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Carl Wernicke: Survival & Sufficiency


Recently the New Yorker reported on all the super-rich people stocking up on survival supplies in case of massive societal collapse. While for you and me that might mean stockpiling cans of Spam and boxes of Hamburger Helper, the rich, as usual, do it differently.

For the rich, surviving Armageddon means building secure compounds, making elaborate plans for evacuation, and equipping their hidey holes with generators, solar panels, fancy kitchens and other necessities. Entrepreneurs are getting into the game as well. For instance, there is a healthy market for converting old missile silos into survival condos, complete with security (to keep the rabble out) and even cameras designed to pipe in pictures of the outdoors to offset the fact you are living 50 feet underground.

And yes, as Scott Fitzgerald famously said, the rich are different — and not just, as Ernest Hemingway famously retorted, that they have more money. Their problems are different, too. For instance, if your escape plan involves being flown to safety by your pilot, you need to think about bringing the pilot’s family, too. After all, asking your pilot to leave his or her family behind to face the zombie apocalypse while whisking you to safety is a risky plan.

Anyway, you can see how complicated it becomes when you’re rich enough to have real alternatives. I mean, when your decision comes down to how much Spam and which flavors of Hamburger Helper to put up, how complex can it be?

O.K., if you’re like me and aren’t even sure if they still make Hamburger Helper, it might not be as easy as it sounds. But still.

Now, I have to say that if you have so much money that spending a few million dollars is basically just an adjustment to your electronic ledger that you wouldn’t otherwise notice, why not do it? While the rest of us might wonder what these people know that we don’t, it makes sense for them even if they aren’t seriously worried about societal collapse.

Of course, for years there has been sort of a subtle humor directed to what were known as survivalists. But truth be told, there are a lot more people than you realize who have been preparing for years for the possibility of societal collapse. The vaunted but unfounded Y2K threat accelerated the trend, but it faded into the background again once the computer apocalypse failed to crash everything. And years ago the big thing was building buried bomb shelters; the house we recently moved into in East Hill actually has one.

And today you don’t have to look very hard to find websites selling nitrogen-packed rice and dried beans, water filters and other things needed to make you self-sufficient.

Several years ago, the repairman doing maintenance on my irrigation well told me that one of their main service calls was to install handpumps on wells for people worried that collapse of the electric grid would leave them high and dry. And recently our pest control technician told me I would be amazed at how many people are burying everything from weapons to food supplies in sealed PVC pipe.

As for me, I’m hoping that a small garden and a few chickens will suffice to hold out until help arrives, assuming it does. And I can always reread all my old books. But let me warn you: if you want my last can of Spam, you’ll have to pry it from my cold, greasy fingers.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.