Disaster stories have always been a prepper favourite; however, they paint a picture where the world is fine one day and screwed the next. While that could happen, it's not likely. However, the slow apocalypse is pretty much a certainty at this point. In fact, I believe we're already 19 years into it.
Boom! Game over man, game over!
When most people think of an apocalypse, their mind probably goes to the world of The Walking Dead or The Road, both feature scenes where the protagonist wakes up to find a disaster has happened or is happening right this moment. Inevitably the world ends, and they stand in the ruins of a post-apocalyptic world.
Don't get me wrong; this could absolutely happen, we could have a full-scale nuclear war, a meteor could hit the earth, hell we could even have an alien invasion! Let's face it though, those things are not high on the probability scale, and also if they were to happen, there isn't a huge amount you could do to prepare for something that major. If it's big enough to end the entire world, it's probably gonna kill you at the same time.
Not with a bang, with a whimper
Another scenario which is much more likely is the medium apocalypse. A medium apocalypse will still be pretty fast but won't happen overnight, think worldwide pandemic but deadlier than Covid-19. The world is relatively fine in January, but by April most of the world is dead. This one is still not quite as likely as a slow apocalypse but is a much more realistic threat than a fast one. A medium apocalypse is the one that most preppers are betting on; it will kill the vast majority of people. Still, it will probably leave a lot of resources intact, meaning there is a temporary abundance with which survivors can use to rebuild their societies.
What the hell is the slow apocalypse.
A slow apocalypse is much more insidious as it creeps up on you. You could be years - if not decades - into a slow apocalypse before you even realise that it's happening.
In a slow apocalypse, there isn't a single event that ends the world. It's the proverbial death by a thousand small cuts. Several events (could be 10, could be millions) all add up to slowly degrade the average quality of life on a global scale, at first the most deprived people suffer. It then creeps up the social ladder until everybody has to set a new baseline for what is an acceptable quality of life, and then it starts again. Slowly eroding our civilisation until it is unrecognisable. It could even be said that the slow apocalypse isn't a singular apocalypse but a convergence of multiple slow apocalypses all running together.
A slow apocalypse is the worst type of apocalypse in my opinion as a fast one will probably kill you so fast you'll barely have time to be miserable. A medium one gives you pretty good survival odds provided you adequately prepare. A slow one, however, doesn't kill people at the same rate, meaning there is also a resource shortage to worry about.
It's probably already begun
I believe that a future historian will look back at this period and will choose one of two dates as the official 'beginning of the end' of our civilisation, those days will either be the 15th August 1971 or 11th September 2001. The scenarios below would be world-changing apocalypses in their own right; if they all happened at the same time (Spoiler alert: They are all happening now), then it will be a catastrophe.
1971: The Financial Apocalypse
The first date started the financial apocalypse, the day America dropped the gold standard. I won't dive deeply into the reasons why that started an apocalypse as frankly, unless you're interested in the economy, it's dull as hell, however in a nutshell: The US Dollar is the most significant currency in the world. It's the default currency for global trade, and on the 15th August 1971, Richard Nixon officially declared that instead of the dollar being worth a certain amount of gold, it would instead have its value plucked from the ether. Over the years, thanks to something called quantitive easing, the value of the dollar has been watered down to the point where it could easily collapse entirely if it does, it will take the rest of the world down with it.
The collapse of the dollar - while entirely possible - would be a quick thing and would result in a medium apocalypse. Despite a food abundance in warehouses and stores - people won't be able to afford to buy them so there will be a mass die off-from starvation and civil unrest.
However, the slow devaluation of the dollar due to more money getting pumped into the market, creating the genuine threat of runaway inflation means that even without the dollar collapsing, things will just slowly start to get more and more expensive until the average person can't afford them. Governments are desperately trying to hold this off for as long as possible by dropping interest rates everywhere, but there is only so far that they can go. We're already pretty close to zero in the UK as it is.
You need only to look at the average price of a pint of milk in the UK since 1971, to see that it's already happening.
Fun fact: The reason the chart started in 1971 has nothing to do with the gold standard and is also the year the UK adopted our current decimalised currency.
As you can see, in 1971 the pint of a price of milk was 5 pence per pint whereas in 2020 it stands at 43p per pint, that's nearly nine times more expensive.
As I said, I'm not going to go into a deep-dive about a financial apocalypse, but I highly recommend you go and do your own research. As far as likely apocalypses go, this one is pretty much a certainty in our current system.
2001: The Hope Apocalypse
Ok, this one is a bit melodramatic in name, I will admit; however, I believe it's still accurate enough to merit the name. For those of you old enough to remember the world before '9/11' you will almost certainly agree that this was the day that hope began to die in the world.
For those of you not old enough, you need only look at the world of fiction. Before 2001 our stories were fanciful and positive, our superheroes were flashy and campy, our tales of the future were full of optimism and wonder, and our passion was evident as we produced tons of brand new stories.
After 2001 our superheroes wore black, and we now had terms like 'gritty realism'. Our tales of the future were bleak and often apocalyptic, and we stopped producing as many new stories and just clung onto the nostalgia of our youths when the world felt like a better place.
I'd love to attach some real-world stats to this one and give you a chart like I did for the financial one, but I have been unable to find a useful chart that would show this sort of data. I was hoping that there had been some good surveys done that would highlight this, but if that was, I've not been able to find them in the short amount of time I had available to research this article. If you know of one, please don't hesitate to let me know!
The hope apocalypse is tied very closely to fear and hatred (Yoda was right; fear leads to anger, anger to hate and hate to suffering). Which - for me at least - explains things like The Arab Spring, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US President. These events don't come from happy populations; they come from angry communities that are losing (or have already lost) hope that thing will improve and turn to uprisings and extreme politics in the hope that it will save them.
The hope apocalypse is preventable, but that would have to come from enough positive events to happen (and be reported on) to stop us from focusing on the negatives. If we can't then we will see considerably more uprisings and extremism occur over the decades, 2020 made the hope apocalypse much more likely and could easily lead to a significant 'loss of hope' event very soon. Don't be surprised if riots break out near you in the next year or so.
In my opinion (and it is only my opinon - do not take this as fact), September 11th, 2001 is the date the slow apocalypse began in earnest. I remember the world before then and I see the world after and I feel like we've been slouching towards Bethlehem ever since.
The climate apocalypse
There is a third date that future-historians may cite as to the year that our civilisation began to end, however, we don't have enough information yet to know precisely when that date is. It could have already happened, or it could be somewhere around 2035, but that date is the day we officially pass the 'point of no return' for global warming.
We've already passed some pretty severe milestones. Last year, Discover magazine posted an article about sea level rises, which strongly suggests that we've already passed the point of no return that will prevent a sea-level rise of 20 meters in the next 80 years and are likely facing rises of MUCH higher than that. One day it's entirely possible that Leeds in Yorkshire could be a coastal city!
Many people dismiss sea level rises because they happen slowly, but they forget that sea level rises don't suddenly jump up overnight; they creep up slowly so many coastal towns are at high risk over the next couple of decades. Kingston-upon Hull, my original hometown, for example, is at extreme risk of becoming uninhabitable, having already suffered some of the countries worst floods over the last decade or so, they are doing what they can to limit the damage. Still, they can only (literally) hold back the tide for so long.
Another thing is that weather extremes are going to start to become more commonplace. Right now, I'm sat at home, baking in a muggy 37°C (96.8°F) heat, I live in Surrey in the south of England, and this temperature is insane for us, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK is only 1.8°C warmer than this. We've also had a massive increase in flooding, massive storms which almost seem tropical are relatively common events now instead of a once or twice in a lifetime event, and it's expected that parts of the UK (including Surrey) is likely to actually run out of water by 2040 and we live in a reasonably mild climate; in hotter countries such as India, the drought is already in full effect and several reservoirs have already dried out!
A table which scared the crap out of me was this one from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US, which shows that the top ten hottest years on record have ALL been since 2005.
The scariest part is that records on global climate only started in 1880 but some climate historians believe that this is the hottest the planet has been in thousands of years.
Always look on the bright side of life.
The only upshot from the slow apocalypse is that it's slow! If you are over the age of 70, you'll probably have a few years with extra hot summers and your pension may not stretch as far as you'd hoped but generally speaking, you'll be fine.
For the rest of us though, we've got some rough times ahead, unless we manage to dramatically change our ways (and in some cases, even if we do change our ways), we can expect some drastic quality of life changes in the future. Thankfully though, as they are slow, we have time to prepare for them.
Here's my advice for the future:
Get out of debt... ALL debt.
The financial apocalypse is the only one of the three that could turn into a medium apocalypse if a major currency like the pound or especially the dollar collapses then that event will ricochet around the world.
Even without a medium apocalypse, we're starting to run out of land we can build on in some parts of the world; which is driving house prices up. Food is becoming more and more expensive (a situation which could get a lot worse if governments struggle to continue subsidising farms). Increased automation means many people are likely to lose their jobs (if they haven't already done so thanks to the pandemic).
If you own your house outright and have little to no debt, then you will be in a hugely beneficial situation. Bonus points if you also own your car outright.
Diversify and Invest!
Once you're out of debt, start working on your savings, get a month or two of survival income in your bank account which will help you if a smaller scale emergency happens, but once that is done, get your money working for you. Invest in the stock market, in precious metals (actually buy the metals, not just shares in the mines) and also invest in essential resources like water and food supply chain companies.
If you can afford it, invest in property too, this doesn't mean you have to buy a house and become a landlord (although if your country makes it worthwhile, then it's a cost-effective thing to do). You can also purchase woodland; this is usually a lot cheaper and also has the benefit of being land you can cultivate (maybe even build a hut on if planning allows!). Woodland also comes with other benefits such as making money from logging and charcoal production.
Work towards being self-sustaining
The more you rely on the 'system', the more vulnerable you are to it collapsing and the more tied you are to the whims of the suppliers. With any luck, none of these things will need to be used out of desperation but the more of these boxes you can tick, the more secure you can feel knowing that if things do start to fail or become prohibitively expensive, you'll be fine. As a bonus, doing most of these things just generally increase your quality of life. Cooking, woodwork and gardening have all become cherished hobbies of mine and learning to shoot a bow opened me up to field archery which I'm hoping to get back into very soon as it is incredibly fun!
- Learn to grow your own food (start small and grow herbs, you can build up over a few years to growing fruit and veg)
- Learn to cook so that you don't need to rely on ready meals and restaurants.
- If you have some land, get some chickens or ducks (be sure to learn how to care for them properly). They produce eggs and even meat if you are so inclined. Plus you get the benefit of knowing that your animals have a happier life with you than they would on a farm.
- Get a real fireplace. If the power or gas supply runs out, you can use the fire to stay warm in winter and even to cook your food and heat your water.
- Get a BBQ/grill. Similarly, if the power/gas goes out and you have a decent-sized BBQ or grill, then you can continue to cook your food and boil your water.
- Get off-grid solar panels. Again, if your house produces its own power then you don't need to rely on the grid, you'll also save money in the long term (especially if power costs grow). Be sure to get ones that work off-grid as otherwise, they will also turn off during a power cut to protect electricians working on the grid.
- Learn to forage. Learning what you can and can't eat in nature will be a big help if you can't afford to buy food (or if the supply is severed). Many people have no idea that a walk in the woods or a local meadow can yield enough food to keep you alive. If more people knew about foraging, nobody would stave in the western world.
- Learn some basic survival craft skills. You don't need to go all John Plant, but you should try to learn some basic things like processing trees into firewood, making a bow, making (and fletching) arrows and how to find and use clay in the soil.
- Learn to hunt (depending on where you are), if hunting is legal in your country, learn how to hunt, I'd recommend learning with a bow and arrow as well as whatever hunting firearms are legal, that way if you no longer have access to bullets, you can still go bow hunting (fair warning though, you'll still likely get most of your calories from foraging and growing so focus on those skills first)
- If it's viable to do so, tap a well on your property or find a nearby clean water source that you know you can purify into drinking water.
As I've mentioned before, this one is something I need to do myself and have been working on for a few years now. Don't follow fad diets; don't do major lifestyle changes as these rarely work well. Instead try to make sure you move for 20 minutes or more throughout the day, cut back on the sugary food and drinks and try to slowly improve your diet, incorporating more fresh vegetables into it over time. I found getting an Instant Pot and a rice cooker was life-changing here as healthy meals suddenly became easy to make.
It might take you a few years to get to a healthy weight this way, but when you get there, it will be permanent, plus you will feel healthier a lot sooner than that.
By far the best change you can make is to go vegan, your wallet will thank you, your body will thank you, and you'll be a part of the climate solution instead of part of the problem.
And as an added benefit, salad is apparently hilarious!
Total disclosure: I am not a vegan, I'm not even a vegetarian, but it's something I'm working towards as time goes on. I have learned quite a few vegetarian recipes. While I doubt I'll ever cross into real veganism, I'm trying to make it so that the dairy supply I have comes either directly from my own efforts (I have chickens which give me my eggs) or that it comes from a sustainable and above all else, ethical source. I struggle to find ethically produced milk, and I cannot stand milk substitutes no matter how many I try so; instead, I opted for a different tactic. I switched to black coffee and reduced my milk consumption in other ways (I eat less cereal, for example) and have managed to cut my milk consumption drastically.
Should I worry?
Let's try to end on a positive note. No, I don't see the point in worrying about something like this. Short of killing capitalism or at least dramatically overhauling it so that it stops benefiting only the super-rich, this stuff is almost certainly going to happen. I always think that if you can't change something, then why worry about it?
The fate of the world may be out of your control, but your survival is not, and thankfully, you have time. Go through my tips above and also work out your own needs and how to fulfil them. For me, walking the path to survive (and thrive) in this new world has changed my life considerably and all of it for the better. I am already a lot more fulfilled and happy, and I feel that I am reconnecting with a state of being that we as a species forgot about decades ago. As I've said before, a lot of what we call 'prepping' now, is just stuff our grandparents called 'being sensible'.
Instead of being scared that our world of plenty and convenience is going to go away; just be grateful that you were alive in the only age of humankind where that world existed. You know what it feels like and provided you don't rely on that world for your survival, you can continue to enjoy it for as long as it exists and when it's gone...
You'll be fine.