Tuesday, June 30, 2009

After the RESET.

One Second After – William R. Forstchen

I picked up “One Second After” after a quick browse caught my interest for a beach read while vacationing in Maui. Here’s the challenge – some unhappy with America group manage to launch a few electromagnetic pulse [EMP] nuclear weapons to burst high over the U.S. The resultant high energy electro magnetic pulses overload almost all of our modern electrical equipment and devices so essentially of our making-life-livable (in modern terms) devices and infrastructure are useless. Cars don’t run, electricity doesn’t flow, food doesn’t get to the supermarket, hospitals are blacked out, no TV or iTunes, forget facebook, tweeting, and email. It’s over!

So what would you do? What would the country do? And what would our supposedly unaffected neighbors like Mexico, China and Canada do –help out or take advantage? The last question is largely left to almost a footnote at the end of the book, but it seems likely to be more ‘taking advantage’ than ‘helping out’ – but that is not the point of the story.

The real point of the story is to highlight how much we take for granted. Take food for example. Recently a friend of mine mentioned that not long ago that his three pre-teen kids became aware that hamburgers and steaks came from cows. Suddenly hamburgers and steaks were no longer eatable. And I overheard a family member observe, I hope tongue-in-cheek, that we could just go to the store to get milk if the dairy farms went bankrupt. Now that does seem a bit far-fetched.

Recently I did a short research paper on the future of sustainable agriculture in the American Midwest. I came away with a dismal conclusion – the talk of locovores and year round Farmers’ Markets like that pioneered in Newbury County, Ohio, by Rob Marqusee, will run into the problems of labor shortage, incentive shortage, and the focus of local politicians on what they see as faster ways to grow both blue and white collar jobs in their community. So, in brief, it’s not so easy to go ‘back to the future’ and build resiliency in our social infrastructure should its brittleness be attacked by those who don’t like us or we simply run into a tipping point of our own making.

“In One Second After” Mr. Forstchen covers the main questions of how one fictional family deals with the instant unraveling of society, the lack of effective national and state government responses, the coalescing of the local communities to ration limited resources, fend off migrating citizens in search of a temporary home, and defending against outright raids to take anything the community might have of use.

Sometimes brutal, fatalistic, and harsh the story does cause one to reflect during this economic downturn of 2008-2009 where our real strengths are and what does it take to survive economic and social collapse. What I miss in our national discourse today is in our spirit of offering a helping hand, where is the recipient’s clarity of reciprocal responsibility to add to the strength of the community? And will we, in the pursuit of entitlements for everyone except the rich (who must pay their fair share of course), know when we have killed the golden goose? Such questions are not casual in “One Second After.”

Mr. Forstchen caused me to think about these issues and how little we appreciate the intertwined complexity of the systems that cocoon our daily lives. I’ve thought more than a bit about such a collapse catastrophe but not to the point of stocking a year’s food supply and adding an AR15 in a gun locker. You should take a look at “Patriots – A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse” by James Wesley Rawles for that. I suspect we are more exposed to collapses of the type described by Jared Diamond in “Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” where we will foolishly just allow ourselves to clutch our lifestyles so tightly that we drive our resources use beyond the tipping point. Then we go the way of the Rapanui people of Easter Island (See Collapse, pp107-111).

How would you respond to the giant “RESET!” challenges raised by Mr. Forstchen? You will be forced to think about it – if only a bit.

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