Monday, January 22, 2018

Day zero and the challenge of becoming a hopeful, non-cynical prepper

There's rising panic over our taps being switched off on 21 April 12 April, and some 4 million people going to collect 25L of water, per person, per day, from some designated taps spread across the city. Some have rightly pointed out that this is what people in informal settlements have been doing for years. There's fear of anarchy and a lot of people practicing picking up 25L containers and collapsing (I also fall over when I try to pick up 25L with one hand, but it seems ok if I'm able to divide into two buckets-- still it obviously won't be workable for a lot of people).

A couple of things come to mind in the context of this panic-- albeit from my own position of privilege. I think everyone in Cape Town should be carefully preparing for Day Zero. At the same time, it's worth stepping back and thinking, without any panic, about this crisis, and also about the next crisis, one that we can't anticipate.

There's quite a bit of overlap in the prepper (emergency preparedness)/homesteader communities in the U.S. (where a lot of blogs and videos originate, though I suspect there are many preppers in South Africa, also). Still, I sometimes distance myself from the preppers because a) I'm worried that they may support Trump, b) they are sometimes heavily armed and preparing for the zombie mob, which I think has had many negative unintended consequences in the many years when there hasn't been any zombie mob. c) they sometimes seem to hate or fear people. All of which are stereotypes, I know, so I'm sorry if it seems like I'm perpetuating those.

So in this circumstance I really appreciate some of the helpful information and ideas that preppers bring to the table. About 3 years ago, we had severe electricity shortages. About 2.5 years ago, there were a few days when we couldn't leave our street because of violent protests in the nearby township. And now, there's the possibility of us having no water whatsoever, and the type of chaos that might ensue. There are some preppers who argue that there won't be one massive mega-collapse of capitalism as we know it, but rather a slow decline. The crises of the last few years may have been a demonstration of that. That's not even including household crises-- like illness or unemployment-- that we all have had at some point. I really don't want to live in fear of the next crisis or be constantly focused on others' perceived shortcomings; I also don't think that capitalism and consumption as we know it can continue.

I think the first way to be a hopeful, non-cynical prepper is to recognize that we can't control everything, and that things might go badly, and things might be hard, but don't need to break us. (then again, they may totally break me, and that is also potentially ok, one moves on from brokenness. I'm not meaning I'm stronger than the average person here). I'm saying fearing difficult situations is not the best approach, and preparing for the absolute worst sometimes means being consumed by thoughts of the world at its absolute worst. Which I find is too depressing, and often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In my case my faith plays a role in how I think about my own limitations.

The second way is to do what we can to have systems in place for lots of different kinds of possibilities. I know I'm speaking to the middle-class here. It's really hard to prepare for crisis if you're already in crisis, so I'm not meaning to diminish that for anyone who might be reading from within a crisis.

By this I mean when it comes to security, energy, water and food, it makes sense to have several options available, or be in the process of putting options in place. Not necessarily expensive, complex options-- rather things that will help us live a better life even if there is no crisis. I'll go through how we think about each of those four areas:

We don't have much in the way of security because that's not really our thing, it's a bit of a weakness. We don't want to do the scary electric fence thing, but we're gradually making our fence stronger and safer by planting thorny, hardy but still beautiful plants on our perimeter (who may die during the drought, but I think they may survive). We also stay home a lot, have a small house, and are thinking about doing something to make our doors and windows a little more secure-- in the next few years.

For energy, we have access to municipal power, we have solar power, a low-pressure solar geyser, a woodstove for winter, a sunstove for summer, and we cook day-to-day with gas, and keep spare cannisters.

Water (and sanitation)
For water, we have a wellpoint (recent) and collect all rainwater (to a Jojo tank and reservoir); no water that enters the property leaves, as we also have two simple greywater systems. We're also gradually putting together a two-week supply of drinking water, by which time we hope to have collected enough rain water to survive and thrive without any municipal water. We've used a composting (dry) toilet exclusively for a few years now, and I write about it a little here, here, and here. The key is that we didn't put everything together all at once-- we set up slowly, and things started to work better over time. Still, we're using our greywater reeds less as we try to not waste the little dishwater we use.

For food, I'm working on improving our storage of some key groceries (I haven't preserved much  in recent years), but we're also working on growing more and more of our fruits and vegetables (using stored rain water from the reservoir) and expanding our flock of chickens and ducks (and making sure we have thought through their feed, also). This might not be possible for you, or it may be more possible than you expect. We spend a few days a month organizing and distributing staples (meat, legumes, dairy, grains, oil) of pretty large quantities of food, from small scale businesses and farmers, to between 20 and 30 families, including ourselves. This might get interrupted in a crisis, but I appreciate that it doesn't involve the complex supply chains of large supermarkets. For me, these are less about pessimism and anticipating doomsday, and more about homesteading in a way that adds resilience. I imagine we'll always get some food from elsewhere at least some of the time, but learning how to grow and compost adds resilience to our household and to our community. It's not just about growing, it's also about learning to cook and bake good food with few ingredients and little water and energy. All of which takes time and can't happen all at once in the context of crisis. In the crisis our fears come to the fore and it's hard to do anything other than crisis mode. A lot of learning probably also happens during crisis, but I think it's often less costly and more gentle on the environment if one changes slowly.

Resilience is also about finding ways to not contribute to the crisis (even being part of the traffic when there's a rush to the supermarket or the water line). Even not needing too much money, or having a few people to support us in our kids' learning, seems to be part of thriving independent of crises. I don't think high-tech fixes are necessarily the answer (60m deep boreholes with advanced filtration so you can still use insane amounts of water, for example).  There might be cool technological stuff, but I feel like a lot of times it's about learning how to do basic things-- as much as is possible given one's current circumstances-- and finding our ways to good systems through trial and error. This also teaches us to live more simply, which I think is one key to not contributing to crises. Learning happens slowly and incrementally-- we certainly have a long way to go.

1 comment:

Danny said...

Thanks for writing about this! Besides the general topic--how CAN we be aware of civilizational-type problems without letting them turn us into jerks?!--I appreciate your inside view on the Day Zero phenomenon. It's made it into the news here in the US and I felt like I could grasp what was going on a little better having read your take here. Thanks!