Have you ever seen the 1983 ABC TV-movie The Day After? It’s bleak as hell, to say the least. It was a media event, with untold numbers of American dying in the film after a tit-for-tat nuclear war with the Soviet Union. But curiously, President Ronald Reagan thought that it validated everything about his get-tough…
Experts say it’s not a matter of if, but when a global scale pandemic will wipe out millions of people. And we are grossly unprepared for the next major outbreak. But in the event of a devastating pandemic—whether it be triggered by a mutated strain of an existing virus or a bioengineered terror weapon—there are some…
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Let's say someone told you the world was going to end. "We're not exactly sure when," they said. "Worst-case-scenario? Maybe, like, 100 years." What would you do? Ditch the city like Thoreau for a cabin in the woods? Craft time capsules for your unborn grandchildren? Or would you just keep on with your day-to-day city existence, trying to block out the thought that one day in the not-too-distant-future, there might not be any coffee, because there might not be any plants, or any people, for that matter.
We know about climate change. We know it's bad, but we don't really know how bad. Scientists are telling us it's pretty bad, but they're not exactly sure either, which makes it harder for us (the people who know it's happening but are scared and not sure what to do about it) to convince the people who are saying it's not happening at all, that really, it is.
A recent report from the Yale Program on Climate Communication found that while 61 percent of Americans say climate change is personally important to them, 67 percent "rarely" or "never" talks about it with family and friends. This is because we fear becoming social pariahs, explains psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe, who has been writing about our emotional relationship with climate change for the past eight years.
According to Weintrobe, "our dominant culture actively works to delegitimize our tears. It likes to encourage us to be in denial, blaming, and anger; the earlier stages of the grieving process," she said. "Because if we feel sad about what's happening, that's a really potent emotion. We're reconnected with the part of us that cares." The phenomenon has also been described as the "spiral of silence"—a German post-Holocaust theory that says bystanders did nothing because it was the social norm.
Heidi Quante and Alicia Escott have another theory. We don't talk about climate change because we have no words for it. It's not quite the apocalypse; it's something else—kind of like a fierce, looming stranger, whom we haven't decided whether to try to murder or strategically befriend. We need new language for this beast before we can even think about dealing with it.
A little more than two years ago, Quante and Escott established what they call the Bureau of Linguistical Reality, an agency that registers new words to describe climate change and its haunting effects. Since 2015, the artists have been running what they call "field studies" in the US and Europe—open-to-the-public events in which they invite people to share their experience of climate change—as well as "salons" to invent new words that might begin to cling to the conceptual edges of this intangible, terrifying thing. "We're all at a loss for words," said Escott.
We don't talk about climate change because we have no words for it. It's not quite the apocalypse; it's something else—kind of like a fierce, looming stranger, whom we haven't decided whether to try to murder or strategically befriend.
Quante, a climate communicator whose work has included convincing Republican hunters and fisherman that global warming is real, describes the moment when she and Escott decided to start the bureau in 2014. "You can finally wear a summer dress in January—your body is just elated, but your mind is telling you this is horrible, this should not be happening," she said. "We thought , My God, we should create a phrase for that." They did. "Psychic corpus dissonance," meaning the bodily pleasure of unusually warm weather, coupled with concern that weather patterns are deeply amiss.
Escott said it was "quite a relief" when she and Heidi discovered they shared the same unnamed feeling. "We realized so many people felt that way but were feeling isolated," she said, adding that existing words like "Anthropocene" (the present human-induced period) and "solastalgia" (distress caused by environmental destruction) had inspired them. Aside from those words, "there was this dearth."
Coined by environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2003, "solastalgia" was first used to describe the emotional devastation of people living near open-cut coal mines in Australia—a kind of homesickness (like nostalgia) that happens when people stay "home" on earth, while it disappears. "They were all telling me the same story," said Albrecht, "that they were rural people, they loved clean beautiful skies, stars at night, the quiet, the birds, the fresh air, the crystal-clear creeks… every single aspect of the life that they valued was being taken away by this massive industry." There was no English word to describe their pain.
Aware of how unlikely it is that most of their words will make it into the dictionary (or even into common usage), the bureau creators say the language itself is not the "endgame." They just want people to start thinking, and more important, talking about climate change—to stop worrying about the science and the action (or lack thereof) for a moment, and instead just to notice how shitty the situation makes us feel.
"We're oftentimes the first person who will say, 'Tell us about your feelings about climate change,'" said Quante. "We've actually had people break down and cry, saying, 'No one asks me what I feel.'"
This article first appeared on VICE Canada
My impressions of emergency survival mostly come from Hollywood. Think eccentric rich guys like Anthony Hopkins in The Edge, or the militia-minded survivalists in Tremors. Then there's the sensational Doomsday Preppers and recent stories about Silicon Valley execs buying island hideouts.
People getting ready for possible disasters, often called preppers, aren't usually depicted as the most mainstream people around.
But preppers can be driven by all kinds of things—and the risks of climate change, natural disasters, and other world crises aren't restricted to rural areas.
I spoke to Cliff, who runs the YouTube channel The Urban Prepper. He says converts often come in waves, and the demographics are veering towards younger preppers. Every year, he says, he has more and more subscribers who are in high school or college.
"The younger generation is more apt to be using YouTube than they are to be even watching TV," he said. "I don't think we would have had the same kind of movement 20 years ago, or 15 years ago."
With conservatives who feared Obama now trickling out of the community, Cliff says he's also seen an influx of preppers worried about a Trumpocalypse. "I think politics is something that lights the fuse," he told VICE.
With such polarized motivations, it's safe to assume there's no one size-fits-all model of preparedness. They can't all be backwoods gun lovers or rich guys buying islands.
"A lot of the people on the left, at least in the US, are residing in urban, coastal regions, coastal cities," said Cliff, who lives in Seattle and works as a tech engineer when he's not posting new videos.
But urban and liberal preppers didn't just come into being with the rise of Trump. They've been a subculture of the survival preparedness community for years and are starting to gain more visibility. And they have their own city-centric needs.
"In an urban environment, I might need something for keeping my cell phone powered, or for charging electronic devices, or for storing electronic data, or for navigating in a city with a map and GPS equipment," said Cliff, who is less concerned with water filtration or starting a fire—usually priorities for people in the country.
When Cliff started prepping in 2008, there wasn't much information available for city preppers. "Preparedness was more something that people in a rural environment would do where they were adding fishing kits to their backpacks in case they're stranded in the middle of nowhere," he said.
"Since then there's been a lot more suburban and city people also posting."
Cliff got started like a lot of people. Now 38 and a husband and father, he felt a sense of responsibility to his family, to keep them safe in case of an emergency, whatever that may be—the tech industry can be a precarious place to work, and disaster can easily strike on a personal, financial level.
"For me it just seemed like the responsible thing to do, just like it would be responsible for me to have life insurance or to have auto insurance, or have us all on a medical plan."
He started small, buying extra supplies and hiding them around his apartment, not telling his then-fiancée what he was up to. But there's only so much you can do in that kind of situation. "Suddenly she found my stash of dried goods and was wondering what was going on, so I had to explain."
Storage is the first obstacle most urban preppers come up against. You can't necessarily build a bunker or even plant a garden when you live in a city, so Cliff focuses a lot of his energy on making the most of small spaces.
"Most of the organization tips I learned aren't from prepping channels or resources but from home organization—stay-at-home-moms that are reorganizing their pantry, or cultures where storage is limited, like in Japan," he said.
The main priorities for an urban prepper should be food, water, and shelter, Cliff told VICE. The classic first step is preparing a "bug-out bag": a portable kit with about 72-hours worth of survival supplies in case you need to bug out of a tough situation in a hurry.
Beyond that, Cliff says people in cities should be focusing on basic skills. "I think that people, especially in an urban environment, should start going with the percentages, with the odds first, before going to the extremes and the make-believe," he said. "Why prepare for zombies if you're not prepared to have a flat tire?"
Another major concern for urban preppers is fitting in without advertising their presence to their whole apartment building or neighbourhood.
"You kind of have to be incognito, blending in with your environment, I think a little bit more than someone who's in a rural environment," he said. Cliff sees a lot of rural preppers at conventions wearing camo hats and "Don't Tread on Me" T-shirts that wouldn't necessarily fit into a city setting.
"You have to work within the framework of society a little bit more," he said.
That kind of libertarian, gun rights mentality can turn a lot of people off, and it's a polarizing issue for city preppers, says Nate, the Canadian Prepper. "There's lots of overlap with gun culture, so that's where you have a big divide too, between the people who are in that hippie mindset," he said. "They want to grow their own food, and they don't want to use pesticides—but they don't like guns."
Anxieties around the thought of armed conspiracy-theorists will only increase when you live in close proximity to your neighbours, like in a city.
"Their initial perception is that you're someone who would be worried about an asteroid hitting the Earth and that you're going to have to survive the Mad Max type of scenario, Cliff said.
The reality is much more mundane, and often looks like just buying extra canned goods and first aid supplies, as Cliff usually does when he's out running errands. For him, prepping is more of an adjustment in your overall lifestyle, "almost like when someone needs to change the way that they eat for their health."
And without a specific date for when shit hits the fan, preppers have plenty of time to shop around. "Always think about looking for deals on things that could be beneficial for an emergency situation," says Cliff. "If they're having a sale on first aid bandages, for example, leveraging that even though you don't need it right now—you will need it eventually."
What does he do with those supplies? He stores them, mostly. At home, at work, in his car. And he stores them with an eye to different potential disaster scenarios. "I have a network of bug-out locations, like if there's an emergency where my residence was no longer safe for myself and my family to be, and I needed to go to a family member's or friend's, I have a set of caches that are strategically placed along the route and at the location itself," he said.
Prepping is largely a mindset for Cliff. It's more than a hobby, but in a lot of ways, it looks like any other interest or passion. "I'll constantly be researching, whether that be watching other people's videos, reading books, reading studies of, for example, what's going on in Venezuela right now with their economic crisis."
Brad, the creator of Full Spectrum Survival, keeps an eye on current events too, and even developed an algorithm to monitor natural disaster news and developing world crises, but he doesn't live in fear. "For me and my wife, survivalism and preparedness is not the doom-and-gloom mindset that kind of drove the genre in the past," he told VICE. "For us it's more of a methodology of preparedness and independence that we live by."
Nate similarly fits preparedness around his work and family. "I'm not constantly on the edge, waiting for shit to hit the fan or anything like that. I live a fairly normal life. You would never know I was a prepper unless I told you," he said.
This doesn't mean no one out there is preparing for the zombie apocalypse or building up a cache of guns in their basement. "There's always some truth to stereotypes," Nate said.
"Definitely if you were to go on YouTube and read some of the comments, you'd be like 'holy shit, these people are nuts.'"
But then it's hard to gauge any movement by the internet comments it attracts.
Lead image via Full Spectrum Survival.
Follow Frederick on Twitter.
Congratulations on surviving doomsday! Your new way of life may include oppressive regimes, punishing environmental effects, mutants and/or zombies, and some mighty big human assholes who live only to make your already-grim existence even worse. Here’s a handy guide of who to avoid at all costs.
Right up until November 2016, Whitney* and her husband were actively trying to conceive. After five years together, the couple was finally feeling ready for the sleepless chaos that comes with having kids.
But after watching Donald Trump get elected on November 8, Whitney says something flipped in her mind. "We had about a month of trying to get pregnant last year," the 33-year-old black, bi-racial resident of Thunder Bay, Ontario told VICE. "When Trump got elected we both freaked out. We just lost our nerve."
I can relate to just about any reason for not having kids. I mean, they puke, they cry, and they will inevitably be damaged by all of your terrible unspoken neuroses. But to hear from women who had their minds set on starting a family reverse their life plans—that speaks to deep and very real fears about the future of humanity. They've done some climate change calculation, and witnessed mass murder against Muslim people, and decided Trump is their deal-breaker.
Whitney assures me this wasn't a decision she made lightly. She told VICE having kids was always something she imagined for herself. "I met my husband at 27 or 28, and I kind of put it out there that I wanted to have kids," she said. "I met his step daughter, and in the time we spent together I just thought, yep, this is definitely something I want to do."
For Whitney it was the rising tide of hate that changed her thinking. She lives in a small northern city with plenty of Trump supporters and had a sense that hateful confrontations were already on the rise.
"I have a few Muslim friends where I live and the things that happened to them in the last year I cannot believe," she said. "One woman had her head scarf yanked off. Another was told by a bus driver to 'get off' because 'you're a terrorist.'"
"We're super scared of all this crazy, white fragility takeover," she said. "The election just felt like a confirmation of everything I had in the back of my mind."
Whitney is certainly not alone in her thinking. Keira, a 28-year-old Vancouverite, told VICE she's had many discussions about this with her partner of six years. "We were really enthusiastic about wanting to have kids sometime down the line," she said.
Even before Trump entered the presidential race, Keira was thinking about the impact of bringing a kid into a world facing climate change. When Vancouver was hit by an intense drought a few years ago, she started to question what the environment would look like a generation from now.
"It's been an ongoing conversation with some close friends. Trump getting elected was for sure the last straw in a way."
Unlike Whitney, Kiera did not see the Trump victory coming. "I did not think it was possible for him to win. I think a lot of people saw this long-standing joke of Trump trying to be president. I thought it would just fizzle out, but it kept going."
"It's super scary from a climate perspective," she told me. "He's been pretty vocal about pushing through as many fossil fuel projects as possible, which makes it pretty much impossible to restrict emissions the way we need to if we're going to prevent catastrophic climate change."
Kiera worries most about the availability of water and the social and political instability that will come with an unpredictable, changing climate.
Like Kiera, Whitney thinks Trump has locked the planet in for irreversible warming. "I feel we're already in such a dangerous time for climate change and deniers," she said. "We have such a small window, I'm not sure if we even have time now to act on that."
"If the planet is literally uninhabitable in 35 years, I don't know ethically how I could bring a human into this world. Just because I want to have a kid, you know, for funsies?"
Contemplating our collective doom has always been a popular human pastime. Back in the 1970s it was the specter of the "population bomb" that got people to swear off kids. In the 80s, it was the threat of nuclear winter.
"I used to kind of tell myself that every generation feels they're witnessing the end of society. I thought this might be normal neurosis, but I don't know. It's hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Getting pregnant would involve lying to ourselves."
In small town Ontario especially, this line of thinking can sound over the top. "When I tell friends, they look at me like I'm an alien," Whitney told me. "I'm Canadian, and I think that's part of the reason why I feel so strange about being frightened.
"A barista once told me don't worry, we've got a strong, liberal government, it's not going to affect you," she said. "I thought, how long was it until we saw a mosque getting attacked? We don't live in those times anymore, it's not like it's just going to stay in America."
It's also not something you can easily bring up at the dinner table with your parents. "I think if I had this conversation with my mom she would probably freak out," Kiera told VICE. "Her generation assumed everyone is going to have kids."
So instead of discussing it openly, these would-be moms are taking a quiet, wait-and-see approach. "I think my biggest hope now is that he will be impeached in a couple months," Whitney said. "We need to give it a few months, but we're not very optimistic."
*Name has been changed.
Lead photo by Jackie Dives.
Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.
Jim Mickle’s indie Stake Land was one of 2010's best horror films—its post-apocalyptic road movie structure was familiar, but its gritty use of vampires (instead of, say, zombies) was distinctive. Mickle returns to produce Stake Land II, which is directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen—and we’ve got an exclusive clip.
When some apocalyptic event in the very near future forces humans scurrying to another planet, we’re probably going to have the same question.
Concern over an apocalyptic asteroid strike has risen all the way to the top: The White House released a document this week detailing a strategy for National Near Earth Object (NEO) preparedness. Morgan Freeman would no doubt be proud, although honestly, the nation might have more pressing apocalypse concerns closer…
All things must come to an end, including human civilization. Whether it’s a superbug pandemic tomorrow or a supernova sun in billions of years, one day, somehow, the apocalypse will arrive. You and loved ones plan on being ready for it, and ready for what comes after.