Not Thriving But Surviving Challenging Times

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

It’s been over 2 months since Super Storm Sandy hit New York and on the news recently they showed some residents who are only now moving back into their homes.

I watched “Rock Centre” on NBC just after Hurricane Sandy. Most of the show consisted of interviews with people on Staten Island, or in New Jersey, or anywhere in the huge swath of the most populated part of the U.S. that was in Hurricane Sandy’s bull’s eye. It’s kind of ironic when you think about it. Of all the places, the super storm picked one of the most populated parts of the U.S. to make landfall. And just days before the election. Kind of makes you think.

As we watched the news coverage during the storm Michelle kept commenting on how disconcerting it is to watch people in such stress. And these were not the type of people you’re used to seeing in distress on the news. These are people who live near the richest city on the planet. People who live in the richest country on the planet.

My first reaction was “Come on, how hard would it have been to have been prepared for this?!” I mean as long as your house wasn’t swept away in the storm surge, this shouldn’t have been that big a deal. You should always have lots of food and water at your home. You should have flashlights and candles. If you own a home, you must have a level of income that would have allowed you to make some preparations. And you know what? You could have forgone that trip to Vegas last year and put the money you gambled away into a generator. Then you wouldn’t be on the news screaming at ConEdison to get the power back on, because you know power grids are pretty complex and this storm threw a big monkey wrench into the whole process.

Reading my book “Thriving During Challenging Times” would have helped people prepare for this storm. Of course, even despite the best preparations, you might only be able to “get by” in challenging times, rather than thrive during them.

Then I started thinking about how governments allocate resources to these kinds of disasters. As someone who lives almost completely independently in terms of food and energy it’s easy to fall into the Ayn Rand/libertarian mode of “yup, you’re on your own baby, buck up and get yourself together”. But then I start thinking of how much money the government spends on the military. I loved Ron Paul’s response in the presidential debates to how much he felt the US should be spending on foreign aid. He is unequivocal… none. That includes Israel – they don’t need our money.

Can you imagine if the government took all the military money, or even a fraction of the Pentagons’ $650 Billion budget and put it into FEMA? I guess those people in Staten Island had a point. The U.S. Government got money to victims of Hurricane Katrina in 10 days. To victims of Hurricane Irene it took 12 days. I think they were 70 days and counting and still no money was flowing to New Jersey.

Or what about the money the government used to backstop the banks? Or to bail out the automotive industry? The government has lots of money, or at least it spends lots of money. It had lots of great rationalization to save the big banks in terms of the effect on everyone if they collapsed. But it’s a moral hazard whatever way you look at it. If the banks know they’re ‘too big to fail,’ they take more risks than they should because they know Mom and Pop will bail them out.

But then I think, well, if the government rushes to everyone’s assistance when they choose to remain in the areas they should have evacuated, isn’t that a moral hazard? You tell me to leave, but I know the National Guard will be here to help me out if things go wrong. Apparently I’m a conflicted personality.

My wife is pretty stoic about stuff. Stuff just falls right off her back. But twice she mentioned how disturbing she found those TV images of people in trouble. At one point she commented that she had this feeling of dread, a premonition of this being the way things will go in the future. Holy crap, for my ray of sunshine to be talking like this is not a good thing.

So we got inspired and decided to write a new book called “The Sensible Prepper: Practical Tips for Building Resilience and Emergency Preparedness.” I’m using some of the ideas from “Thriving During Challenging Times” but am going to make it a little more immediate, more urgent. In 2009 after the economic collapse and the reality of peak oil hitting, it seemed to me that people needed to come up with a 5-year plan for personal resilience. This summer with the record breaking heat, the drought that continues and may close shipping on the Mississippi, the tornadoes and that Superstorm that affected almost a third of U.S., I think it is more urgent than ever for people to make plans. You need a “bug out” bag to grab when you’re told to evacuate before the wildfire/hurricane/tornado/flood/(fill in the blank with the natural disaster that hits your neighbourhood). You need a water supply until the water system is restored. You need power. You need food, because if you ask people on Staten Island, you can’t count on FEMA. Not for a few days anyway.

I’m going to use the book to increase our preparedness here at Sunflower Farm. We can go 6 – 12 months with no changes to our lifestyle if no vehicle comes in or goes out of our driveway (okay, we’ll run out of cream for our coffee which would be a bit of a bummer) I still have to try and make sure I’ve got a plan for our daughters. They live in the city. They need bug out bags. They will roll their eyes at me when I deliver them but eye rolling by my daughters hasn’t stopped me yet. We’ve got a new project! Time to start researching! And reasons to hit the Reuse Stores. And distract myself from the chaos that is modern life.

For more information about Cam or his books, please visit