you mentioned, like a Carrington Class-X event that ruins a few too many transformers and drags the grid down. It could be a liquid fuels emergency by final failure of Middle East diplomacy.
Listen, whether these risks are utterly remote and not worth talking about or concerning ourselves with, or all but certain to happen eventually, the simple fact remains that society today operates with arguably, I am going to say, the least amount of self-sufficiency and resilience of perhaps any generation ever. This is something you have written extensively about, to say Hey, listen. If this is true, there are things that we individually can and maybe should do in order to increase our own personal resilience. Is that fair?
Mat Stein: Oh, yes. In a nutshell, that is really it. We are extremely vulnerable and extremely fragile. Because we have not had a war on American soil since the Civil War and things have been so nice and stable pretty much since the 1950s, most of the people growing up today have this kind of Ozzie-and-Harriet view of the world. We are America. God has this magic shield around us. Everything is going to be okay. History proves that just is not so.
Chris Martenson: Well, all things change. We are in the middle of one of the greatest periods of change ever. I think that this is an exciting time to be alive. It is also a risky time. I think for many who are listening to this right now, myself included, the risk that some form of major disruption like the ones we just catalogued, the risk that this will occur sooner than later, is just unacceptably high. Being prudent adults, we want to mitigate those risks by reclaiming responsibility for certain mission-critical goods and services. What we can control, maybe we should.
Food, energy, water, medicine, and inner resilience, these all might be at the top of our lists. I want to dive right in. Basic preparation. It probably makes sense to start right at the very beginning and talk about some things that maybe everybody should do. I am agnostic as to whether things on this list should be things you think people should do, regardless of whether they live on the coast, inland, earthquake prone areas or not, urban or rural. Let’s start right at the top. Is it appropriate here to start with the rule of threes?
Mat Stein: Yes. Rule of threes is good. Sure. Rule of threes give you an indication of, in a crisis time, where your energy really should lie.
The rule of threes basically says if you have got three seconds without blood flow, meaning a heart attack or critical injury, then without blood flow to the brain in three seconds then you pass out. If you have three minutes without oxygen flow, then either you are not breathing or you do not have access to oxygen. Then you are out. If you have three hours without proper shelter or clothing in extreme, whether it is extreme heat… These are rough numbers. They vary in the situations. Extreme heat or extreme cold, you get hypothermic or hyperthermic. You start to die or lose your ability to think and function. If you have three days without water and you have to be physically active and it is fairly hot outside, then people start to die. Water is extremely critical. Most people in America could live at least three weeks, and many of us far longer than that, without food. You may not be happy. You may not feel good. You might not have a lot of energy. You could do it.
On the scale of things, that kind of gives you an immediate priority list of what things you must address and deal with that are life – obviously, the life threatening things have to be dealt with first, then water. Shelter first, then water; all life threatening things immediately.
It gives you an idea of priorities. So every family really should have a grab-and-go kit. It is the easiest, smallest, cheapest preparation you can do. Give yourself – Call it a go-bag or a 72-hour-kit, a grab-and-go kit. It is something to provide for you and your family for the basics of shelter, food, water, and medicine, emergency medical supplies, for the critical first, say three days, in a potential emergency, before anybody else can come to help. Obviously in a collapse situation, the grab-and-go kit is a good start [but] it is not going to get you through a collapse. It is certainly something that everybody can do.
I will admit, I am really prepared for the short term. I am working toward the long term. If the world collapsed tomorrow, I have a lot of great skills and knowledge and things. I could team up with other people. Could I do it on my own tomorrow? Probably not if the world collapsed. Could I handle a few months? Sure, no problem.
Chris Martenson: All right. So everybody should have a grab-and-go kit. Do you have anything on your list that you maybe think is probably not in what we would call a typical 72-hour kit?
Mat Stein: Oh yes. I have a few items. There is the obvious stuff. Here is something that a lot of people never think about. From our prior conversations, you are a rock climber and I am a rock climber. Inch-and-a-half cloth adhesive first aid tape is one of my key items in my grab-and-go kit.
People say Why is that so important? Think about it. What do you see in a disaster? You see people walking down the roads. If it was not a real disaster, they are driving their cars, unless they are broke and do not have money for cars. They are walking down the roads. Most of us – If all of a sudden you have got to carry a bunch of stuff on your back and you are walking down the road; cars are not working; whether it was an earthquake, tsunami, or oil crisis, what is going to happen? Most people are going to blister up. Then all of a sudden, once those blisters on their feet pop, they are not going to go anywhere fast.
You take that roll of inch-and-a-half cloth tape out. You take a little bit of the sticky tape off. You pull your shoes and socks off. You scrub all your hot spots with this sticky tape to get rid of the oils and scum on your skin. Being a climber, I am sure you have done this 100 times. You take some fresh tape out. You tape up those heels, your toes, or wherever it is. Certainly you can use the tape to bind wounds. You can tape up sprained ankles or broken wrists. You can do all kinds of things. You can repair a rip on your tent. That is a huge item. In a pinch, duct tape will work. I would rather have first aid adhesive tape on my skin than duct tape. In a pinch, duct tape works well on everything. That is one item.
Another item that most people do not have in their grab-and-go kit is a colloidal silver generator. People say What is that? Two thousand years ago, Alexander the Great did not know a thing about germ theory. He knew that if he stored water for his troops in wooden barrels that the troops got sick. A soldier that is vomiting and has diarrhea on the battlefield is not much good for anything. He also knew that if he stored water in silver urns, then his men stayed healthy.
It turns out that tiny charged particles of silver have this almost magical property, where they are toxic to all known pathogenic bacteria. They are non-toxic to human beings. They bind the proteins in the bacteria that prevent them from metabolizing oxygen. Now this sounds too good to be true. It turns out that the bacteria that are probiotic, that live in your gut naturally, the same extra-thick cellular wall that protects them from full strength stomach acids also protects them from the colloidal silvers. It kills the bad bacteria and not the good bacteria.
Again, it sounds too good to be true. It is. A colloidal silver generator is something that uses electricity, typically in the form of nine-volt batteries. It puts it across two pure silver wires. It makes a tiny particle called a colloid of silver. It looks a little like smoke coming off the wires and into the water solution. This is sort of your portable pharmacy, that you can help a hundred [people] heal if you have to, if there is some nasty bug going along.
You can purify water. It does not purify instantly. If you generate silver in water, it might kill every bug in the water over a few hours, not like in five minutes to make it perfect for drinking. Certainly in a disaster situation, you have to assume that your access to medicines and medical personnel is going to be minimal. They are going to be vastly overloaded and understaffed.
Another item that is really good to have on hand is a headlamp. That is where you have like a flashlight on an elastic band. The modern headlamps are just so incredible. They run off of like three AAA batteries. They are super-light. They are waterproof. They are LED-powered. You can drop them on the ground and they are not going to stop. In the old days, you had a massive battery pack. If you happened to drop your headlamp or bang it into something when it was on, then the filament in the bulb would tend to break. They are just wonderful things. They leave your hands free. You can work on your car, put your chains on, split wood, or run through the forest while you are holding something. Whatever you have got to do, the light flashes where your head points and your hands are free. You can even swim across the river with your headlamp on and see where you are going. They are a wonderful item.
Beyond that, basically another no-brainer item but is in most kits, is you really need an excellent water filter. I actually like to have two or three. Water is so critical, so I like to have two or three things for purifying water in my grab-and-go kit. I have multiple back-ups, especially if things stretch out a long time. I have a Backcountry water filter. I have a Katadyn or MSR filter. That is something with a ceramic cartridge that is field-serviceable and a carbon core to suck up nasty bad tastes, odors, and chemicals. It is field-serviceable. If it plugs, you can take it apart and scrub it with a green pot scrubbie. You can put it back together and you are back in business and running. If it is not field-serviceable and you have to buy a new cartridge, you better have a good stock of spare cartridges on hand. Once you pump it out of some scummy ditch water, you might plug it the first time. Then you are SOL if that is your only thing for purifying water.
You say Why purify water? You need at minimum two quarts a day. Figure on a gallon a day per person. Two quarts a day is really not adequate if it is hot and you have got to do a lot of work. About a gallon a person per day is really pretty minimal. If you have a family of four for three days, that is 100 pounds of water you are going to go through in three days. Try carrying that on your back, plus all the rest of your stuff.
Chris Martenson: One hundred pounds or 100 gallons?
Mat Stein: It is 100 pounds. It is eight pounds per gallon.
Chris Martenson: Oh right. Great.
Mat Stein: If you have a family of four, which is four gallons a day times three, that is 12 gallons times eight – it’s basically a little over eight pounds a gallon – it comes out to 100 pounds. That is a lot to carry when there is other stuff you would rather be carrying, like your gear and clothing, etc.
Let's face it. When things fall apart in a city, you are going to be drinking from the nearest duck pond, river, or ditch. I, for one, would not want to drink out of that scummy duck pond or ditch, especially with a million people going to the bathroom all over the place, without first purifying it. It is so critical.
I like to have multiple things on hand. I have a steriPEN also. Have you seen the movie “Men in Black?”
Chris Martenson: Yes.
Mat Stein: Many people have. The guy pulls his little thing out of this pocket, the flashy thing. He says Everybody take a look over here. He gives a quick flash and your memory is gone. You pull your steriPEN out of your pocket. You give it a click. You turn it upside down. You put it in your water bottle. When the blue light flashes in about 15 seconds or so, you kind of stir the bottle of water while the blue light is flashing. Poof, all the bugs are dead. The good news is you get about 4,000 clicks per battery set in the steriPEN. The bad news is, if it is scummy or dirty water, all bets are off. It has got to be clear water. SteriPEN is like the fastest and simplest, quickest way to purify water when it is clear and relatively clean. You want to kill the bugs. If it is dirty or scummy water, you really got to filter it or treat it with chemicals.
Chris Martenson: Let's imagine that we have got here in our go-kit, this one-and-one-half-inch cloth tape. By the way, people are looking for this. It is wonderful stuff. I have a roll of it with me at all times in my climbing gear. You can find it most easily. It is known also as athletic tape. The cloth is the critical part. By the way, nylon does not count in this story. They have other sort of plastic backings, sometimes, on this. We are talking good, old-fashioned cloth. Think cotton with adhesive on it. That is the stuff.
Mat Stein: That is the best, yes.
Chris Martenson: That is great. It just does not come off unless you want it to. Then you still have to pull. Then you mentioned a colloidal silver generator. That is excellent. A headlamp and H2O filters, plural. That all sounds excellent. In my own world, I think because I live in a rural area that there is a 99.9% chance I am not ever going to bug out. I am going to shelter in place through almost anything I can imagine, short of the nuclear plant just north of me letting go.
Mat Stein: Maybe.
Chris Martenson: Maybe.
Mat Stein: In a real bad situation, the cities become deathtraps. Like, for instance, in medieval times, when the plague went through Europe. If you stayed in the city, you were pretty much guaranteed to die. Similarly, in the United States, in the event of a long-term grid failure, the nuclear power plants will start running out of fuel. They are mandated to have a week's worth of back-up fuel on hand. Some plant operators have told me they personally carry a month. Typically it is not a problem. When is the grid down for longer than a week or a month? If you have got a widespread grid failure from an electromagnetic pulse or solar storm, even some terrorist event – It could be just 200 guys with machine guns going around wiping out transformers.
It is as simple as that. It does not take a real high-tech thing. It just takes coordination. Then all of a sudden you have got a long period of time where these transformers are 300 tons each. They are tens of millions of dollars each. They are custom-designed for each installation. There is a three-year waiting list right now to get a single one. If one or two or three go down, the grid can compensate and they can work around that. They have one or two spares around. If 20 or 30 go down, or 300 to 400 in America, like a solar storm – a 1921 Carrington event would do this – maybe even a couple thousand worldwide – that is ten years’ supply, if the world was working great and going at maximum capacity. It would take ten years to make all those transformers.
You are talking a situation where getting out of the city is your only hope. It is not something where you have to be out today or tomorrow. It is something where you have to get out. The cities, without a grid to support them, the cities are the last place in the world you want to be.
Chris Martenson: So 70%...
Mat Stein: Hopefully we will not see that situation. There is a significant likelihood of it. There is a scientific study that says we have a 12 % chance – that is a one-in-eight chance – that within the next decade we will have a Carrington-event-sized solar storm. That is a game-over kind of situation, unless we get off of our you-know-whats and spend a billion dollars to put the protective gear into the grid.
So far, nobody has ponied up and said Yes, I am going to do it. The government is saying they are going to force the utilities to do it. The utilities are paying their lobbyists and fixing the numbers on reports and saying No, it is really not a big issue. Do not worry about it. Everything is okay. We have got it under control. They do not want to spend a billion bucks. Basically, if no one spends that billion dollars, then it is guaranteed that a solar event is going to happen; it is just a matter of the roll of the dice. If we spend the money ahead of time, it will be bad. It will be manageable. If we do not spend the money, it will be game-over for society.
Chris Martenson: All right. And 70% of the people listening to this, by odds, are in cities. If you lived in a city right now – I take it you do not – if you did, what would be right at the top of your personal list? Let's just imagine for the next two years, for a variety of reasons, you have to live in a city. What would your approach be there?
Mat Stein: The approach in the city is to have a good go-bag. You must have some Backcountry gear so that if you had to put things on your back, you could do it. I am not a real gun nut. Given that America is so heavily armed, it would be a good idea to get some training and pick up some minimal self-protective kinds of supplies. I hope it never comes to that. It is not like I am a Rambo kind of guy and I want to go out and blow someone away or protect someone. That is not my gig.
I would also have a back-up plan. If you have people you can network with in the country, a place to go, a plan of If I had to leave the city... 37% of all Americans live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant. Think of that: 50 miles from Fukushima. More than one in three Americans. They build these nuclear power plants near major metro areas. It costs a lot of money to pay for transmission losses to move the power a long distance. They build the plants relatively near to the places where they are going to use the power. Far enough away that they do not make people nervous, but close enough so that they do not lose a lot in transmission.
You need to know where your nuclear power plants are. You need to have a game plan for how, if things were down for a long time, how you could manage to get out. Now, obviously, if you are able to figure things out and use gasoline and drive a car to get out of town in the initial period before everyone else has figured it out, that is best. You need a back-up plan in the event that this does not happen, or somebody takes your car away from you, whatever.
There is no way to protect yourself from absolutely everything. Think resilience. Think about short term. Sheltering in place is great if it is a short-term emergency, it is not an earthquake, and everything has not fallen apart. Sheltering in place is fine. If it is a longer-term emergency, where everything has really fallen apart and you are in the city, then you have to know that there is no way that city of millions of people is going to feed itself and take care of itself. You are going to have to leave. You have to have a back-up plan.
Chris Martenson: In that back-up plan, I know that one of the key things that happens, even say during a hurricane or what happened on 9/11, is that communications become extraordinarily difficult. Under that circumstance, I know that even FEMA says you should have a family emergency plan. This means your family should know what to do. Quite often during the day we are separated from each other. If something happened and developed rather suddenly and communications are impossible, all the cell towers are jammed or otherwise unavailable to us in that moment – Talk to us. What is a family emergency plan, and how would somebody go about developing one?
Mat Stein: Well, talk about some key points. It is just like the grab-and-go kit. If you want details and more than I can say on the air, then the emergency plan and the grab-and-go kit, purifying water and protecting yourself from the next superbug, detailed articles on all that information is totally free on my website, at WhenTechFails.com.
When you think about a plan, think about some basic things for your plan. Figure out a local meeting place. If you are separated and the communications are down and you cannot get to your home, then everyone meets at, say, the local high school yard. Maybe it is a Red Cross shelter. It is something. It is some place where, if for some reason –
I live in wildfire and earthquake country. Easily things could get cut off. The question is, where would you meet? Also think of an out-of-town contact. I know during the Loma Prieta quake, I had a friend up here who was saying his wife was visiting down in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He was pretty frantic after the quake. The information was so minimal. He could not reach his wife by cell phone or land line. He had no idea if she was in an area that was affected or if she was hurt or killed. There were people hurt and killed in Santa Cruz and in the Bay area. It turned out she was able to get a phone call out after a while.
Often think about an out-of-town contact, like Mary Sue in Saint Louis or whatever, where if you are separated and you do have a chance to get some communications, you can call and leave a message with Mary Sue. Then everyone can check in there. If everyone in your family knows how to turn off the gas (if you have natural gas), and the electricity and water to your house, that is important, more the electricity and gas than the water. In, say, an earthquake situation or wildfire situation, being able to turn off the gas to your house could make the difference between it turning into a bomb and a torch versus coming out okay. Especially in earthquakes, because gas water heaters and things tend to fall over. They break lines. Then gas lines hit a pilot light or something. They light on fire. Everything goes up in flames. Those things are important. Those are some basic thoughts for a family emergency plan. There are certainly more details available on my website in that article.
Chris Martenson: That is excellent advice. That website again is WhenTechFails.com.
Mat Stein: Also, see both my books, When Disaster Strikes, which is more of a regular-sized book that is a comprehensive survival and prepping guide/handbook in one, and When Technology Fails, which is a big and massive phone-book-sized book that covers prepping and survival. It also covers sustainable living. It covers primitive technologies, like if everything fell apart, could we replicate some 18th century technologies rather than falling back to caveman days. If you are really worried about long-term collapse, then you want to have the big book, When Technology Fails. If you want a perfect book for your go-bag that gives you survival stuff and prepping information, then the newer book, When Disaster Strikes, is perfect for that.
Chris Martenson: Excellent. I think of the three big buckets of preparedness. There is stuff you have. There is stuff you know. There are the skills and things you can do. This is also including your mindset.
Mat Stein: Correct.
Chris Martenson: Across those three, which do you feel is most important, if you could choose? Where would you suggest most people, on average, need to start on this?
Mat Stein: The most important is the skill set, including the mindset. You take that with you wherever you go. I would say in that direction, I am very well prepared. I would still like to know more practical experience, foraging and things like that, being able to forage for food and identify plants. That is so important if things really fall apart and you have to pick up and move. With climate change and world changes, there is a distinct possibility – not a pleasant thing to ponder, but it is a significant possibility – that this is most important.
Then your stuff. A lot of people have plenty of money. By all means, gather stuff. Gather supplies. Store food. Have some beans, Band-Aids, and bullets; the three B's. Beans means your food and supplies. Band-Aids means medical skills and medical knowledge, medical supplies. Bullets means the ability to protect yourself. Again, that is not really my bag. It is a necessary evil.
Get the stuff. Even if you are not really great at using some of these things, you can trade. You can barter and you can share. You can team up with people. The lone wolf in a collapse situation will probably not do very well, unless he is super-MacGyver. Someone who is meaner, tougher and better organized will come along and take all his cool stuff away from him. It is really in groups that people will do better. Think medieval times, castles, villages, and groups. There was safety in numbers. People have skills and talents. It really takes a village to pull through. It is not something that can be done very well with just the lone wolf, at least in the long run. In the short run, the lone wolf may well be fine; in the long run, probably not so much.
Think about your strengths. Naturally, if you can develop all three areas, great. If not, if you are stronger in one – If you do not have money, focus on your skill set. If you are likeable and get along well, if you have great skills and talents, then you will probably manage pretty well. Maybe you are older and you are not very strong you cannot do much. If you have good financial reserves, then you can stock up on things. You will be able to team up with a whole bunch of people. They will be thankful and grateful for you, if and when that day comes when that stuff is needed. The mindset is so important.
My father-in-law was a Dutch Resistance fighter. He had a third-grade education. He was born in World War I. He was one of 14 children. He never knew his parents. They died in the latter parts of the war. He was raised by an older sister. After the third grade he was told Joseph, you eat too much. You have to go out and get a job. We are poor and we do not have enough money to feed ourselves, much less you. Imagine, after the third grade, being forced to go out and work full-time at whatever kind of labor, doing whatever you could to survive. That is kind of unfathomable for most of us here in America.
He was a survivor. He got captured by the Nazis and sentenced to death. He was tortured. He was put in front of a firing squad. He was shot with blanks three times trying to break his spirit. On the day of his execution, underground soldiers came to his jail cell. They walked in dressed as Nazis. They were border-town people who spoke perfect German. They said Joseph. We are going to take him and execute him. They looked up and said Oh yes, he is to be executed today. Take him away. It was his real day of execution. He had been sentenced to death in a public trial. They got to the yard and he thought this was it and he was really going to get shot. They helped him over the fence. He jumped down and broke both ankles. He got pulled into a car and went away.
The point of the matter is, here is a guy with a third-grade education. He has a joyful attitude. He was not sour. He was not dour. He was always making jokes. He was always laughing. He has a positive attitude. He survived the Indonesian Revolution when nine out of ten of his partners and compatriots died. He survived World War II and the Resistance. He was tortured and sentenced to death. He had an incredible attitude. He had a joyful and positive surviving attitude.
He also was not blinded by positiveness. He had a radar out. I do teach some exercises in my book for developing your inner compass to help guide you. I do believe that there is an inner source of wisdom and knowledge that can guide us to make split second life-and-death decisions and do the right thing. It is built into each and every one of us. It is like this most amazing survival mechanism that Mother Nature built into every one of us. Learning to develop that and use that, I think, is going to be important in the uncertain times to come.
Chris Martenson: So this inner compass is something we are all born with?
Mat Stein: Yes. I believe that it is in our DNA. Those beings that did not have it, they got eaten by the saber tooth tigers or they got popped in the pot by the cannibals and died in the battlefields, or whatever. I think Mother Nature built it into each and every one of us. Some call it your gut feeling, your intuition, your spirit guide. It is something which just knows what to do.
There is a wonderful book called The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. He talks about how that feeling, that inner compass, just guides people. So many countless survivors will say Oh, God, we got into this trouble because I ignored it. Then it kicked in and it saved me by getting me to go and do the right actions at the right moments in time, to do the right thing. I teach this pit-of-the-stomach exercise in both my books, to help people get in touch with that.
Let's face it; in a crisis situation, you usually do not have very good information. You do not have CNN. You do not have telephones and cell phones. You do not have somebody telling you what to do. It is like your rational mind is only as good as the information it has to draw upon. That is always imperfect at best.
When you are in a situation where you do not really know what to do, you know you cannot trust your mind when it is changing its mind, whatever it is, every few seconds. I think I should do this. Then a few seconds later, I think I should do that. Maybe we should go this way. Maybe we should go that way. Wait a minute. Slow down. It is like you cannot trust this great rational mind that is changing its mind every few seconds. It is flip-flopping all over the place. At that moment in time, you know you are going to have to get in touch with something else to make a decision. You just simply do not have the information to make good decisions.
Chris Martenson: This is a core tenet of mine. I wrote a piece – it must be in 2006 now – I called it Trust Yourself. I basically wanted to give people permission to tune out what they are hearing, even from our so-called “information sources.” Just trust yourself, in terms of knowing what is right and what is coming next. I think a lot of people who are listening to this right now already have a pit in their stomach. We all collectively know that something in our model is broken. Some of us have intellectual understanding of that framework. Others of us have gotten to it intuitively. Either way, I am agnostic. However you have come by the information that things have changed and it is time to take action to protect you, your loved ones, whatever is required to move you past whatever inaction might be holding you in place, that is what I care about most in this story right now.
The thing that has been fascinating to me is – I have discovered in my own life and I have been able to use this with other people as well – is that when I have anxiety, when I have fear around something, and I look into the future and I just do not like what I see, I find that the amount of anxiety I have is a measure of the gap between what I know and what I am doing about it. Anything I can do to close that gap up – You have a lot of very specific things that people can do. I have not read When Disaster Strikes. I know that When Technology Fails is absolutely chock-full of very specific things people can do.
You know, we all at heart want to be like your father-in-law, that hopeful person. That hopefulness combined with a certain amount of rationality will see us through. I have a certain level of hopefulness through all of this. I know that if we get the story right collectively and individually, that we can have a much better future than the one we seem to be heading towards. In your mind, you still obviously are a very hopeful and a very cheerful person. Do you think that a sustainable world, a durable earth – is this a pie-in-the-sky fantasy? Do we have to go through some really hard times? Can we get to a more hopeful place if we choose wisely?
Mat Stein: I think – Yes.
Chris Martenson: Yes, good answer.
Mat Stein: Yes to all. I call myself the “optimistic doomer.” I do believe that a sustainable future is doable. I also know that the cards are stacked against us right now. The 1% that got where they are, whether it is a corporation or an individual, they got to the top of the pyramid. They got there through the old way and the old system. It is also soiling the nest and ruining the planet. They have a huge amount at stake at keeping the system going. Keeping the system going is like a 100% guarantee for catastrophic failure. Most people, when I ask the same question, I speak to lots of groups of people at different events. I have asked this question to thousands of people year after year. First I will ask, how many of you think that everything is okay, that we can keep going with what we are doing and it is going to be okay? Up until recently, I did not have a single hand out of those thousands of people raise their hands. One guy raised his hand. I think he was being facetious.
Then I ask, how many people think that no matter what we do, we have passed the tipping point? It used to be that one out of three people would say Yes, I think we are past it. The giant train wreck is going to happen no matter what we do. Then it used to be that two out of three people would be in the optimistic doomer category that I count myself in. They feel that we are going to have to get shaken around and knocked around pretty badly. Then we will restructure the world and make major changes, like just driving a hybrid car is not going to be enough. It has got to be major changes in the way the world works to pull through. I think it is doable. It is going to take major change. Right now, we are not shaken up badly enough to make that major change.
Nowadays, it turns out that I am seeing two out of three people feeling we passed the tipping point. The train wreck is going to happen no matter what. Only one out of three is in the optimistic doomer category. Essentially nobody, except that one guy so far, felt that everything was okay. I think as a race intuitively, that we are getting on a massive scale that it is unsustainable. It is headed for the wall. Whether it is pandemic, or an EMP and nuclear meltdown, or whether it is the cascading fall through various natural disasters and ecological disasters that takes us down, we are heading for that wall one way or the other.
Chris Martenson: So I hold the same view, which is that there is an inertia to the system. The system wants to perpetuate itself. The incentives for maintaining status quo are extraordinarily strong. Given that point of view, I am optimistic. I am hopeful. I am also planning as if there is a major shake-up coming. The path we are on, whether we just look at it economically from an energy standpoint and the environment, they are all unsustainable trends at this point. The definition of unsustainable is that it is going to change or stop someday. I know that the major systems are due for a shake-up. I do not know when. I do not ever try to predict when. You and I had a pre-conversation. You do not either, because we are steeped in this enough to know that these things are inherently unpredictable in terms of their timing. The direction is easy to catalogue. If you know you are on an active set of plates that have not given up an earthquake in a long time, that does not mean that they have given up on earthquakes. It just means that you are going to have a bigger one when it finally comes.
My question is, it seems like a lot of what we have been talking about is that there are certain inevitable changes that are coming. There are certainly things that we can do on an individual level to mitigate some of those risks, be those financial risks or physical, maybe some of these are emotional risks. These changes are really going to hit some people hard, so being emotionally resilient is important. There might even be spiritual dimensions for people. Out of all of these, you look into the future and you consider yourself an optimistic doomer. The question is really, out of all of that, what is it that gets you out of bed in the morning? What are you really excited about in this story? What are the positive changes that you see that can come out of all of this?
Mat Stein: I believe that we are going to have a kinder world when we are done with this. It is going to treat Mother Nature, the earth, and people – individuals – with much more respect. It will not be this. The system where the goal is to get as much stuff, as much wealth, and as consume as much as possible, it is not sustainable. It cannot keep going. I see that when it is all done, we are going to have a much healthier and more balanced planet. The pain is, how do we get from here to there? Do most of us go away? The population of the planet, do we self-regulate and take the population down to a sustainable level in a relatively painless way? Does Mother Nature step in because we do the boom, bust, and collapse situation? Most of us starve or die in various pandemics – how do we end this story?
My optimism is in doing my best to do what I know and feel is the right path, for myself and for the planet. How can I serve? In writing When Technology Fails, that was my goal. People say What is an MIT engineer doing writing about book like When Technology Fails? It does not make sense.Back in 1997, I had at that point a 20-year practice of morning meditation and prayers. This started after a significant event from a 108-year-old yogi back in 1977. Anyway, I made a generic request for guidance and inspiration. I got a bomb dropped in my lap that morning. I received what must be described as a vision, basically a holographic, pictorial, moving-storyboard outline, outlining this massive book project to help people live more sustainably and to also help them cope with the failure of central services in our highly complex society for significant periods of time.
My first thought was No way. I do not know all this stuff. I am an engineer. I am a writer. I do not know it all. I cannot do this. The little voice – Jesus calls it the still, small voice – in my head said Nobody knows it all. It assured me I had the skills and talents that, should I take this project on, that I would actually be able to complete it. I did not just jump right up and say God talked to me today. I am going to save the world and write this really cool book. It took me about a year to decide that it was a good idea and it was doable. I ran it by some well-known people. They thought it was a great idea. It took another year to find a publisher and write sample chapters to get a contract and get the book sold. It took another year to rack up the credit cards and work 70 hours a week, to put my engineering business mostly on hold and make it happen.
It was more like I got dragged into this kicking and screaming. I accepted my cosmic homework assignment. Sometimes it has not been much fun. I racked up huge debt. My first publisher was bankrupt and never paid me. For what I spent on writing my book, I could have bought five acres and built myself a great earthship home. Instead I got this really cool book that has helped a lot of people around the world. I am in a similar financial situation as many others. I am doing the best I can for the long-term preparations, within the financial means I have at my disposal.
Chris Martenson: Great story about how that all came about. At the beginning of this, the part I was drawn to as well is this idea that the preparing itself is not the end. It is something that – We see some difficult time coming. For myself, that is a period I am going to get through.
The important questions I am asking myself are, Where do I want to be when I come out the other side? What core values do I want to have? What am I not willing to do? What am I willing to do in order to get there? All of history says that sometimes you live in very interesting times. Sometimes they are a little bit quieter. We are coming up on an extraordinarily interesting period of history. It is not sufficient to simply ask how am I going to enter that period? That is important. It is also just as important to ask ourselves how am I going to exit that period? What does this look like on the back end? Those are both, I think, critical dimensions of this.
Mat Stein: Yes. It is what gift can I bring to the world? How can I serve? Every morning I ask that question, whether it is in a few minutes of silent prayer or meditation or if I am rushed, I just ask that question during my long-distance run at the end of the day. I say How can I serve? Guide me. What should I be doing at this moment in time? You could say it is just your intuition or your subconscious. You can say that it is the Holy Spirit. It is your spirit guide. It is whatever. I do not care if you are Buddhist or Christian or Muslim or Jewish. It does not matter to me. I believe that the internal compass and inner guidance system is available to each and every human being, totally regardless of what spiritual or belief, what religion, they are a part of or what belief system they operate under.
Chris Martenson: Fantastic. We have been talking to Mat Stein, author of When Technology Fails and also When Disaster Strikes. Clearly we could talk forever. We have just barely scratched the surface. Big topics, so these are big books. There are lots in them. I would invite you to also check out WhenTechFails.com, where you can find more of Mat's writing and potentially some of his more current thoughts and ideas right there, as well as some tools, including the family planning guide, if I have that right?
Mat Stein: Yes.
Chris Martenson: The emergency planning guide. Thank you so much for your time today. I hope we can go deeper at some point in the future.
Mat Stein: You are welcome. I would love to be on any time. I would like to close with my motto. My motto is that I urge everyone to do your best to change the world and do your best to be ready for the changes in the world. Thank you so much for having me on your show today.
Chris Martenson: Great closing words. You are welcome and thank you.