Martenson: Welcome to another Peak Prosperity
podcast. I am your host, of course, Chris Martenson.
we have the pleasure of speaking with Mat Stein. Mat is
an MIT-trained mechanical engineer who specializes in the
design and construction of energy-efficient and environmentally
friendly homes. He is also the author of a bestselling book
that has a place of honor on my bookshelf, When
Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability,
and Surviving the Long Emergency. It is one of
the most practical and useful field guides for what to do
when our centralized systems suddenly are not available
to us, maybe because of a storm-induced power outage or,
someday, possibly due to an oil shortage. The list is endless
in this day and age.
knowledge contained within his book and several of Mat's
other excellent publications are relevant to anyone looking
to live with resilience, whatever the future may bring.
That includes his newest book, just out in November 2011,
his writings seek to help people navigate difficult times,
and Mat is a very hopeful person with a cheerful outlook,
as describes many people listening to this podcast, including
myself. Mat, I am thrilled to have you here. Welcome.
Stein: Thank you, Chris. It is a real pleasure
to be on your show today.
Martenson: Great. Let's start at the very outside.
I like to start there. Trained as an engineer, you looked
at our highly complex, just-in-time, economic and technical
methods and practices. You decided to write a book about
the ways in which technology might fail us. At heart, you
have trained a cautionary eye toward modern technology when
I might say most people's faith in the same is hitting
new highs with every release of the next generation Smartphone.
What risks do you see in all this technological complexity
that a casual consumer might be missing?
Stein: Well, a while back I wrote an article called
"The Perfect Storms: Six Trends Converging on Collapse."
You and I and most of us grew up in high school. We drew
graphs in Algebra class or Geometry, or whatever. If a graph
is headed steeply for the bottom, then we know that unless
you do something significantly different, it is going to
hit the bottom. The problem with our complex world right
now is that we have six major trends and many more complex
sub-trends that are all headed for the bottom. We have not
successfully changed course on any one of these six trends.
Logic says, if we keep this up, if we keep doing business
as usual, just what we have been doing all along, that these
trends will hit the wall and it will collapse the world
as we know it. Society will fall apart.
on top of that, we live in an extremely complex world. Nowadays
there is only an average of three days' of food in
any city in the Western world at a particular moment in
time. It used to be that there would be a warehouse with
a month's worth of food, or multiple warehouses, around
each city. Now, with computers and the Internet and just-in-time
deliveries, basically what you are going to eat next week
is on the truck being shipped from somewhere across the
country this week. It does not take a real genius to realize
that with something complex like that, that is operating
on just in time, all it takes is one little glitch and all
of a sudden things are backed up for a long time. Nothing
is getting there and we are in trouble.
glitch that is certainly a big possibility in terms of major
game-changing events is if we had an electromagnetic event,
such as an extreme solar storm, which we have had twice
in the last 160 years. It is just that the last one was
90 years ago, in 1921. If that one happened today, it would
shut down the grid over most of the world. Most the world's
nuclear power plants would start burning up. We have multiple
individual events that could instantly grind civilization
to a halt. We have these long-term trends, which actually
are not very long term. They are relatively short-term,
like collapsing sometime within the next few decades. If
we do not do something major, they are going to shut down
the world as we know it.
Martenson: Now these six big trends, what are these?
Stein: Okay just real briefly, and then
we could talk about each individually if you wish
the first one is climate change. I like to call it global
weirding; some call it global warming. We are seeing
the evidence of a much less stable climate on our planet.
We are seeing the evidence that if the trends that scientists
predict are correct, the world's main bread baskets
will not be producing much food within the next few decades,
as they start to fry and cook in a changing world. That
is number one.
two is a peak in world oil production. As our world goes
around today, oil is the number-one energy producing and
energy dense material. It is easy to pump and move around
to do our cars. We basically go to the easy-to-get and cheap,
relatively clean oil. Now we are doing things like drilling
for oil five miles underneath the Gulf and in the far north
Arctic. We are fracking. We are horizontal drilling. We
are doing all kinds of hoops just to keep the world's
oil supply running as it is basically to keep production
for the last 100 years we have been increasing oil production
about 10% a year. That has fueled an amazing growth in the
industries of the world. Right now, we are struggling just
to keep it flat. I do not think we are ever going to do
much better than that. As things start to decline really
badly, it will cost a huge amount to get the remaining oil
out. We will either produce less because it costs so much,
or we will spend so much money... We have already seen
what that has been doing to the economy.
Stein: Number three is collapse of the world's
oceans. It turns out that 11 of 15 of the world's major
ocean fisheries are either already collapsed or in danger
of short-term collapse. We have acidification. When we burn
our fossil fuels and it rains, it makes carbolic acid. It
goes in the rivers. That goes in the oceans. We are also
collapsing coral reefs, which are like the rainforests of
the oceans and part of the lungs of the planet. They keep
our atmosphere livable. We are killing the plankton. Since
1950, according to a British scientific study, we have lost
73% of the world's zooplankton. That is the bottom of
the food chain. Over half of that, has happened in the last
20 years. We are doing things that are changing the oceans
and killing the oceans in a very rapid period of time. They
were pretty healthy 30 or 40 years ago. They are not any
forests of the world, about half of them are gone now. A
good chunk of the other half is seriously degraded. The
food crisis is a big one. That is a combination of unsustainable
use of water, climate change and unsustainable farming practices.
We are flushing our topsoil that took millions of years
to generate. We are just flushing it down the tube. It is
ending up behind dams and in the oceans. It is not in the
fields any longer.
six is the big kind of driver behind it all. It is the world's
population. To give you an idea of how much population has
changed, from the time Jesus walked the earth until Abraham
Lincoln walked the earth, fewer people were added to our
planet from Jesus to Abraham Lincoln than in the last ten
years. Think of that. Every ten years, we are adding more
people to the world than were added in the 1,800 years between
Jesus and Abraham Lincoln. Since we added a billion people
between the beginning of 2000 and October of 2011, we added
one billion people. That is equal to the entire world population
just in the year 1800. In just under 12 years we added more
people than were alive in the entire world 110 years ago,
120 years ago. That is something that just cannot be sustained.
are seeing that. We are collapsing the natural systems of
the world. If we do not do things significantly differently,
nature is not a little kind and benevolent thing that is
going to say, Oh, you human beings. I will take pity
on you and I will magically turn the valve on and change
things for you. No. When you overshoot nature's
natural boundaries, then the result is collapse. We see
that over and over again throughout nature, where populations
boom and then bust. If human beings do not do something
different, we are going to be in the same boat.
Martenson: Well, nature does bat last. My science
background is biologically based. I am very familiar with
these concepts as they apply to all organisms. I do consider
humans a type of organism. I do not know that we are
in fact, I do know this. I will be clearer about this. We
are subject to the same rules and regulations that nature
sets forth, as any other organism. You went down this list;
global weirding, and we have got Peak Oil, obviously. I
would add to that potentially other resource extractions
which are unsustainable by their very nature. These are
Stein: That is correct. There are all kinds of
rare earth minerals that are critical to manufacturing the
products we use in electronics and solar panels, things
like that. Those also have limits to their growth. We have
run through a lot of the best deposits of these things.
Now we are scrambling to keep things going. Yes, we are
running into limits in many directions. Oil is just kind
of one of the most obvious ones.
Martenson: Yes. Then you went with ocean collapse
and acidification. We have obviously got forest loss. You
have a food crisis related to water. There is a big trend
in water use there. There is a lot of news coming out about
how aquifers are being depleted. Of course population is
driving all of this. Around this there is a wrapper of this
thing we call the economy. This is how we organize ourselves.
It has been fashioned as if none of these trends were real.
It has been fashioned as if we can just continue to expand
forever. This is where we get to the heart of this story.
We can all hope that these things you have just catalogued
and other ones that we could raise are not going to bite
us at some point. In this story, I think hope alone is a
Stein: Yes. It is a real strategy for failure.
Wishful thinking may be great. You watch the movie "The
Secret," and if you just think good thoughts, then
you are going to manifest tons of money and everything is
going to be okay. The reality is that we live in a bubble
around the planet earth. We do live in a bubble. We do not
have a way of getting out of our bubble. We have to live
within the means that are contained within this bubble.
was an experiment, a bio-dome down in Arizona, where they
spent $200 million. They built a big geodesic dome. They
put systems in there that they designed; supposedly the
best scientists worked on it, to make it self-sustainable.
They had six scientists in there. They were supposed to
stay in there for three years. They had to cut the experiment
short. With $200 million on the planet earth, this is not
out in space, this is not on the moon, this is not on Mars,
this is on the planet earth in Arizona. Two hundred million
dollars and they could not make a bubble that kept itself
going for only six people. With $200 million. I do
not have $200 million in my pocket to make my bubble.
Martenson: It was, of course, the very best of
minds. They did think it through. They ran an experiment.
Like all good experiments, there were some things that they
learned. That is why they are experiments. We do not know
all the variables. I believe one of the things that bit
them was that the concrete they used to pour much of the
footings absorbed CO2 at a much faster rate than they had
known about. The point of all this is that technology brings
extraordinary advantages. There are these disadvantages
that we do not always think about. They just come along
for the ride.
we are getting oil out of shale. It is just amazing. We
are taking it from the source rocks. We do this fracking
and we get 1,000 barrels per day to flow out of a well.
It depletes at extraordinary rates. Within a few years,
it is a stripper well, getting less than 20 barrels per
day out. All the technology has really done is allowed us
to get a little more out of the ground. What it also does
is allow us to get it out faster. Yes, we get more out.
We also get it out faster so it runs out sooner. Two sides
on this coin.
Stein: A good example of that is in the North Sea
Oil. Norway and Britain sort of had two different approaches.
Norway kind of did the slow, long-run approach for developing
it. It is still going to run out. Margaret Thatcher was
like, Boom. They just pumped and pumped and pumped.
It made for a great boom in the economy in England. They
were selling oil at ten dollars a barrel. Now they are importing
oil. They have gone from an exporter of oil for 30 years
or 25 years off North Shore Oil and North Sea Oil. Now that
oil is toast. It is declining rapidly. They have to import.
Whereas Norway is now selling their oil at $100 or $140
a barrel. They have still got oil around for another two
or three decades, not, like, 200 years. Which was smarter?
Was it smarter to go a little slow and steady, or smarter
to go boom and bust? Any way you look at it, it is running
out. If you are slow and steady, at least you give yourself
more time to develop the alternatives, to get off the oil
habit while there is still some around to keep things rolling.
Martenson: I have to say that my personal view,
and this is a belief of mine, is that watching the current
election cycle here in late 2012 for the November elections,
I do not see any distinguishable daylight between the two
parties. They have different views on how we are going to
get ourselves back on the fastest possible path of growth
as soon as possible so that it's business as usual.
You just mentioned that there are a lot of things that could
disrupt our just-in-time delivery system of food, fuel,
medicine and water, virtually everything that we can consider
life's essentials. Perhaps it will be a catastrophic
banking failure that takes months to patch up. A solar flare
you mentioned, like a Carrington Class-X event that ruins
a few too many transformers and drags the grid down. It
could be a liquid fuels emergency by final failure of Middle
whether these risks are utterly remote and not worth talking
about or concerning ourselves with, or all but certain to
happen eventually, the simple fact remains that society
today operates with arguably, I am going to say, the least
amount of self-sufficiency and resilience of perhaps any
generation ever. This is something you have written extensively
about, to say Hey, listen. If this is true, there are
things that we individually can and maybe should do in order
to increase our own personal resilience. Is that fair?
Stein: Oh, yes. In a nutshell, that is really it.
We are extremely vulnerable and extremely fragile. Because
we have not had a war on American soil since the Civil War
and things have been so nice and stable pretty much since
the 1950s, most of the people growing up today have this
kind of Ozzie-and-Harriet view of the world. We are
America. God has this magic shield around us. Everything
is going to be okay. History proves that just is not
Martenson: Well, all things change. We are in the
middle of one of the greatest periods of change ever. I
think that this is an exciting time to be alive. It is also
a risky time. I think for many who are listening to this
right now, myself included, the risk that some form of major
disruption like the ones we just catalogued, the risk that
this will occur sooner than later, is just unacceptably
high. Being prudent adults, we want to mitigate those risks
by reclaiming responsibility for certain mission-critical
goods and services. What we can control, maybe
energy, water, medicine, and inner resilience, these all
might be at the top of our lists. I want to dive right in.
Basic preparation. It probably makes sense to start right
at the very beginning and talk about some things that maybe
everybody should do. I am agnostic as to whether things
on this list should be things you think people should do,
regardless of whether they live on the coast, inland, earthquake
prone areas or not, urban or rural. Let's start right
at the top. Is it appropriate here to start with the rule
Stein: Yes. Rule of threes is good. Sure. Rule
of threes give you an indication of, in a crisis time, where
your energy really should lie.
rule of threes basically says if you have got three seconds
without blood flow, meaning a heart attack or critical injury,
then without blood flow to the brain in three seconds then
you pass out. If you have three minutes without oxygen flow,
then either you are not breathing or you do not have access
to oxygen. Then you are out. If you have three hours without
proper shelter or clothing in extreme, whether it is extreme
heat... These are rough numbers. They vary in the situations.
Extreme heat or extreme cold, you get hypothermic or hyperthermic.
You start to die or lose your ability to think and function.
If you have three days without water and you have to be
physically active and it is fairly hot outside, then people
start to die. Water is extremely critical. Most people in
America could live at least three weeks, and many of us
far longer than that, without food. You may not be happy.
You may not feel good. You might not have a lot of energy.
You could do it.
the scale of things, that kind of gives you an immediate
priority list of what things you must address and deal with
that are life obviously, the life threatening things
have to be dealt with first, then water. Shelter first,
then water; all life threatening things immediately.
gives you an idea of priorities. So every family really
should have a grab-and-go kit. It is the easiest, smallest,
cheapest preparation you can do. Give yourself Call
it a go-bag or a 72-hour-kit, a grab-and-go kit. It is something
to provide for you and your family for the basics of shelter,
food, water, and medicine, emergency medical supplies, for
the critical first, say three days, in a potential emergency,
before anybody else can come to help. Obviously in a collapse
situation, the grab-and-go kit is a good start [but] it
is not going to get you through a collapse. It is certainly
something that everybody can do.
admit, I am really prepared for the short term. I am working
toward the long term. If the world collapsed tomorrow, I
have a lot of great skills and knowledge and things. I could
team up with other people. Could I do it on my own tomorrow?
Probably not if the world collapsed. Could I handle a few
months? Sure, no problem.
Martenson: All right. So everybody should have
a grab-and-go kit. Do you have anything on your list that
you maybe think is probably not in what we would call a
typical 72-hour kit?
Stein: Oh yes. I have a few items. There is the
obvious stuff. Here is something that a lot of people never
think about. From our prior conversations, you are a rock
climber and I am a rock climber. Inch-and-a-half cloth adhesive
first aid tape is one of my key items in my grab-and-go
say Why is that so important? Think about it. What
do you see in a disaster? You see people walking down the
roads. If it was not a real disaster, they are driving their
cars, unless they are broke and do not have money for cars.
They are walking down the roads. Most of us If all
of a sudden you have got to carry a bunch of stuff on your
back and you are walking down the road; cars are not working;
whether it was an earthquake, tsunami, or oil crisis, what
is going to happen? Most people are going to blister up.
Then all of a sudden, once those blisters on their feet
pop, they are not going to go anywhere fast.
take that roll of inch-and-a-half cloth tape out. You take
a little bit of the sticky tape off. You pull your shoes
and socks off. You scrub all your hot spots with this sticky
tape to get rid of the oils and scum on your skin. Being
a climber, I am sure you have done this 100 times. You take
some fresh tape out. You tape up those heels, your toes,
or wherever it is. Certainly you can use the tape to bind
wounds. You can tape up sprained ankles or broken wrists.
You can do all kinds of things. You can repair a rip on
your tent. That is a huge item. In a pinch, duct tape will
work. I would rather have first aid adhesive tape on my
skin than duct tape. In a pinch, duct tape works well on
everything. That is one item.
item that most people do not have in their grab-and-go kit
is a colloidal silver generator. People say What is
that? Two thousand years ago, Alexander the Great did
not know a thing about germ theory. He knew that if he stored
water for his troops in wooden barrels that the troops got
sick. A soldier that is vomiting and has diarrhea on the
battlefield is not much good for anything. He also knew
that if he stored water in silver urns, then his men stayed
turns out that tiny charged particles of silver have this
almost magical property, where they are toxic to all known
pathogenic bacteria. They are non-toxic to human beings.
They bind the proteins in the bacteria that prevent them
from metabolizing oxygen. Now this sounds too good to be
true. It turns out that the bacteria that are probiotic,
that live in your gut naturally, the same extra-thick cellular
wall that protects them from full strength stomach acids
also protects them from the colloidal silvers. It kills
the bad bacteria and not the good bacteria.
it sounds too good to be true. It is. A colloidal silver
generator is something that uses electricity, typically
in the form of nine-volt batteries. It puts it across two
pure silver wires. It makes a tiny particle called a colloid
of silver. It looks a little like smoke coming off the wires
and into the water solution. This is sort of your portable
pharmacy, that you can help a hundred [people] heal if you
have to, if there is some nasty bug going along.
can purify water. It does not purify instantly. If you generate
silver in water, it might kill every bug in the water over
a few hours, not like in five minutes to make it perfect
for drinking. Certainly in a disaster situation, you have
to assume that your access to medicines and medical personnel
is going to be minimal. They are going to be vastly overloaded
item that is really good to have on hand is a headlamp.
That is where you have like a flashlight on an elastic band.
The modern headlamps are just so incredible. They run off
of like three AAA batteries. They are super-light. They
are waterproof. They are LED-powered. You can drop them
on the ground and they are not going to stop. In the old
days, you had a massive battery pack. If you happened to
drop your headlamp or bang it into something when it was
on, then the filament in the bulb would tend to break. They
are just wonderful things. They leave your hands free. You
can work on your car, put your chains on, split wood, or
run through the forest while you are holding something.
Whatever you have got to do, the light flashes where your
head points and your hands are free. You can even swim across
the river with your headlamp on and see where you are going.
They are a wonderful item.
that, basically another no-brainer item but is in most kits,
is you really need an excellent water filter. I actually
like to have two or three. Water is so critical, so I like
to have two or three things for purifying water in my grab-and-go
kit. I have multiple back-ups, especially if things stretch
out a long time. I have a Backcountry water filter. I have
a Katadyn or MSR filter. That is something with a ceramic
cartridge that is field-serviceable and a carbon core to
suck up nasty bad tastes, odors, and chemicals. It is field-serviceable.
If it plugs, you can take it apart and scrub it with a green
pot scrubbie. You can put it back together and you are back
in business and running. If it is not field-serviceable
and you have to buy a new cartridge, you better have a good
stock of spare cartridges on hand. Once you pump it out
of some scummy ditch water, you might plug it the first
time. Then you are SOL if that is your only thing for purifying
say Why purify water? You need at minimum two quarts
a day. Figure on a gallon a day per person. Two quarts a
day is really not adequate if it is hot and you have got
to do a lot of work. About a gallon a person per day is
really pretty minimal. If you have a family of four for
three days, that is 100 pounds of water you are going to
go through in three days. Try carrying that on your back,
plus all the rest of your stuff.
Martenson: One hundred pounds or 100 gallons?
Stein: It is 100 pounds. It is eight pounds per
Martenson: Oh right. Great.
Stein: If you have a family of four, which is four
gallons a day times three, that is 12 gallons times eight
it's basically a little over eight pounds
a gallon it comes out to 100 pounds. That
is a lot to carry when there is other stuff you would rather
be carrying, like your gear and clothing, etc.
face it. When things fall apart in a city, you are going
to be drinking from the nearest duck pond, river, or ditch.
I, for one, would not want to drink out of that scummy duck
pond or ditch, especially with a million people going to
the bathroom all over the place, without first purifying
it. It is so critical.
to have multiple things on hand. I have a steriPEN also.
Have you seen the movie "Men in Black?"
Stein: Many people have. The guy pulls his little
thing out of this pocket, the flashy thing. He says Everybody
take a look over here. He gives a quick flash and your
memory is gone. You pull your steriPEN out of your pocket.
You give it a click. You turn it upside down. You put it
in your water bottle. When the blue light flashes in about
15 seconds or so, you kind of stir the bottle of water while
the blue light is flashing. Poof, all the bugs are dead.
The good news is you get about 4,000 clicks per battery
set in the steriPEN. The bad news is, if it is scummy or
dirty water, all bets are off. It has got to be clear water.
SteriPEN is like the fastest and simplest, quickest way
to purify water when it is clear and relatively clean. You
want to kill the bugs. If it is dirty or scummy water, you
really got to filter it or treat it with chemicals.
Martenson: Let's imagine that we have got here
in our go-kit, this one-and-one-half-inch cloth tape. By
the way, people are looking for this. It is wonderful stuff.
I have a roll of it with me at all times in my climbing
gear. You can find it most easily. It is known also as athletic
tape. The cloth is the critical part. By the way, nylon
does not count in this story. They have other sort of plastic
backings, sometimes, on this. We are talking good, old-fashioned
cloth. Think cotton with adhesive on it. That is the stuff.
Stein: That is the best, yes.
Martenson: That is great. It just does not come
off unless you want it to. Then you still have to pull.
Then you mentioned a colloidal silver generator. That is
excellent. A headlamp and H2O filters, plural.
That all sounds excellent. In my own world, I think because
I live in a rural area that there is a 99.9% chance I am
not ever going to bug out. I am going to shelter in place
through almost anything I can imagine, short of the nuclear
plant just north of me letting go.
Stein: In a real bad situation, the cities become
deathtraps. Like, for instance, in medieval times, when
the plague went through Europe. If you stayed in the city,
you were pretty much guaranteed to die. Similarly, in the
United States, in the event of a long-term grid failure,
the nuclear power plants will start running out of fuel.
They are mandated to have a week's worth of back-up
fuel on hand. Some plant operators have told me they personally
carry a month. Typically it is not a problem. When is the
grid down for longer than a week or a month? If you have
got a widespread grid failure from an electromagnetic pulse
or solar storm, even some terrorist event It could
be just 200 guys with machine guns going around wiping out
is as simple as that. It does not take a real high-tech
thing. It just takes coordination. Then all of a sudden
you have got a long period of time where these transformers
are 300 tons each. They are tens of millions of dollars
each. They are custom-designed for each installation. There
is a three-year waiting list right now to get a single one.
If one or two or three go down, the grid can compensate
and they can work around that. They have one or two spares
around. If 20 or 30 go down, or 300 to 400 in America, like
a solar storm a 1921 Carrington event would do this
maybe even a couple thousand worldwide that
is ten years' supply, if the world was working great
and going at maximum capacity. It would take ten years to
make all those transformers.
are talking a situation where getting out of the city is
your only hope. It is not something where you have to be
out today or tomorrow. It is something where you have to
get out. The cities, without a grid to support them, the
cities are the last place in the world you want to be.
Martenson: So 70%...
Stein: Hopefully we will not see that situation.
There is a significant likelihood of it. There is a scientific
study that says we have a 12 % chance that is a
one-in-eight chance that within the next decade
we will have a Carrington-event-sized solar storm. That
is a game-over kind of situation, unless we get off of our
you-know-whats and spend a billion dollars to put the protective
gear into the grid.
far, nobody has ponied up and said Yes, I am going to
do it. The government is saying they are going to force
the utilities to do it. The utilities are paying their lobbyists
and fixing the numbers on reports and saying No, it
is really not a big issue. Do not worry about it. Everything
is okay. We have got it under control. They do not
want to spend a billion bucks. Basically, if no one spends
that billion dollars, then it is guaranteed that a solar
event is going to happen; it is just a matter of the roll
of the dice. If we spend the money ahead of time, it will
be bad. It will be manageable. If we do not spend the money,
it will be game-over for society.
Martenson: All right. And 70% of the people listening
to this, by odds, are in cities. If you lived in a city
right now I take it you do not if you did,
what would be right at the top of your personal list? Let's
just imagine for the next two years, for a variety of reasons,
you have to live in a city. What would your approach be
Stein: The approach in the city is to have a good
go-bag. You must have some Backcountry gear so that if you
had to put things on your back, you could do it. I am not
a real gun nut. Given that America is so heavily armed,
it would be a good idea to get some training and pick up
some minimal self-protective kinds of supplies. I hope it
never comes to that. It is not like I am a Rambo kind of
guy and I want to go out and blow someone away or protect
someone. That is not my gig.
also have a back-up plan. If you have people you can network
with in the country, a place to go, a plan of If I had
to leave the city... 37% of all Americans live within
50 miles of a nuclear power plant. Think of that: 50 miles
from Fukushima. More than one in three Americans. They build
these nuclear power plants near major metro areas. It costs
a lot of money to pay for transmission losses to move the
power a long distance. They build the plants relatively
near to the places where they are going to use the power.
Far enough away that they do not make people nervous, but
close enough so that they do not lose a lot in transmission.
need to know where your nuclear power plants are. You need
to have a game plan for how, if things were down for a long
time, how you could manage to get out. Now, obviously, if
you are able to figure things out and use gasoline and drive
a car to get out of town in the initial period before everyone
else has figured it out, that is best. You need a back-up
plan in the event that this does not happen, or somebody
takes your car away from you, whatever.
is no way to protect yourself from absolutely everything.
Think resilience. Think about short term. Sheltering in
place is great if it is a short-term emergency, it is not
an earthquake, and everything has not fallen apart. Sheltering
in place is fine. If it is a longer-term emergency, where
everything has really fallen apart and you are in the city,
then you have to know that there is no way that city of
millions of people is going to feed itself and take care
of itself. You are going to have to leave. You have to have
a back-up plan.
Martenson: In that back-up plan, I know that one
of the key things that happens, even say during a hurricane
or what happened on 9/11, is that communications become
extraordinarily difficult. Under that circumstance, I know
that even FEMA says you should have a family emergency plan.
This means your family should know what to do. Quite often
during the day we are separated from each other. If something
happened and developed rather suddenly and communications
are impossible, all the cell towers are jammed or otherwise
unavailable to us in that moment Talk to us. What
is a family emergency plan, and how would somebody go about
Stein: Well, talk about some key points. It is
just like the grab-and-go kit. If you want details and more
than I can say on the air, then the emergency plan and the
grab-and-go kit, purifying water and protecting yourself
from the next superbug, detailed articles on all that information
is totally free on my website, at WhenTechFails.com.
you think about a plan, think about some basic things for
your plan. Figure out a local meeting place. If you are
separated and the communications are down and you cannot
get to your home, then everyone meets at, say, the local
high school yard. Maybe it is a Red Cross shelter. It is
something. It is some place where, if for some reason
in wildfire and earthquake country. Easily things could
get cut off. The question is, where would you meet? Also
think of an out-of-town contact. I know during the Loma
Prieta quake, I had a friend up here who was saying his
wife was visiting down in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He was
pretty frantic after the quake. The information was so minimal.
He could not reach his wife by cell phone or land line.
He had no idea if she was in an area that was affected or
if she was hurt or killed. There were people hurt and killed
in Santa Cruz and in the Bay area. It turned out she was
able to get a phone call out after a while.
think about an out-of-town contact, like Mary Sue in Saint
Louis or whatever, where if you are separated and you do
have a chance to get some communications, you can call and
leave a message with Mary Sue. Then everyone can check in
there. If everyone in your family knows how to turn off
the gas (if you have natural gas), and the electricity and
water to your house, that is important, more the electricity
and gas than the water. In, say, an earthquake situation
or wildfire situation, being able to turn off the gas to
your house could make the difference between it turning
into a bomb and a torch versus coming out okay. Especially
in earthquakes, because gas water heaters and things tend
to fall over. They break lines. Then gas lines hit a pilot
light or something. They light on fire. Everything goes
up in flames. Those things are important. Those are some
basic thoughts for a family emergency plan. There are certainly
more details available on my website in that article.
Martenson: That is excellent advice. That website
again is WhenTechFails.com.
Stein: Also, see both my books, When Disaster
Strikes, which is more of a regular-sized book that
is a comprehensive survival and prepping guide/handbook
in one, and When Technology Fails, which is a big
and massive phone-book-sized book that covers prepping and
survival. It also covers sustainable living. It covers primitive
technologies, like if everything fell apart, could we replicate
some 18th century technologies rather than falling
back to caveman days. If you are really worried about long-term
collapse, then you want to have the big book, When Technology
Fails. If you want a perfect book for your go-bag that
gives you survival stuff and prepping information, then
the newer book, When Disaster Strikes, is perfect
Martenson: Excellent. I think of the three big
buckets of preparedness. There is stuff you have.
There is stuff you know. There are the
skills and things you can do. This is also
including your mindset.
Martenson: Across those three, which do you feel
is most important, if you could choose? Where would you
suggest most people, on average, need to start on this?
Stein: The most important is the skill set, including
the mindset. You take that with you wherever you go. I would
say in that direction, I am very well prepared. I would
still like to know more practical experience, foraging and
things like that, being able to forage for food and identify
plants. That is so important if things really fall apart
and you have to pick up and move. With climate change and
world changes, there is a distinct possibility not
a pleasant thing to ponder, but it is a significant possibility
that this is most important.
your stuff. A lot of people have plenty of money. By all
means, gather stuff. Gather supplies. Store food. Have some
beans, Band-Aids, and bullets; the three B's. Beans
means your food and supplies. Band-Aids means medical skills
and medical knowledge, medical supplies. Bullets means the
ability to protect yourself. Again, that is not really my
bag. It is a necessary evil.
the stuff. Even if you are not really great at using some
of these things, you can trade. You can barter and you can
share. You can team up with people. The lone wolf in a collapse
situation will probably not do very well, unless he is super-MacGyver.
Someone who is meaner, tougher and better organized will
come along and take all his cool stuff away from him. It
is really in groups that people will do better. Think medieval
times, castles, villages, and groups. There was safety in
numbers. People have skills and talents. It really takes
a village to pull through. It is not something that can
be done very well with just the lone wolf, at least in the
long run. In the short run, the lone wolf may well be fine;
in the long run, probably not so much.
about your strengths. Naturally, if you can develop all
three areas, great. If not, if you are stronger in one
If you do not have money, focus on your skill set. If you
are likeable and get along well, if you have great skills
and talents, then you will probably manage pretty well.
Maybe you are older and you are not very strong you cannot
do much. If you have good financial reserves, then you can
stock up on things. You will be able to team up with a whole
bunch of people. They will be thankful and grateful for
you, if and when that day comes when that stuff is needed.
The mindset is so important.
father-in-law was a Dutch Resistance fighter. He had a third-grade
education. He was born in World War I. He was one of 14
children. He never knew his parents. They died in the latter
parts of the war. He was raised by an older sister. After
the third grade he was told Joseph, you eat too much.
You have to go out and get a job. We are poor and we do
not have enough money to feed ourselves, much less you.
Imagine, after the third grade, being forced to go out and
work full-time at whatever kind of labor, doing whatever
you could to survive. That is kind of unfathomable for most
of us here in America.
was a survivor. He got captured by the Nazis and sentenced
to death. He was tortured. He was put in front of a firing
squad. He was shot with blanks three times trying to break
his spirit. On the day of his execution, underground soldiers
came to his jail cell. They walked in dressed as Nazis.
They were border-town people who spoke perfect German. They
said Joseph. We are going to take him and execute him.
They looked up and said Oh yes, he is to be executed
today. Take him away. It was his real day of execution.
He had been sentenced to death in a public trial. They got
to the yard and he thought this was it and he was really
going to get shot. They helped him over the fence. He jumped
down and broke both ankles. He got pulled into a car and
point of the matter is, here is a guy with a third-grade
education. He has a joyful attitude. He was not sour. He
was not dour. He was always making jokes. He was always
laughing. He has a positive attitude. He survived the Indonesian
Revolution when nine out of ten of his partners and compatriots
died. He survived World War II and the Resistance. He was
tortured and sentenced to death. He had an incredible attitude.
He had a joyful and positive surviving attitude.
also was not blinded by positiveness. He had a radar out.
I do teach some exercises in my book for developing your
inner compass to help guide you. I do believe that there
is an inner source of wisdom and knowledge that can guide
us to make split second life-and-death decisions and do
the right thing. It is built into each and every one of
us. It is like this most amazing survival mechanism that
Mother Nature built into every one of us. Learning to develop
that and use that, I think, is going to be important in
the uncertain times to come.
Martenson: So this inner compass is something we
are all born with?
Stein: Yes. I believe that it is in our DNA. Those
beings that did not have it, they got eaten by the saber
tooth tigers or they got popped in the pot by the cannibals
and died in the battlefields, or whatever. I think Mother
Nature built it into each and every one of us. Some call
it your gut feeling, your intuition, your spirit guide.
It is something which just knows what to do.
is a wonderful book called The Gift of Fear by
Gavin de Becker. He talks about how that feeling, that inner
compass, just guides people. So many countless survivors
will say Oh, God, we got into this trouble because I
ignored it. Then it kicked in and it saved me by getting
me to go and do the right actions at the right moments in
time, to do the right thing. I teach this pit-of-the-stomach
exercise in both my books, to help people get in touch with
face it; in a crisis situation, you usually do not have
very good information. You do not have CNN. You do not have
telephones and cell phones. You do not have somebody telling
you what to do. It is like your rational mind is only as
good as the information it has to draw upon. That is always
imperfect at best.
you are in a situation where you do not really know what
to do, you know you cannot trust your mind when it is changing
its mind, whatever it is, every few seconds. I think
I should do this. Then a few seconds later, I think
I should do that. Maybe we should go this way. Maybe we
should go that way. Wait a minute. Slow down. It is
like you cannot trust this great rational mind that is changing
its mind every few seconds. It is flip-flopping all over
the place. At that moment in time, you know you are going
to have to get in touch with something else to make a decision.
You just simply do not have the information to make good
Martenson: This is a core tenet of mine. I wrote
a piece it must be in 2006 now I called
it Trust Yourself. I basically wanted to give people
permission to tune out what they are hearing, even from
our so-called "information sources." Just trust
yourself, in terms of knowing what is right and what is
coming next. I think a lot of people who are listening to
this right now already have a pit in their stomach. We all
collectively know that something in our model is broken.
Some of us have intellectual understanding of that framework.
Others of us have gotten to it intuitively. Either way,
I am agnostic. However you have come by the information
that things have changed and it is time to take action to
protect you, your loved ones, whatever is required to move
you past whatever inaction might be holding you in place,
that is what I care about most in this story right now.
thing that has been fascinating to me is I have
discovered in my own life and I have been able to use this
with other people as well is that when I have anxiety,
when I have fear around something, and I look into the future
and I just do not like what I see, I find that the amount
of anxiety I have is a measure of the gap between what I
know and what I am doing about it. Anything I can do to
close that gap up You have a lot of very specific
things that people can do. I have not read When
Disaster Strikes. I know that When
Technology Fails is absolutely chock-full of very
specific things people can do.
know, we all at heart want to be like your father-in-law,
that hopeful person. That hopefulness combined with a certain
amount of rationality will see us through. I have a certain
level of hopefulness through all of this. I know that if
we get the story right collectively and individually, that
we can have a much better future than the one we seem to
be heading towards. In your mind, you still obviously are
a very hopeful and a very cheerful person. Do you think
that a sustainable world, a durable earth is this
a pie-in-the-sky fantasy? Do we have to go through some
really hard times? Can we get to a more hopeful place if
we choose wisely?
Stein: I think Yes.
Martenson: Yes, good answer.
Stein: Yes to all. I call myself the "optimistic
doomer." I do believe that a sustainable future is
doable. I also know that the cards are stacked against us
right now. The 1% that got where they are, whether it is
a corporation or an individual, they got to the top of the
pyramid. They got there through the old way and the old
system. It is also soiling the nest and ruining the planet.
They have a huge amount at stake at keeping the system going.
Keeping the system going is like a 100% guarantee for catastrophic
failure. Most people, when I ask the same question, I speak
to lots of groups of people at different events. I have
asked this question to thousands of people year after year.
First I will ask, how many of you think that everything
is okay, that we can keep going with what we are doing and
it is going to be okay? Up until recently, I did not
have a single hand out of those thousands of people raise
their hands. One guy raised his hand. I think he was being
I ask, how many people think that no matter what we
do, we have passed the tipping point? It used to be
that one out of three people would say Yes, I think
we are past it. The giant train wreck is going to happen
no matter what we do. Then it used to be that two out
of three people would be in the optimistic doomer category
that I count myself in. They feel that we are going to have
to get shaken around and knocked around pretty badly. Then
we will restructure the world and make major changes, like
just driving a hybrid car is not going to be enough. It
has got to be major changes in the way the world works to
pull through. I think it is doable. It is going to take
major change. Right now, we are not shaken up badly enough
to make that major change.
it turns out that I am seeing two out of three people feeling
we passed the tipping point. The train wreck is going to
happen no matter what. Only one out of three is in the optimistic
doomer category. Essentially nobody, except that one guy
so far, felt that everything was okay. I think as a race
intuitively, that we are getting on a massive scale that
it is unsustainable. It is headed for the wall. Whether
it is pandemic, or an EMP and nuclear meltdown, or whether
it is the cascading fall through various natural disasters
and ecological disasters that takes us down, we are heading
for that wall one way or the other.
Martenson: So I hold the same view, which is that
there is an inertia to the system. The system wants to perpetuate
itself. The incentives for maintaining status quo are extraordinarily
strong. Given that point of view, I am optimistic. I am
hopeful. I am also planning as if there is a major shake-up
coming. The path we are on, whether we just look at it economically
from an energy standpoint and the environment, they are
all unsustainable trends at this point. The definition of
unsustainable is that it is going to change or stop someday.
I know that the major systems are due for a shake-up. I
do not know when. I do not ever try to predict when. You
and I had a pre-conversation. You do not either, because
we are steeped in this enough to know that these things
are inherently unpredictable in terms of their timing. The
direction is easy to catalogue. If you know you are on an
active set of plates that have not given up an earthquake
in a long time, that does not mean that they have given
up on earthquakes. It just means that you are going to have
a bigger one when it finally comes.
question is, it seems like a lot of what we have been talking
about is that there are certain inevitable changes that
are coming. There are certainly things that we can do on
an individual level to mitigate some of those risks, be
those financial risks or physical, maybe some of these are
emotional risks. These changes are really going to hit some
people hard, so being emotionally resilient is important.
There might even be spiritual dimensions for people. Out
of all of these, you look into the future and you consider
yourself an optimistic doomer. The question is really, out
of all of that, what is it that gets you out of bed in the
morning? What are you really excited about in this story?
What are the positive changes that you see that can come
out of all of this?
Stein: I believe that we are going to have a kinder
world when we are done with this. It is going to treat Mother
Nature, the earth, and people individuals
with much more respect. It will not be this. The system
where the goal is to get as much stuff, as much wealth,
and as consume as much as possible, it is not sustainable.
It cannot keep going. I see that when it is all done, we
are going to have a much healthier and more balanced planet.
The pain is, how do we get from here to there?
Do most of us go away? The population of the planet, do
we self-regulate and take the population down to a sustainable
level in a relatively painless way? Does Mother Nature step
in because we do the boom, bust, and collapse situation?
Most of us starve or die in various pandemics how
do we end this story?
optimism is in doing my best to do what I know and feel
is the right path, for myself and for the planet. How can
I serve? In writing When Technology Fails, that
was my goal. People say What is an MIT engineer doing
writing about book like When Technology Fails? It does not
make sense.Back in 1997, I had at that point a 20-year
practice of morning meditation and prayers. This started
after a significant event from a 108-year-old yogi back
in 1977. Anyway, I made a generic request for guidance and
inspiration. I got a bomb dropped in my lap that morning.
I received what must be described as a vision, basically
a holographic, pictorial, moving-storyboard outline, outlining
this massive book project to help people live more sustainably
and to also help them cope with the failure of central services
in our highly complex society for significant periods of
first thought was No way. I do not know all this stuff.
I am an engineer. I am a writer. I do not know it all. I
cannot do this. The little voice Jesus calls
it the still, small voice in my head said Nobody
knows it all. It assured me I had the skills and talents
that, should I take this project on, that I would actually
be able to complete it. I did not just jump right up and
say God talked to me today. I am going to save the world
and write this really cool book. It took me about a
year to decide that it was a good idea and it was doable.
I ran it by some well-known people. They thought it was
a great idea. It took another year to find a publisher and
write sample chapters to get a contract and get the book
sold. It took another year to rack up the credit cards and
work 70 hours a week, to put my engineering business mostly
on hold and make it happen.
was more like I got dragged into this kicking and screaming.
I accepted my cosmic homework assignment. Sometimes it has
not been much fun. I racked up huge debt. My first publisher
was bankrupt and never paid me. For what I spent on writing
my book, I could have bought five acres and built myself
a great earthship home. Instead I got this really cool book
that has helped a lot of people around the world. I am in
a similar financial situation as many others. I am doing
the best I can for the long-term preparations, within the
financial means I have at my disposal.
Martenson: Great story about how that all came
about. At the beginning of this, the part I was drawn to
as well is this idea that the preparing itself is not the
end. It is something that We see some difficult
time coming. For myself, that is a period I am going to
important questions I am asking myself are, Where do
I want to be when I come out the other side? What core values
do I want to have? What am I not willing to do? What am
I willing to do in order to get there? All of history
says that sometimes you live in very interesting times.
Sometimes they are a little bit quieter. We are coming up
on an extraordinarily interesting period of history. It
is not sufficient to simply ask how am I going to enter
that period? That is important. It is also just as
important to ask ourselves how am I going to exit that
period? What does this look like on the back end? Those
are both, I think, critical dimensions of this.
Stein: Yes. It is what gift can I bring to
the world? How can I serve? Every morning I ask that
question, whether it is in a few minutes of silent prayer
or meditation or if I am rushed, I just ask that question
during my long-distance run at the end of the day. I say
How can I serve? Guide me. What should I be doing at
this moment in time? You could say it is just your
intuition or your subconscious. You can say that it is the
Holy Spirit. It is your spirit guide. It is whatever. I
do not care if you are Buddhist or Christian or Muslim or
Jewish. It does not matter to me. I believe that the internal
compass and inner guidance system is available to each and
every human being, totally regardless of what spiritual
or belief, what religion, they are a part of or what belief
system they operate under.
Martenson: Fantastic. We have been talking to Mat
Stein, author of When
Technology Fails and also When
Disaster Strikes. Clearly we could talk forever.
We have just barely scratched the surface. Big topics, so
these are big books. There are lots in them. I would invite
you to also check out WhenTechFails.com, where you can find
more of Mat's writing and potentially some of his more
current thoughts and ideas right there, as well as some
tools, including the family planning guide, if I have that
Martenson: The emergency planning guide. Thank
you so much for your time today. I hope we can go deeper
at some point in the future.
Stein: You are welcome. I would love to be on any
time. I would like to close with my motto. My motto is that
I urge everyone to do your best to change the world and
do your best to be ready for the changes in the world. Thank
you so much for having me on your show today.
Martenson: Great closing words. You are welcome
and thank you.