Transcript of James Wesley Rawles podcast
Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity Podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson. We are all worried about the state of the world, be it increasing tensions in the Middle East, or perhaps an over-leveraged, too-big-to-fail banking system that is actually larger today than it was before the crisis of 2008. Or maybe we note depletion of basic resources, with none more basic than fresh groundwater. Or maybe politicians and central bankers the world over are intent on ignoring the lessons of the past while slavishly struggling to create more growth and debt instruments, and hopefully the economy, too. With a lot of luck, they may even succeed for a while.
But we all know this: The path we are on is unsustainable, which means it will someday stop. With a lot of luck, this will happen on our own terms. Far more likely, however, things will stop on some other terms. Perhaps Nature’s, or maybe the way all bubbles burst, through some collection of minor insults that shift the winds and tip the boat. Who knows?
Well, nobody knows, and that is the point. And neither can we know which of many scenarios will actually play out. Will the period of adjustment be gradual and gentle enough to give us all time to reorient our lives and systems without major disruption? Maybe. But it might also be a more rapid paralyzing and disruptive transition, more akin to falling off a ladder than climbing down. Just like anybody, I run all the various scenarios through my mind and try to tune my daily preparation and actions to optimize my current happiness and future resilience.
To help us explore what a quick trip down the ladder might entail, today we welcome James Wesley Rawles as our guest. Jim, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer, is the proprietor of survivalblog.com and author of several books, including the bestselling Patriot Novel Series that I have read and enjoyed.
With a background like that, it is little surprise that he is a leading expert in survival tactics and developing self-sufficiency. For those interested in learning how to become less dependent on the system, Jim is a true font of practical knowledge. Jim, thank you so much for joining us today.
James Wesley Rawles: Thanks for having me on, Chris.
Chris Martenson: Let us begin by going a little bit deeper into your background and the practical expertise that has helped you develop.
James Wesley Rawles: Well, as you mentioned, I am a former Army intelligence officer. And when I was in Army intelligence, it really gave me some exposure by way of country studies and a lot of classified reports. It gave some exposure to just how fragile national infrastructures can be. And in reading through those country studies, I came to the realization that our own nation is actually quite fragile. We have incredibly long chains of supply. We are becoming increasingly technologically dependent with every passing year. And we have a pampered society that is not used to doing things for themselves. And we have essentially built ourselves a house of cards. When things do fall apart, I think they will be quite traumatic.
Chris Martenson: Well, now, what are some of the triggers that are on your radar screen for reasons that might happen? Do you think it is just that technology fails because it becomes too complex? Is it maybe a coronal mass ejection, which we talked of some recently, or…?
James Wesley Rawles: Well, yeah, one of the ones near the top of my list would be an X-class solar flare. Of course, there is always the risk of a hacker attack on the data software that controls the power grid, utilities, and oil refineries, for example. There is always the risk of a global pandemic that would keep people at home and away from their jobs at the utilities, and we could see the power grid fail for that reason. And of course, there is always the risk of an economic collapse. And I think the current risk is quite high, presently, because we have central bankers that are attempting to reinflate a bubble when they really should not. And if there is an economic collapse, I think that things could become so traumatic in the big cities so quickly that, just like a pandemic, utility workers are going to be afraid to leave their homes to get to work. And with the way the NRC regulations are written right now, unless a nuclear power plant has a certain level of staffing, it has to shut down, by law.
Chris Martenson: This idea of having a grid shutdown that has come up several times so far. Is this at the top of your list of concerns?
James Wesley Rawles: I think that the power grids, and there are three of them, are the real lynchpins of modern society. There are three grids in the United States: an Eastern Grid, a Western Grid, and a Texas Grid. We have so much that depends upon the grid that without them I think that we would see our society evolve into chaos very quickly. We are dependent on the grid for telecommunications, for reordering systems for the grocery stores, for example, and they have all switched over to just-in-time inventory control. So their inventories are razor-thin. We are dependent on power grids for the banking system, and even the way that businesses operate is dependent on grid power. Not just for the cash registers, but if you look at modern commercial architecture, the last 30 years it has been very much geared toward concrete-slab tilt-up architecture – what you see in your typical big box stores. These are essentially windowless buildings that will be completely untenable if the power grids go down. There is not enough natural light, not enough natural ventilation. Essentially, they are going to be big dark caves.
Chris Martenson: Poorly ventilated caves, too, at that.
James Wesley Rawles: Yeah.
Chris Martenson: Right.
James Wesley Rawles: Yeah, they are either going to be freezing cold caves in the northern climates, or hot humid caves in the southern climates. It is not a very enviable kind of situation. I do not think that most businesses are going to be able to revert to 1950s-style commerce. Even if they wanted to run a manual cash till, most stores are not set up to handle that at all.
Chris Martenson: Have you been tracking at all what has been happening in – I consider Greece to be in a capital-D Depression, and they certainly have been suffering. And they have got well over 50% unemployment in the youth and pieces like that. Have you looked at what has been going on in their society and how they have been coping?
James Wesley Rawles: Oh sure. If anything, Greece is an example for us. It is kind of a preview of what a slow-slide scenario would look like. I think here in the States, we will not even have the benefit of a slow slide. Because Greece is, in a lot of ways, still a very traditional society and has a fairly homogeneous population. It still has a fairly high percentage of people that live off the land, either fishing or in small agriculture.
In the United States, you have got 1% of the population feeding the other 99%. And if we see problems in the United States, I think they are going to happen much more quickly. Things would come unraveled practically overnight. And again, the lynchpin will be the power grid.
Chris Martenson: Well, it is interesting to me that in nature the idea of resilience comes about with the ability to withstand a shock of some kind. We have a very cost-effective society. Wal-Mart is very, very cost effective. But the point you are making here is that it is not resilient.
James Wesley Rawles: Exactly.
Chris Martenson: It is not even just the long supply chains. But there are so many interlocking pieces. For Wal-Mart to run, what do you need? Well, you need the grid, because they only do point-of-sale electronic debits, for the most part. They are not tuned to run on cash, anyway. But even if they were, they are relying on nightly re-supplies and a nationally coordinated inventory control system to even know which trucks to load and which items to move to different stores. So the whole thing is a very complex web. Your thesis is that that web looks good – looks robust, but may not be that robust.
James Wesley Rawles: Right. Outwardly, it looks quite resilient, but it is not. What we have is incredibly long chains of supply. And you mentioned Wal-Mart stores. Can you imagine what life will be in a Wal-Mart parking lot on the day that there is a federal government shutdown of all the SNAP cards? That is the digital replacements they have now for food stamps. But that could be turned off at the flick of a switch. I would not even feel safe in a Wal-Mart parking lot on that day, much less feel comfortable walking inside buying a cartload of groceries and trying to walk out to my vehicle with it. There is a lot of interdependence and a lot of just plain dependence that it is going to come back and bite us some day.
Chris Martenson: Well now, I think we had a local example, which hopefully you have tracked and can talk to us about. Because I think, there are some great lessons there. Recently, we had an example of what a regional power grid going down looks like. And that was with Superstorm Sandy, which took out a big chunk of eastern Pennsylvania and also New Jersey’s power grid for quite a long time. What lessons did we learn from that?
James Wesley Rawles: Well, Superstorm Sandy was instructive in a lot of ways. First, it showed us that there are weather-related events that can have wide-reaching effects far beyond just the specific area that is impacted by a storm. Because when supplies have to be trucked in for hundreds or even thousands of miles, and those systems break down, the reordering systems for retailers are disrupted. Then store shelves do not get restocked. Even if the 18-wheeled trucks can roll, if the Kanban Inventory Control systems are not functioning because of a lack of grid power at either end of a supply chain, you can have absolute chaos. And store shelves can be cleaned out overnight.
Chris Martenson: And certainly, we saw that also with fuel. Fuel is a big issue – obviously, we saw the lines of people trying to get a few extra gallons for their generator. It was very difficult to come by. And so my observation for that is, I know a lot of people were really quite unnerved by that. And that the next two weeks after that storm, they were really motivated to work on their preparations. And here we are a year later, and we’ll find that most of that passion has dissipated. Is this something you see a lot?
James Wesley Rawles: Right, yeah. For example, even the government attempts to correct the situation. It turned out to be counterproductive in the case of Superstorm Sandy. The State of New York had their government come up with the brilliant idea of giving away gasoline to anyone who walked up to a gas station. Well, that caused all kinds of problems. Not only did you have fights breaking out in gasoline lines, you also had people attempting to get gasoline in containers that were far from safe. I mean, they were essentially walking around with Molotov cocktails.
That situation could have spun completely out of control. And we literally could have seen fights that generated into flame wars. And I am not talking Internet flame wars. I am talking physical flame wars.
Chris Martenson: Well now, to shift gears a bit, the media describes you and perhaps you describe yourself as a survivalist. And for many, that conjures up an image of militant hermits hunkering down in bunkers in the depths of the wild. At Peak Prosperity, we focus on helping people develop resiliency, which does mean becoming more self-sufficient. But for most people, it also includes investing in relationships, having a valued productive role in your community. How do you define your mission?
James Wesley Rawles: Well, I try not to get caught up in semantics. And people attempt to distinguish between, say, preppers and survivalists; I actually use the terms interchangeably. My mission in life is to try to motivate as many families as possible to get prepared. And I look at community resilience basically from the ground up. The fewer families that are not prepared, the better. Basically, every family that is not prepared around me, I look at as a problem. And every family that is prepared, I look at as part of the solution. And every family that prepares is one less family that is going to be rushing to the grocery store at the eleventh hour, so all those families are going to be, again, part of the solution, not part of the problem.
I am a big believer in community sustainable agriculture, farmer’s markets, local currencies, all of that. And I come from right-of-center, for perspective. So I have a lot in common with the left-of-center, Birkenstock-wearing crowd; I am just a little more heavily armed.
Chris Martenson: That is a great description. Both of our sites serve people looking to become more prepared for this uncertain future that we both share. I think we see that. And in fact, the most common question we are asked by those who view the Crash Course is, well, what should I do? Many people are just really stumped at that first level of that first question. What foundational skills and preparations do you think are most important for the average individual to start on and develop?
James Wesley Rawles: Well, the most important, of course, is water filtration. I think that is crucial. Because if you look across the board at all the potential disasters, whether they are natural or manmade, one of the common denominators is the interruption of utility water supplies, public utilities. And even for people who live out in the country who are on well water, most families might even have a backup generator, but usually it is a 120-volt backup generator and they have a 220-volt well pump. And they are going to be out of luck. So water is absolutely crucial, and water filtration, in case you have to gather water from open sources, whether it is from your own roof down spouts, or from ponds or lakes or streams.
The other issues that go out in concentric rings from there are all pretty well addressed in a link that I have on my website. Again, it is survivalblog.com. If you go to the left-hand bar and you click on “List of Lists,” it pretty well runs through all the major areas that people need to consider and budget for, and budget their time for training. That webpage, like everything else on my website, is completely free of charge. And I strongly encourage everyone to take a look at that List of Lists page and think seriously about their own particular situation.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, because people are at different stages of life. They live in different climate zones. They have different family and work situations, different health situations. A lot of people suffer from chronic illness. So no two lists are going to be alike. People have to tailor their own lists to their own particular needs. And my approach is to work at it systematically. Set a budget, cut out all non-essential expenses, sell your jet ski and your HDTV, and get serious about this. Stock up, train up, and team up with your neighbors.
Chris Martenson: Oh, absolutely, on taking it seriously, and I love this List of Lists. I have it open here. You have got a list of things in the Barter and Charity List. There is a book list, communications, monitoring list, farm animals, financial prep list, firearms, first aid, and minor surgery. So it has got all the basics right there.
Now, let me throw you a graduate-level question, then. A friend of mine just happened to have been in Colorado a couple weeks ago. And he was there during the floods. And he had his water filtration with him. He had happened to have been on a four-day survival quest, and he was out there. So he was out there, and what he found was that these little tiny clear creeks that he had stepped over became 40-yards-wide raging torrents, and it was just covered full of that red clayish substance that pass for soil out there. And his water filtration just absolutely clogged up and could not handle whatever particulates were in the water. So there he was surrounded by water, and it was tricky.
James Wesley Rawles: Yeah, he needed to use a prefilter. And what he should have done was taken off his shirt, taken off his undershirt, redressed, and used that undershirt for prefilter. With a prefilter, you can make any filter last much, much longer when you have high turbidity of water. If you have cloudy water, the very best thing you can do is use a prefilter. And just a couple of layers of a t-shirt or one layer of a terry cloth towel is all you really need.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, he said he tried his shirt. It did not work all that well because the particulate was just that fine. So he felt a little chagrin. He wished he had brought coffee filters along. He thought those might have done the trick.
James Wesley Rawles: Yeah. And of course, your body can handle particulates as long as you just simply bring water to near a boil to kill the bugs. It does not even have to hit a full boil; just has to be up close to a boil, up in the 180 – 190°F range. You are going to kill all the bugs. In fact, you will probably get some really good nutrients from all that. So even if you have a situation where a water filter clogs up, you can always revert to Plan B, which is not boiling, but bringing water near a boil. Or you can treat water with chlorine. And that, again, is described on my blog.
Chris Martenson: All right, fantastic. Another question that follows up what should I do? for people at our site is where should I live? And I know that I chose where I live based on a number of criteria that satisfied me. And you have written several detailed publications on this topic and offer regular consultations to people trying to address that question. The answer, I am sure, is really tailored to the goals of individuals in each case. Could you just walk us through some of the key considerations that someone looking to relocate should consider? And maybe some of your favorite regions, too.
James Wesley Rawles: Well, Chris, I think the key issue for me, given my perspective on preparedness, is population density. If people have the opportunity to move to a lightly populated region, I highly recommend that they do so. Fewer people mean fewer problems. And regardless of the nature of a disaster, whether it is manmade or natural, if you are in a lightly populated region, odds are you are going to have fewer problems. You are certainly not going to have any big riots out in the middle of the hinter boonies, like where I live. So I would put population density at the very top of my list.
Another key consideration for picking a piece of property would be the local economy. You want to have a diverse local economy that is predominantly agricultural. And you want to be in an area with plentiful water, and preferably in an area with predominantly hydroelectric power, because hydroelectric power is the most resilient. And as I described in my blog, I wrote an article entitled “Islands in the Darkness,” and I was talking about the contingency plans that many power utilities have for cutting themselves off of the national grid in the event that the national grids go down. There are actually three grids: the Western Grid, the Eastern Grid, and the Texas Grid.
If one of those grids were to go down, a lot of utilities that are in power-exporting areas will be able to island it for themselves and their customers. For example, where I live, there are several major hydroelectric dams within 30 miles of me. And if the grids were to go down, within less than a minute they could reconstitute an island of power for all of the people in our power coop, for example.
Another region that is quite good for that was described in my novel Survivors. I set that in the area of Farmington, New Mexico, which is a natural-gas-producing area. And they, too, are a power exporter, because they not only have a large coal-fired plant in Northern Arizona, there is also in the Four Corners region a tremendous amount of natural gas that is produced. And they, too, export power.
So ideally, you want to be in a lightly populated area, an agricultural area, an area with plentiful water, preferably with shallow well depth – or even better, spring water, where you gravity-flow water to a house – and again, a power exporting area. Those will be the safest places to be if everything falls apart. And if we have a major grid-down whammy, a multigenerational whammy, I cannot think of a better place to be than someplace like that. Everywhere else in the country, there is going to be a substantial die-off of population. I certainly would not want to be on the East Coast. I certainly would not want to be in any of the major cities or near them. Nor would I want to be on a natural line of drift out of a major city.
I often have people ask me about the Central Valley of California, since it is so agricultural. But it is so close to major population centers, like the Los Angeles Basin and the San Francisco Bay area. I think the Central Valley is just going to get overrun. So even if you had a farm in the Central Valley, you might not be safe.
Chris Martenson: So besides not the Central Valley for that reason, what regions then float to the top of your list on that set of criteria?
James Wesley Rawles: There are quite a few good ones. What I refer to as the American Redoubt Region – which refers to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the eastern half of both Oregon and Washington – that, I think, is probably the safest area. But there are others that are quite good. There are places in the Dakotas that I would consider safe, the Four Corners region where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado come together. There is also some areas like southwestern Oregon are quite good. There are a few places back east that I would consider. But there you run into a population density problem. So even in the Ozarks or in the hills of eastern Tennessee, you have the illusion of being out in the boonies. But when the overall population density is 50 or 60 people per square mile for a state, eventually trouble is going to come looking for you. I would much rather live where I do, where the population density is only three people per square mile.
Chris Martenson: So let me ask you a question. I get this idea from people which – and these might be very successful investment-banker types, or people with a lot of money because they will say I am concerned about this. So I am going to buy a place. I will call it a hidey-hole. But these might be really elaborate beautiful places with fully tricked out – very wonderful places. But the idea is that they will have this place, and that the crisis – they will get to it and start living there, if that is what circumstances call for. Would you say that is a reasonable strategy or not, and why?
James Wesley Rawles: Well, it is not a very viable strategy. People really need to live at their retreats year-round and get into a self-sufficient lifestyle. You cannot just buy survival. There is a learning curve to all of this. You can buy a wood cookstove, but that does not mean you know how to really cook with a wood cookstove or bake with it. There is a learning curve there; the same for gardening. It takes years really to develop soil, to build up your multi-year crops, your berries, for example. Asparagus beds take years to develop. Fruit and nut trees take years to grow to maturity.
You really have to be there. You have to learn the peculiarities of your local climate and your local frost-free days for growing. You have to learn which particular crops grow well in your climate zone. There is a learning curve to all of that. And unless you really live it, you cannot just expect to show up at your retreat at the eleventh hour and then start gardening the next day. It is probably not going to happen, at least not the way people hope it will.
Chris Martenson: Well, Jim, I think there is one other piece in there, too. All of those are excellent observations. And the thing I notice, I think that people from big cities have this myth of anonymity, because you can be very anonymous in a big city surrounded by people. And the myth goes, I think, that there is an idea that you can buy a place in the country and people will not really know about it.
James Wesley Rawles: No, no, that is a myth. There in the country, the population density may be low, but all the neighbor kids wander all over the countryside with their 22s out shooting small game all the time. They know where every house is. And for that matter, looters can follow power lines to just about everywhere if they are going to follow roads. So unless you buy an insanely remote property, someone is going to know that it is there. So survival is all about friends that you can trust and neighbors that you can trust. You cannot do it on your own. And anyone who hopes to do it on their own, I think is foolish.
Community can be as close as just two or three neighbors, but it is still community. And you need those people that you can count on. And let me tell you, as a former military officer, I have done continuous operations where we have had to maintain security 24 hours a day.
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
James Wesley Rawles: And that was with a platoon-size unit. I mean we had – and these were all young, fit people, and even we got worn out. To think that one family is going to maintain 24/7, 365 days a year, and 360-degree perimeter security for an extended period of time is ludicrous. It is just not going to happen. You are going to burn yourself out within a few days. You really need neighbors that you can count on. You need a neighborhood watch on steroids.
Chris Martenson: Well, I think you have described me. I would last at least two days, 48 hours. I would give myself a good 48 hours of constant vigilance, and then I would get sloppy. So talk to me about – so you have been in this for a while, and I think you have got your finger on the pulse. And my question is, how many people are beginning to think this way? And have you noticed any increase/decrease in the amount of interest, and most importantly, the people that are really concretely taking steps to move to these areas?
James Wesley Rawles: Well, I think it is indicative that most of the gun shows in the country are now morphing into preparedness expos. People recognize that it takes more than guns to survive. They need the whole package. They need photo voltaic. They need advanced first-aid skills. They need communications equipment. They need water purification. They need food storage. They need non-hybrid gardening seed. There is so much that goes into it. People are definitely catching on. And right now, you can find a preparedness expo going on just about every weekend of the year within a couple-hundred-mile driving radius.
Four years ago, that would have been impossible. They just did not exist. So there are definitely a lot of people catching on, a lot of people coming up to speed very quickly. And I think the urgency of this is higher than ever. We live in very perilous times.
Economically alone, if you look at what is going on with quantitative easing, they are attempting to re-inflate a bubble right now. And as soon as the interest rates get away from Ben Bernanke and company, the game is over. Once interest rates rise a couple of percentage points, they will not be able to carry on their charade any longer, and we are going to see a collapse that will make the 2008 collapse look small by comparison. So it is very important that people get prepared as quickly as they can. Time is short. And teamwork is crucial.
Chris Martenson: I do agree with that. All the rising interest rates finally do for us is expose where we are insolvent and turn it into bankruptcy. And we have been living beyond our means. And rather than squaring up to that, we have got “leaders” who are just interested in papering everything over to keep it going a bit longer.
I understand their motivations. I totally disagree that they have got it right or they are going to be able to pull this off. So what we need, then, is to help people get a narrative. The story that we have is not working. I think that is why you see the increased interest in things like preparedness expos, number of people who are concerned about stuff – and heck, I will even go darker – the reason that suicides are now a leading cause of death, overtaking car accidents. As recently as 2010, that was true. So all of these are indicators of stress, and that stress for me largely exists because the story we are telling ourselves, oh look, the Dow is at all-time new highs, everything is fine, does not square up with our reality. And so we need a new narrative to step into. I think it is that simple: new stories. And sometimes it is exactly a story or a novel that helps us frame that.
I hear you got a new book in the pipeline. In fact, maybe you can preorder it. I looked on Amazon and saw that it is called Expatriates: A Novel of the Coming Global Collapse. Can you tell us a little bit about what is in that book?
James Wesley Rawles: Sure. It is another novel in my Patriot Series, but it is a bit of a departure since there are no crossover characters with the previous novels. It is set in the same near-future time period with a global socioeconomic collapse. But in this case, I chose to focus on some Americans living abroad, some expatriates, in particular a missionary family living in the Philippines’ and a young Texas oil engineer living in Northern Australia.
I wanted this opportunity to show some people that were not quite as well prepared as some of the folks in my previous novels, people who have to improvise just about everything to assure their survival. And I wanted to show the uncertainty of, in particular, people living overseas, living in a foreign culture, being cut off from communication, not really knowing what is going on, other than the fact that everything was falling apart and there is no transport back to the United States. And showing those types of characters gave me an opportunity to illustrate a number of tactics, techniques, and technologies for survival. I hope folks enjoy it.
Chris Martenson: Well, it is very timely. We get a lot of questions by people who are wondering should I stay or should I go? Meaning do they prepare here, or do they become expats in the hope that things will be better elsewhere? Were you meaning to cast a light on your view of expatriation in general?
James Wesley Rawles: Yeah. I think I did that a bit in the novel. But just to clarify, I do not recommend an expatriate lifestyle for people who are preparedness-minded unless you have very close fam