Osama bin Laden is dead. While this is undoubtedly good news for many, it doesn’t signify the end of all things evil on planet Earth. On the contrary, fears of revenge attacks are heightened and the Home Office comfortably informs us that the current threat level from international terrorism is ‘severe’.
Meanwhile, there’s always the nagging possibility of a global economic meltdown brought about by dwindling supplies of oil and rare earth metals. Or a world war induced by population explosion, food shortage or political instability. Or the creeping inevitability of climate change and its disastrous consequences. Or nuclear fallout. Or asteroid impact. The Rapture (rescheduled for October). Alien invasion. I could go on.
Lots of reasons to worry, then – and there are plenty of people out there who are taking positive steps to prepare themselves for the breakdown of civilisation as we know it. For them, preparedness is all – some of them even call themselves ‘preppies’: a cute nickname for anyone convinced that apocalypse is imminent.
This drive for post-upheaval self-protection started in the United States of America, where fear and suspicion are popular hobbies among a certain mindset. But the survivalist movement is alive and well in the UK as well.
Like every lifestyle choice, there are degrees to the level at which you can engage. At the top end of the scale you can heavily arm yourself, learn how to survive at sea by sucking the fluids from fish eyes, stockpile the beans and be ready to lead a small community of like-minded forest-dwellers who will form the basis of our next great civilisation.
At the other end there are plenty of people, young and old, who are keen to brush up their knowledge of the sort of survival skills practised by the suspiciously well-fed Ray Mears and his ilk.
What motivates them varies enormously, and correlates with the degree to which they’re convinced the current situation is unsustainable. Jonny Crockett, who runs Survival School and provides bushcraft courses for all ages from his base in Gloucestershire, assures me that his participants are free of paranoid conspiracy theorists. His school takes in all ages, from teenagers to octogenarians, most of whom simply want to enjoy a bit of adventure in the woods.
Many of Survival School’s older participants will have done their charity parachute jumps and safari holidays, and are looking for an alternative challenge, something that will get them outdoors and keep them fit. And if they learn how to trap and skin a rabbit while they’re at it, all the better.
At the other extreme of the scale there are those people waiting for the moment, as they put it, ‘WTSHTF’ (When The Shit Hits The Fan). These individuals are more secretive, often operating alone – and as I’ve learned, they don’t trust journalists.
They communicate under assumed identities through web forums such as Prepared 2 Survive and Unsustainable Future, where, following a request to learn more about useful survival tools, I was shown a gallery of home-made videos featuring the sort of guns and knives that, if they’re legal, really shouldn’t be in the wrong hands. I should point out that, on the same forum, there was plenty of constructive discussion about growing your own vegetables and mending things.
We’ve been told historically that the end of the world is nigh. What’s hard to gauge is exactly how nigh it is. While it’s easy to dismiss the efforts of those who are making active preparations for a post-meltdown future, one incontrovertible factor remains: they might just be right.