The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Texas Lessons For Preparing For The Ongoing Collapse

The Texas disaster is a very dramatic example of what I’ve been urging people to prepare for.

When I was a kid I lived in a number of third world nations: Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and visited a bunch more.

In a failing state, stuff just doesn’t work well, and when there is a shove, it collapses. You can count on infrastructure or the state when things go bad.

Most of the time it’s less dramatic than the Texas disaster, BUT when you have a fragile state and infrastructure, every disaster turns into a catastrophe. Texas is the worst first world infrastructure collapse we’ve seen, but California in recent years has embarassed itself.

In fragile ecosystems, as well, events burn out of control quickly, as with the Australian, Brazilian, Californian, and various other wildfires.

Further, “once in a hundred year” weather events are becoming common. This was predicted by Stirling Newberry back in the 90s to me (he couldn’t get it published) and it’s now understood by scientists to be the case.

So if you have a neoliberal austerity state which has spent 40 years de-regulating and privatizing public infrastructure and downsizing the public service into incapability, you wind up with a situation where you can’t count on the State for water, food, or power during emergencies.

That means you have to prepare for yourself. Some off-grid energy, some food and medicine and water stores or ability to get those even in a collapse.

Collapses are sometimes brief: Texas will be back to normal soon enough, though the water damage caused by bursting pipes will lead to a lot of folks winding up homeless.

But they will become more frequent and even when there isn’t a crisis America and various other nations will move to a situation where rolling brown-outs and black-outs are common; where you can’t trust the water (already true in large parts of America) and where healthcare is more and more rationed. (One scandal in the UK is how people with learning disabilities are not being ressusitated from Covid: that sort of “triage” will continue and become wider.)

There are a lot of different decline scenarios. For many people “chronic with irregular but frequent mini-crises” is a good one to expect. The state won’t go away entirely; the cities will not collapse 98% and empty into the country the Dark Ages, but life will get shittier and more uncertain the social supports that were common and routine; the competence expected from the Great Society and which lived on because the Great Engineers of the 30s-70s did good work, will go away.

In such a situation you need to be able to handle bumps. If power goes out for a few hours or days or even two or three weeks, you need to handle it. If food is disrupted, you need to handle it. (Hardest is water.)

That’s just how it’s going to be.

These solutions don’t have to be individual or family based, they can be communal outside the State, but if you don’t have them, it takes little to destroy your life. If you’ve got the money, something like this off the grid house in the inner city is a good idea, if you don’t you should still make preparations.

Remember, these sort of events will become chronic, and in time lesser versions will just become part of everyday life. I expect, assuming I live a normal lifespan (and I’m not young any more) to see in the first world the sort of brown-outs and blackouts that were common in the third world when I was young: but exacerbated by climate and social collapse.

Get ready now, while you still can. Leave it too late, and it will be, well, too late.

Worst case scenario, if by some miracle our society pulls itself together, you’ve spent money on some preparedness you don’t use and have a home with higher resale value.

And remember, don’t build your wonderful home on a Florida flood plain; a place where the aquifers will all dry up in 20 years or the equivalent.

Be well.

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Rush Limbaugh Escapes The Hell-World He Created


Open Thread


  1. bruce wilder

    Just glancing at CNN Texas stories and thinking this is what the collapse looks like, this is what to prepare for: this is what happens as a country undevelops amidst rising rates of calamity.

    And Ian is writing!

    Good job.

  2. bruce wilder

    In other news, the Biden Administration will use FEMA to fight domestic terrorism.

    I kid you not.

  3. Zachary Smith

    Regarding water, at Google Books search for “making alkaline water drinkable”. It’s from 1922, and the only materials required are a teakettle above a fire or heater, a short rubber hose, and a long metal pipe. The little piece specifies iron pipe, but that stuff is so expensive I substituted copper. A creek a quarter mile away has never (in my memory) dried up, and distillation will allow me to remove the worst of the contaminants.

    My well is over 100 feet, but I’m confident Indiana will allow farmers to suck it dry in short order when drought becomes a regular event. Within easy driving distance there is already at least one center pivot irrigation system. There will be many more as the Midwest dry spells become worse and happen more often.

    Texas and California disasters happened at a time when politicians still pretended to care. When they write off entire regions, I fear the above post will turn out to be excessively optimistic. Trump tossing rolls of paper towels to Puerto Ricans will seem like “the good old days”.

    I’d suggest researching the collapse of the USSR, and adding to that situation heavily armed roving gangs. The US has a LOT more guns than did the USSR, and Facebook has ensured we also have an unusual number of brainwashed cult members.

  4. Astrid

    Former USSR also had no debt peonage, no mortgage, and reasonably effective/cheap healthcare/education system. A lot of the more privileged urbanites also had dachas where they can grow some food. I bet even at its most dire, very few people in the former eastern block was 1-2 paydays from homelessness, which is what USians are already facing in ever increasing numbers.

    For water purification, I would recommend a solar distiller over something that requires a heat source. But if you’re seriously concerned about polluted local water sources, a roof water collection system might be the way to go.

  5. magIcKnowledge

    So I should drop out of business school and learn to make soap & raise chickens?

  6. Jerry Brown

    There is a different and more hopeful scenario. That you recognize infrastructure is crumbling means you have to recognize that infrastructure was built in the first place. There is no reason we cannot rebuild it and improve upon it. Sometimes it seems like you have lost all hope for humanity. I have not and I don’t think you should either.

    If anyone should have lost hope it was the people who lived through the Great Depression and then had to endure World War 2. My generation (which I think you are part of) has valid complaints and concerns but what- we should give up and consign ourselves to a future that is worse?

    Screw that. We can do better.

  7. different clue

    Here is a little article from the Weather Channel site about how a few people in Texas are coping with the current situation.

  8. Ian Welsh

    You should prepare for one that is worse. By all means, seek a political solution but recognize one may not happen, or may not happen soon enough to save you. The political solution that ended the Great Depression included a HELL of a lot of dead people and even more impoverished and homeless ones.

    This is going to be worse than the Great Depression, because the environmental problems will be worse (and yes, I know about the Dust bowl. I’m old enough that my father and his generation were kids in the Great Depression.)

    Business school: in all but the worst scenarios, some people will be more or less fine in whatever system remains. Maybe hedge your bets both ways if you can.

  9. Willy

    Milton Friedman was about as bright as that Karl Marx guy when he assumed that the worst of humans could be kept checked and balanced, without the right checks and balances. Government should be about doing the hard work of problem solving and not the next flashy whizzbang ideology.

  10. Fox Blew

    “In such a situation you need to be able to handle bumps…These solutions don’t have to be individual or family based, they can be communal outside the State…”

    In regards to Texas, my understanding (which is very limited) is that there is a robust ‘evangelical big-church’ community, as well as a sizeable Catholic church. Have their been examples in the news about these communities acting significantly as “solutions” for their members in this time of crisis.

    I would like to think there are many.

  11. Jason

    When I was a kid I lived in a number of third world nations: Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and visited a bunch more.

    I’d like to know more about these experiences. Why did you live in these places to begin with?

  12. Plague Species

    Goodbye America. It was nice knowin’ ya. Or, on second thought, maybe not. Either way, adios.

  13. Plague Species

    I know a few folks who work for FEMA and they are the domestic terrorists. The so-called domestic terrorists have infiltrated, and are significantly represented in, every institution, FEMA included.

  14. Jack

    Excellent article!

  15. Zotter

    Ian, any chance of Stirling penning a guest post here? I for one would like to hear his thoughts on recent events, and would love to get an update on his tri-polar American politics idea. That might be the best political post I’ve ever read.

  16. anon

    Stocking up on cleaning supplies, toilet paper, canned goods, face masks, and water seems like a good idea to continue if you have the storage capacity. If it isn’t a pandemic it’s a weather related event. I expect real estate prices to keep rising, at least in the USA, because the conditions are different from 2008. There is less supply and more demand for homes in the suburbs and semi-rural areas to have additional space for gardening and disaster prepping.

    It would not surprise me to see another pandemic in my lifetime (I’m still young) and weather disasters each summer and winter with extreme heat or extreme cold. Much o this will be the cause of climate change. Preparing your house to withstand extreme weather disasters, be it a fire or an ice storm, could save your life. It will increase your property value because there will be more demand for these types of homes in the future. People who aren’t taking climate change seriously will pay the price if they aren’t in the 1% and can’t afford to fly out like Ted Cruz and his family the moment a disaster hits.

  17. kråke

    Calls to ‘stock up’ never seem to account for the very first development in all declining/failing states, which is that previously criminal organizations take over “distribution and recovery”. And while they don’t have fraternal orders and review boards, like the cops, they are much freer to enter your ‘stocked up’ house and take all that stuff you’ve so kindly put all in one place for them.

    And that is as true in Missoula as it is in Boston, Houston or Tampa.

  18. Plague Species

    Great point, kråke. We have friends from Bosnia and this is exactly how they described it. Today, those criminals are the most wealthy people in Bosnia. A pyrrhic victory, of course. Fyi, Bosnia’s life expectancy dropped dramatically to something like 58. I expect life expectancy in America to follow the same course in the next decade to two. It might bounce around a bit, but the trajectory is down, down, down from this point onward.

  19. Hugh

    Even a good system can have a disaster from time to time. It says a lot that we all know that’s not what happened here. Texas, the CDC, Trump, the 2008 meltdown, the F-35, climate change, make your own list, it will be long. There are so many cases where we can see that something is a really bad idea, that it won’t work, but we are told the problem is really with us. If we had the proper ideology, faith, we would see that 2 + 2 = 17 and days of reckoning never come, or come to people we don’t care about. The rich don’t care because they get as rich or richer from disaster. And the powerful don’t care because they will just blame it on someone else or say, in chorus, hoocoodanode. We live in the Age of Stupid, where reality doesn’t exist until it does, and where the only lessons learned from mistakes are how to dodge responsibility for them, lay blame, especially on those who got it right, and do it all over again.

  20. kråke

    It is from Bosnian and Ukrainian friends and family that I heard the first stories about how this works. Seemed like a rule, but wasn’t a big sample, and smuggling and organized “recovery” were already endemic to Comintern countries. It was later confirmed by a workmate from Zimbabwe, friends from Eritrea, and acquaintances who lived through state failures in Cambodia, Georgia, Honduras and El Salvador. One of my clients owns a small motel in ES, and while he “only” charges $25 a night for rooms, a good chunk of that (local) windfall goes to paying a gang not to strip it bare, or rob the Swiss and German hikers who rent from him, on a weekly basis.

  21. elissa3

    One of the keys to doing OK in future crisis situations will be local energy generation and storage. A disaster just waiting to happen is a grid failure in the sun belt states during the summer. 95 F and 95% humidity without air conditioning for a week or so will cause thousands of deaths. Cities like Houston are in a sense “artificial cities” in that their natural pre-air conditioning population should be a fraction of what it is today. Same for Phoenix and Tucson where, although the heat is dry, they have 100+ straight days of 100 F. All this has evolved in my lifetime and, sadly, will devolve in a more chaotic manner.

  22. coloradoblue

    Astrid, rooftop rainwater capture and storage is certainly an option, but in many places a very limited one (apartment buildings, condos, townhouses, and many residences with HOA restrictions). Worse, here in Colorado the practice was illegal under state law until 2016. And even then, when the legislature changed the law, it was limited and restrictive.

    From the Divisions of Water Resources website: allowing “for Pilot Projects for the Beneficial Use of Captured Precipitation in New Real Estate Developments…to evaluate the feasibility of rainwater harvesting as a water conservation measure in Colorado, when paired with efficient landscaping and irrigation practices. Approved Pilot Projects may harvest without replacement a volume of rainwater runoff equivalent to the predevelopment consumptive use of the native vegetation.”

    Single family and common-wall units of no more than four residences, and “You can fill and refill two rain barrels with a combined storage capacity up to 110 gallons throughout the year.” And the collected water could only be used outside.

  23. Keith in Modesto

    Third paragraph, second sentence: ” You can count on infrastructure or the state when things go bad.”

    From the context, I’m guessing Ian meant to write, “You *can’t* count on ….”?

  24. S Brennan

    A more realistic problem are the large electrical bills people are facing in TX,

    “Electricity supply in Texas has stabilized now. But it was grossly out of whack over the past several days. It went from about $50 per Megawatt to $9,000”

    Example 550-ft^2 apartment was $150-200/mo but now has skyrocketed to over $1200/mo…the vast majority of the bill for a two day time period.

    I know the “end of the world” thing has a dark glamor, particularly for our pseudo-revolutionaries, whose dreams of a shiny new world never came to fruition over the course of their lives and now want to see those ingrates who ignored their great ideas get their just deserts in a catastrophic societal collapse but, “sadly” for our pseudo-revolutionaries…they won’t live to see that day. warming preachers who’s vast wealth allows them to fly private jets. Private jets that consume more resources in year than a town of 10,000 souls. Yes, we may overheat the planet in spite of us being in a solar minimum but, what’s a schlep gonna do about it? That’s what I wanna know? “We”, as nation, just decided that anyone who opposes unfettered global trade, migration and fiance is a racist, or a Ruskie spy, or an insurrectionist or, perhaps..all three. We all know that “serious people” are down with the massive carbon footprint that global trade and finance produce but, we know it’s rude to say the obvious aloud. And since that’s vast majority of CO2 emissions…well, you gotta break a few if you wanna follow neoD doctrine.

    Anyway, most folks have to live in the real world…you know, where the rubber hits the road…they have to empty their wallets before the highway man’s guns to vouchsafe their children’s lives each and every day. They don’t have time [or the income/wealth] for fantasies about the end of civilization as we know it. If the majority of proles worry about “the end” they’ll be too paralyzed to deal with the daily shit in the “middle”. Just put water aside for thirty days in empty containers that you would throw away and periodically refresh them.

  25. Astrid

    @coloradoblue: thanks for the data point. The arcaneness of Western US water rights is arcane. You might want to rig something’s up that’s confirming to the 110 gallon standard, then have a couple other barrels or a couple IBCs in reserve, ready to be hooked in when there’s need and authority breaks down or changes it’s mind. Can you have an underground cistern to store your well water? Or just a couple barrels in your garage or basement? I have a 55 gallon barrel in my utility room for peace of mind.

  26. Feral Finster

    I lived for some years in Ukraine, much of those years on a local salary, i.e., not an expat package.

    Ukraine taught me a lot. I came back a very different feline.

  27. Ché Pasa

    There’s a multi-hundred acre solar electricity installation a couple of miles from our place. All of the electricity generated there is sent forty-fifty miles away, not to our local electric utility which generates none of its own power but buys power from outside sources — some as far away as Arizona. There are also wind-farms not far away, but all their electricity is sold outside the region, some as far away as Texas (not all of Texas is on their own grid).

    It seems to me that should push come to shove during the ongoing collapse, it would be relatively simple to switch the solar generation to serve our local utility, same with the wind generation. The problem is that our local utility has never been particularly reliable — outages of an hour or more are routine, day-long or longer outages are not infrequent. Not many around here have their own generators (access to fuel is the limiting issue as well as initial cost) and roof-top solar is very rare (again, a matter of initial cost more than anything).

    Water is from wells (there’s not enough rainfall even in good years to collect enough for household use) and around here, some wells have run dry and have to be dug ever deeper. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, there were no Native settlements or pueblos in the immediate area, and more distant pueblos were abandoned during the long drought of the 1670s. Most were never reoccupied.

    We experience a few episodes of near-and-below zero temperatures every winter, but they usually don’t last more than a couple of days. One time (2011?), though, it was close to or below zero for a week and many places suffered burst pipes (now replaced with pvc). Otherwise, we’re mostly able to cope with the cold. We don’t heat our whole house in winter, and some people we know only heat one or two rooms when it’s really cold. Lots of folks have wood stoves, but make no mistake, they aren’t cheap to keep stoked in cold weather.

    A lot of the food sold locally is trucked in from Texas. We don’t know what will happen thanks to the Texas deep-freeze. We’re hearing stories of lots of ruined farms with major loss of crops and animals. But no one really seems to know the Big Picture.

    The odd thing is that folks are still moving out here from the city.

    So it goes.

  28. Mark Pontin

    Worth a read for those who haven’t–

    Dmitry Orlov on ‘Social Collapse Best Practices’

    Everything Orlov says strikes me as sensible and grounded in the reality that he observed during the collapse of the USSR and when he came to the U.S.

  29. Mark Pontin

    anon wrote: ‘It would not surprise me to see another pandemic in my lifetime (I’m still young).’

    Count on it. The interactions between nature and an increasingly ubiquitous humanity that produced COV19 will continue to create threats.

    Furthermore, everybody who knew anything about the possibilities pathogen-wise expected a global pandemic and will tell you that global humanity got off very lightly with COV19, which has a very high reproductive rate but low lethality. In a way, we’ve been lucky: we’ve got our training wheels via this coronavirus and have applied the new biotech to roll out vaccines in record time.

    That in its way will also present a threat. The mRNA vaccines are only the tip of the iceberg as regards what the new synthetic bio-based biotechnology is capable of — most normies have no idea.

    They’re going to find out, though. Much as computer and networking technology has dominated and transformed human societies over the last half-century, the new biotechnology will dominate the coming decades. It will dominate and transform human affairs far more profoundly, however, because it has the power to reframe the terms of life itself.

    And much as computer networks became integrated into military affairs, the new biotechnology will follow the same arc. It already has been: Biopreparat, the old USSR’s bioweapons program, achieved certain things biotech-wise twenty years ahead of everywhere else.

    In terms of merely killing people, bombs and so forth will remain the primary threat. But the real objective of military action is to change the enemy’s behavior, and pathogens — as COV19 has already demonstrated by globally changing humanity’s behavior– have an unparalleled capability to do that. Anything that can be done with a drug or chemical to change an individual’s mental state, reproductive status, etc. can be done with a pathogen in principle.

  30. Ian Welsh

    My father worked in those places, which is I was there. First running his own company, till political problems took him down, and second working for the UN (FAO). I also had some family in India, as a number chose to stay behind after independence. (I’ve lost touch with them since then.)

    Violence in times of breakdown is a problem. In other posts I have noted this fact and advised to be in good with the local violent types and/or to hide what you have and hide it well. (For example, if you have power, either share or make it not obvious. Don’t run visible lights at night, for example.)

    The reason you go with a communal solution, at least partly, is because of protection from violence. It took almost no time for mosques in Iraq to stand up militias to protect their members, for example.

    If you had your own backup power, you wouldn’t be faced with an $8k power bill for 3 days, by the way.

  31. different clue

    Stockpiling stuff would make sense for a situation of short-term interruptions in things, in the context of the larger society remaining intact over the longer term.

    In a terminal breakdown situation stockpiling would have to be approached differently and done differently . . . perhaps making most sense if a whole community in a place is stockpiling and stockpiling alike, and is prepared to handle the violent looter gangs one way or another.

  32. Hugh

    In the face of societal collapse, unless you have the knowledge and land to low tech produce food from it, anything else, including stockpiling, is just delaying the inevitable.

    What makes Texas the new normal is that it was self-inflicted and avoidable.

  33. Astrid

    It depends on what you are stockpiling. Ideally, a lot of it would be tools and seeds that are useful but can’t be immediately translated into cash/gold. If you have tools and skills to fix other people’s stuff, they will want to help you stick around. Don’t be known as the person with money or gold or weapons. Even if you are useful to others, that’s painting a bull’s eye on your back.

    Ideally, you want to be located where there is more incentive to keep order, though late capitalism is so predatory that you can’t count on traditional power figures to keep order and keep their flock for future shearing. How well local communities do will likely be largely be luck. just make sure you appear to be helpful, cooperative, and useful to local power figures. But if situations look long term bad, it’s better to figure out an exit strategy while you still can.

    The last season of Brockmire has a hilarious vision of the 2030s. I actually hope we get that dystopia and not something worse.

  34. S Brennan

    “It seems to me that should push come to shove during the ongoing collapse, it would be relatively simple to switch the solar generation to serve our local utility, same with the wind generation” – Ché

    Our pseudo-revolutionary in his dotage…once again, “studiously” not understanding that “getting your way”, at the expense of others, is accomplished, only at the point of a rifle barrel.

  35. Ché Pasa

    Orlov’s solution based on his experience of the Soviet Union’s collapse is one of practicality. What works, what can people adapt to, how profound will the collapse be, what will be the most successful means of self-and-group preservation?

    His basic insight is that things don’t collapse all of a sudden for the most part, some necessary services keep going for a long time and many make it through to the other side of the collapse relatively intact. People don’t move to the country; they stay in the cities, households doubling or tripling up in many cases. Maintaining services in a city is relatively easier than providing services in a small town or rural area. For the most part, the rabble are not adaptable to hardscrabble rural life in any case (YouTubbers notwithstanding). In fact there may be a net return to the cities from the suburbs and rural areas.

    Family and community are critically important for survival, and yet the truth is that a lot of people will die; life expectancy will plummet and for many survival won’t be possible. Disease, murder, suicide, conflict, homelessness, abandonment, etc. will all play a role (as they are doing). The pandemic has reduced US life expectancy by a year so far, but we know that life expectancy itself is deeply class based, and the life expectancy for the Lower Orders is many years fewer than that of their betters.

    Stockpiling is fine but if you’re part of a community, individuals and households generally don’t need to have a lot of supplies on hand. They need enough to tide them over and to share. If they’re in a city, deliveries will continue though more and more sporadically. If they’re in the country, deliveries may be irregular and sparse.

    If the basics continue with few disruptions or alterations, the Collapse might be more of an inconvenience than a catastrophe. But we see in Texas that so many people have been so negatively affected at once, and so many cannot recover any time soon — something like the post-Katrina situation on the Gulf Coast — that substantial social change is certain. For one thing, many Texans will have to leave (many already have) and there may be nothing to go back to as houses and buildings are written off, businesses shutter for good, and whole sectors of the economy disappear.

    We’ll see soon enough, won’t we?

  36. different clue

    For those who may still have heatless houses, or for people who get heatless houses in the next Deep Cold outbreak, here is a video of someone ( Beau of the Fifth Column) describing some ways to preserve heat in a small sheltering space inside the larger house. After he gets done describing these methods, then the rest of his video is political as most of them are. But it begins with some actionable stay-warm advice.

  37. different clue

    Here is a random bit of advice I stumbled upon on the reddit.

  38. different clue

    Some people have heard of the acronym ” LIHOP”, which means Let It Happen On Purpose.
    Some definitions . . .

    And there is HIHOP for Help It Happen On Purpose and MIHOP for Make It Happen On Purpose.

    I think we need to tweak this acronym to help describe State Failure and its engineers, designers and planners.

    LIFOP for Let It Fail On Purpose.
    HIFOP for Help It Fail On Purpose.
    MIFOP for Make It Fail On Purpose.

    I think the Texas grid was HIFOPped at the very least. For whatever the reasons may be.

    I think that in a very crude binarily simplistic way, Texans may be divided into 2 groups, the BOTs ( Best Of Texas), and the ROTs ( Rest Of Texas). The ROTs include the WOTs ( Worst Of Texas) and the milling mass herd in the middle.

    When The Sheep Look Up and Are Not Heated or Watered, which way will they turn? To the BOTs or to the WOTs?

    If the BOTs want the Sheep to turn BOTwards, they will have to offer a compelling example of ” things working out real good”. If there are any Majority or SuperMajority Deep Blue enclaves in Texas, they should really be looking at as much ” velvet stealth secession in place” from the ROTs all around them as they can figure out how to do. That is a first step to prevent being dragged down to a lowest ROT level in order to pre-empt any hope of the Blue BOT dots standing forth as a better example.

    I have no idea how the Blue BOT dots can “velvet stealth secede in place” but they will have to do it to save themselves from joining the ROTs in one big La Brea Tar Pit of Doom. I read that the Austin Power Utility got itself back up and working. Can it seal itself off from the ROT grid as thoroughly as the ROT grid is sealed off from the American Grids? Their mere biological survival depends on it.

    If they can do that, then they can work on being better visible examples for any milling mass members in the middle who want to . . . . to model their areas on.

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