If you weren’t already convinced by the epic snowstorm, fatal heat dome, horrific flooding, apocalyptic fires, and terrifying IPCC report of 2021, let’s make one thing clear: Climate change is here, now, today. Even if we all became carbon zero overnight—an impossibility—the climate would still keep changing.
And while it’s important to keep fighting, lobbying, and making lifestyle changes to reduce the impacts of climate change, it’s also important to admit that our planet has irrevocably changed and each of us needs to learn how to adapt.
The biggest challenge of learning to live in a new climate is that there’s so much uncertainty about what’s going to happen, to whom, and when. “Climate change will cause mass migrations and economic disruptions,” says John Ramey, the founder of The Prepared, a website focused on prepping.
“What will happen when millions of homes are lost, people move, food and water is scarce, and whole economic sectors fail?” Nobody knows the answer to that question, much less whether it’s guaranteed that will all happen, but here’s a hint: Even a fraction of that is gonna be bad, and you’re gonna be glad that you read and took the advice in this article.
And if you’ve been eyeing cans of Spam at the grocery store, take heart that you’re not alone. According to a FEMA study, there’s been a recent growth in prepping—from 3.8 percent of American households in 2017 to 5.2 percent in 2019. Ramey predicts that after the double whammy of a pandemic and nonstop climate disasters, that number could now be as high as 10 percent.
“The climate crisis is one of the single largest reasons behind the huge growth in the modern prepping community,” Ramey says, “especially among people under the age of 35 or so, since they’re broadly well educated, believe the science, and have the fear or impression that the world will burn within their lifetime.”
When we hear the word prepping, most of us think immediately of a man with a long beard who lives in a hut in the woods, collects guns and “tactical” gear, and eats beans everyday for lunch. Or a Silicon Valley billionaire with a concrete fortress built to withstand nuclear war (with a bowling alley, because, you know, the apocalypse gets boring real fast).
“The media likes to highlight extreme characters and stories, such as a nutter wrapping his entire suburban house in foil or moving into the woods to teach combat shooting to their toddlers,” says Ramey. “Those people are no more representative of preppers than the Kardashians are of Californians.” At its core, prepping simply means taking actions to prepare yourself for a worst-case scenario. Chances are, you already do some form of prepping, whether that’s buying life insurance or installing a smoke alarm in your home.
While there may not be an exact blueprint for what climate change is going to do to each of our lives, experts have some solid guesses that, combined with some good old common sense, can help each of us prepare for our new normal. “I can’t tell you when you’re going to get hit by a climate disaster,” says David Pogue, tech journalist and author of How to Prepare for Climate Change. “But I can tell you that sooner or later, it’ll come.”
Climate-Induced Natural Disasters
The evidence is clear: Climate change is making natural disasters more frequent, more severe, and more expensive. “We’re getting freak heat waves and freak snowstorms, devastating droughts and historic downpours, flooding and water shortages,” explains Pogue. “Everything is changing simultaneously: oceans, atmosphere, plants, animals, permafrost, weather, seasons, insects, people.”
Because your risk of natural disaster is completely dependent on where you live, what’s most important is that you understand what disasters you, personally, may face (and don’t just rely on what disasters you’ve faced in the past—that’s not an accurate assessment anymore). You can do this by researching your city or county’s emergency preparedness tips and making sure you understand the basics of surviving an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.
Pogue says that, no matter where you live, you should make sure your homeowner or renter insurance covers the disasters you’re at risk for. He also points out that you don’t need to live on a coast to be at risk for flooding, and homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding.
After your insurance is squared away, he suggests prepping for two weeks of having no water, food, or power, packing a “go bag” to sustain you for a couple of days outside of your home, and making a plan with your family about where to meet if cell towers aren’t working. His last piece of advice is the simplest: download the Red Cross Emergency app.
It’s free and will give you early warning about disasters. “The most tragic way to die in a fire, flood, or hurricane is in your home because you never got the word to evacuate.”
Whether or not you agree with experts who say that climate change could bring about a Roman Empire–esque societal collapse, it’s clear that shortages and supply chain disruptions are on the increasingly warm horizon. As Covid-19 showed us, those disruptions can impact anything from medical supplies to car parts to finding a winter coat. But the most concerning shortages that we face are access to food and water.
A 2019 UN report warns of a looming food crisis, and drought already threatens 40 percent of the world’s population, according to the WHO, and over 80 million people in the United States, according to the US government’s Drought Information system. A new paper published in Advances in Nutrition suggests that climate change will cause rising food prices, greater food insecurity, and may lead to micronutrient deficiencies in more people.
While there may be little you can do to impact the global food chain, you can start in your own backyard by planting a fruit tree or starting a garden, learning how to grow climate-appropriate vegetables, and making sure your pantry is fully stocked with two weeks of water and food, along with any necessary medical supplies. It’s also important to assume you won’t have warning before a food and water shortage, according to Ramey, so don’t put off stocking up until it’s too late.
Resilience may be an overused term when we talk about climate change, but for most of us, it’s grossly lacking in how prepared we are to care for ourselves, our loved ones, and our property if emergency workers aren’t able to assist us. Barely half of Americans can perform CPR, only 17 percent know how to build a fire, and just 14 percent feel confident in their ability to identify edible plants and berries.
Basic skills—like learning how to operate a two-way radio, knowing the smartest escape route out of your city or neighborhood, or being able to change a bike tire—may sound simple, but can be the difference between life and death in a disaster.
Perhaps the most effective way to take care of yourself is to get close to others. According to FEMA, 46 percent of people expect to rely a great deal on people in their neighborhood for assistance within the first 72 hours after a disaster. “Prepping is not a lone wolf activity,” says Ramey. It’s important that your immediate neighbors know your name and who is in your family—including pets—so they can inform first responders in the case of an earthquake or a fire.
In the event of supply chain disruptions, your neighbors may be your only access to vital supplies like batteries or extra diapers. Building connections in your local community is also a great way to build an informal service network, because who knows when you may need help with an injury or a home repair. As Ramey puts it: “Community wins in 99 percent of situations.”
By: Emma Pattee
Emma Pattee is a writer from Portland covering topics related to feminism, climate change, and mortality. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Cut, The Washington Post, WIRED, Marie Claire, and more.
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