The Next Pandemic: Starvation in a Land of Plenty

At the dawn of the 21st century, we are living in an amazing time of prosperity. Our health care is excellent, our grocery store shelves burgeon with a huge assortment of fresh foods, and our telecommunications systems are lightning fast. We have relatively cheap transportation, and our cities are linked by an elaborate and fairly well-maintained system of roads, rails, canals, seaports, and airports. For the first time in human history, the majority of the world’s population will soon live in cities rather than in the countryside. But the downside to all this abundance is over-complexity, over-specialization, and lengthy supply chains. In the First World, less than 2% of the population is engaged in agriculture or fishing. Ponder that for a moment: Just 2% are feeding the other 98%. The food on our tables often comes from hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Our heating and lighting is provided by power sources typically hundreds of miles away. For many people even their tap water travels hundreds of miles. Our factories produce sophisticated cars and electronics that have subcomponents that are sourced on three continents. It is as if we are all cogs in an enormous invisible machine, each playing our part to make sure that the average Americans comes home from work each day to find: his refrigerator well-stocked with food, his lights reliably come on, his telephone works, his tap gushes pure water, his toilet flushes, his paycheck is automatically deposited to his bank, his garbage is collected, his house is a comfortable 70 degrees, his TV entertainment up and running 24/7, and his DSL connection. We’ve built our fellow Americans a very big machine that up until now has worked remarkably well, with just a few glitches. But that may not always be the case. As Napoleon found the hard way, long chains of supply and communication are fragile and vulnerable. Someday the big machine may grind to a halt. Let me describe one set of circumstances that could cause that to happen:

Imagine an influenza pandemic, spread by causal contact, that is so virulent that it kills more than half of the people that are infected. And imagine the advance of the disease so rapid that it makes its way around the globe in less than a week. (Isn’t modern jet air travel grand?) Consider that we have global news media that is so rabid for “hot” news that they can’t resist showing pictures of men in respirators, rubber gloves, and Tyvek coveralls wheeling gurneys out of houses, laden with body bags. They report countless stories like: “Suzie Smith brought the flu bug home from school. Everyone in her family died.” and, “Mr. Jones brought the flu home from work. Everyone in his family died.” Over and over. Repeated so many times that the majority of citizens decides “I’m not going to go to work tomorrow, or the day after, or in fact until after ‘things get better.'” But by not going to work, some important cogs will be missing from the Big Machine. Orders won’t get processed at the Wal-Mart distribution center. The 18 Wheel trucks won’t make deliveries to groceries stores. Gas stations will run out of fuel. Policemen and firemen won’t show up at work. Telephone technicians will call in sick. Power lines will get knocked down in wind storms, and there will be nobody to repair them. Crops will rot in the fields because there will be nobody to pick them, or transport them, or magically bake them into Pop-Tarts, or stock them on your supermarket shelf. The Big Machine will be broken.

Does this sound scary? Sure it does, and it should. The implications are huge. But it gets worse: The average suburbanite only has about a week’s worth of food in their pantry. What will they do when it is gone, and there is no reasonably immediate prospect of re-supply? Supermarket shelves will be stripped bare. Faced with the alternative of staying home and starving or going out to meet Mr. Influenza, millions of growling stomachs will force Joe American to go and “forage.” The first likely targets will be restaurants, stores, and food distribution warehouses. Not a few “foragers” will soon transition to full scale looting, taking the little that their neighbors have left. Next, they’ll move on to farms that are in close proximity to cities. A few looters will form gangs that will be highly mobile and well-armed, ranging deeper and deeper into farmlands, running their vehicles on siphoned or stolen-at-gunpoint gasoline. Eventually their luck will run out and they will all die of the flu, or of instantaneous lead poisoning. But before the looters are all dead they will do a tremendous amount of damage. Be ready to confront them. Your life, and the lives of your loved ones will count on it. You’ll need to be able to put a lot of lead down range–at least enough to convince Mr. Looter that he needs to go find some other farm or ranch to loot.

In recent months, the press has shifted its attention, ignoring the continuing threat of Asian Avian Flu mutating into a strain that can be easily transmitted between humans. If and when that mutation occurs–and the epidemiologists tell us that it is more a question of “when” rather than “if”–then things could turn very, very ugly all over the globe. Be prepared. To start getting ready, you should first read the background article on pandemic preparation that I wrote last year, titled “Protecting Your Family From an Influenza Pandemic.” Next, think through all of the implications of disruption of key portions of our modern technological infrastructure. Plan accordingly. You need to be able to provide water, food, heating, and lighting for your family. Ditto for law enforcement, since odds are that a pandemic will be YOYO (“You’re on your own!”) time. Get your beans, bullets, and band-aids squared away, pronto. Most importantly, be prepared to hunker down in “self quarantine” for three or four months, with no outside contact. That will take a lot of logistics, as well as plenty of cash on hand to pay your bills in the absence of a continuing income stream.

One closing thought: There are only about 15 large food storage dealers in the country, and even fewer firms that sell non-hybrid (“heirloom”) gardening seed. How long do you think that their inventories will last, once there is news that there is an easily transmissible human-to-human flu strain of flu, anywhere on the planet? Prices are currently low and inventories are plentiful. It is better to be a year too early than a day too late. Please consider patronizing one of more of our advertisers. We have half a dozen of them that sell long term storage food and heirloom garden seed. They deserve your business.