Doomsday Preppers

This just has to be a sign of the times.  Record deficits and oil prices rising, and it could all get worse.  So the National Geographic channel has begun airing a show named Doomsday Preppers, where viewers can watch end-of-the-world types prepare for doomsday.

Each episode highlights several people and their preparations for the end of the world, or, as they often put it, "when the stuff hits the fan."  If you are a "doomsday prepper," the show has some pretty useful information, and if not, the show is still pretty entertaining.

Some of the calamities predicted by the preppers seem pretty far-fetched, like a shift in the earth's axis or an earthquake that divides the country's supply lines in half.  But some of the calamities predicted are worth getting nervous about, like hyperinflation or a failure of the world financial system.

The preppers store or grow food, store water, generate their electricity, and prepare to defend themselves with handguns and homemade explosives.  At the end of each segment, "experts" grade each prepper's plans.

Some of the prepper plans are pretty impressive.  One episode involved an Arizona family who keeps a pool/greenhouse, with chicken above fertilizing a pool that contains quickly regenerating fish.  A byproduct, duckweed, purifies the water and generates fertilizer for the vegetable gardens.

All right, it may be sensible, but still, aren't those folks just a little odd -- kind of reminiscent of Ted Kaczynski?  Sure enough, some of the interviews are filmed with just a hint of humor.  And it is hard to keep a straight face when a prepper is filmed buying something and the shop-owner asks him why he is buying the camouflage netting or handgun, and the prepper replies, "Why, to protect my family when the world ends, of course!"

The part of the segment that deals with guns and self-defense usually involves a chuckle or two.  In one segment, a housewife and her husband turn off the lights in their house and prowl around, pistols drawn, laser sights on and ready to shoot.  A channel-surfer would have confused the scene for a rerun of Mission Impossible.

In another episode, a lanky, shirtless guy in New England explains that he thinks guns are stupid.  He feels that if thugs come to loot his place, he will feed, charm, and if need be, poison them.  Anyone watching the show couldn't help but wonder how long a guy with this much naiveté and lack of weaponry would really last.

And what is the point of all the guns, anyway?  If there were a total breakdown of society, how long would these preppers really last against a nearby town full of starving people?  In the Rodney King riots in 1991, armed Korean shop-owners in Los Angeles managed to hold off armed looters for a few hours, but they didn't have a chance of holding out much longer until the National Guard showed up.

And when the preppers are taken seriously, as many clearly are, why do the preppers in this show discuss their secret stashes of food, much less brag about them on national TV?  Now the whole town where they live knows where a storehouse of food is, just in case.

Still, some of the show's segments are helpful, like the New England lady who keeps bees and grows apples so that she will have honey and apple cider to barter.  Or the North Carolina survivalist who buys vodka for barter or to use as explosives for self-defense.  (For guys like me, any education on explosives is an easy sell.)

But there are some problems in the show.  For example, one family turned their small suburban plot of land into a farm full of fruits and vegetables needed to survive if society breaks down.  The family got good grades from the experts, but this would have been a great time to discuss "hybrid" and "non-hybrid" seeds.

Seeds that are bought in hardware stores and nurseries are generally "hybrid," so that once the customer's crop of tomatoes or corn, for example, is grown and eaten, the customer has to go back to the store and buy more seeds for next year.  Only "non-hybrid" or "heirloom" seeds can not only grow a full supply of vegetables this year, but also produce reliable seeds for next year.  That is essential information, but it wasn't covered.

Other important issues are also missing.  Rarely is the storage and purification of water discussed, and water is essential for all doomsday preparations.

But in general, it is good to see a show interviewing people preparing for the end of the world.  And the issue is a serious one.  A recent scan through news headlines will show that people in the know suspect that disaster is looming.  Former White House Budget Director David Stockman was a recent example.  There is also an excellent blog on the coming economic collapse, fittingly called the Economic Collapse Blog.  The federal government recently bought up a six-month supply of Mountain House emergency food, so it might know something.

So don't forget to also watch Doomsday Preppers on Tuesday nights, 9:00 pm ET/PT, on the National Geographic channel, to get a taste of the preparation we all need to make for whatever hits the fan.