Preparing for Armageddon

A primer on surviving end-of-world threats

Midjourney AI / Digital

ALTHOUGH ARMAGEDDON is a Biblical term denoting the prophesied location for the ‘End of Times’ — prior to the second advent of Christ to the earth — it is colloquially synonymous with general obliteration of the world as we know it, and of mankind.

Armageddon has become a noun of awesome and terrifying connotations, and inspired countless works of fiction, many adapted for the big screen. More recently, Joe Biden used it in reference to the Russians flexing their nuclear muscle in response to the West’s support of Ukraine.

In fact, Armageddon doesn’t have to be a nuclear or even an instant event: it can be progressive, with a tipping point. It could be caused by all kind of things: climate change; supply-chain collapse or food poverty; biological warfare; or any other man-made catastrophe. It could even be an out-of-space asteroid, or other such natural phenomena.

Survival is hard-wired in all species on Earth, but we are the most evolved, adaptable and intelligent – and the most self-destructive.  So destructive that we have built, and continue to build, weapons of mass destruction in the name of deterring…the use of weapons of mass destruction. We have polluted our natural environment. We are producing and thus, consuming large quantities of carcinogenic plastics through the food chain.

We have pumped out vast underground water reserves faster than they get replenished. We overfish the seas and we poach endangered species for reasons too obtuse to deserve a mention. Finite resources, combined with population growth (we have recently reached the 8 billion mark), energy and water over-usage, nitrogen fixation and cement production lead scientists to project a catastrophic collapse within decades.

This will result in a reverse of globalisation and massive population shifts. A 5 °C increase scenario would precipitate major relocations towards the British Isles, Scandinavia, Patagonia, Tasmania and New Zealand. These locations would have the greatest likelihood of relatively stable conditions in response to climate change scenarios for the 21st century.

In an article published in Nature in August, Professor Alan Robock from Rutgers University addresses precisely this Armageddon scenario. He goes on to explain, in an interview with The Times, that the reasons Australia and Argentina have an advantage is because they already grow more resistant crops, such as wheat, in large quantities.

Who survives Armageddon, and how?

The primary needs of the human species can be fulfilled by access to uncontaminated drinking water, food energy and (nuclear) shelter. It is no secret that those with the greatest carbon footprint are inevitably best-positioned to invest heavily into personal Armageddon-proof solutions.

Data from FlightRadar24 shows 36 private jets landed at Sharm el-Sheikh between 4 and 6 November, the start of the COP27 summit. A further 64 flew into Cairo, 24 of which had come from Sharm el-Sheikh. (There is no data about the number of private yachts that made it to COP27.)

Building nuclear bunkers for the ultra-wealthy is a niche business but a hugely lucrative one. One of the original companies that started building them was Vivo. They remain a market leader, but many more nuclear bunker type manufacturers have cottoned on to the fact that the drive for self-preservation pays well. 

Nuclear disaster

We all know that atmospheric soot resulting from the deployment of a nuclear weapon detonation would cause disruptions to the climate, limiting both land and sea food production. 

Soot injections larger than 5 Tg would lead to such food shortages that livestock and sea produce would not be able to compensate for crop devastation. Nuclear detonation would further contaminate both soil and water close to where nuclear weapons were used. Soot disperses, however, so once it reaches the upper atmosphere, the effect would be global.

Seed banks and greater reliance on fishing

Seed banks are critical in building agricultural resilience in any disaster scenario. They store seeds of several varieties of different plant species, some of which may go extinct. 

Seeds, if properly stored, can remain intact for hundreds or even thousands of years, depending on the species. Ancient seeds, with the ability to germinate, have been found in pyramids and ancient palaces.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway acts as a safety deposit box for some 4.5 million distinct seed samples collected from around the world, each sealed from humidity and kept safe in a remote Arctic location. Because of the low moisture and freezing temperatures, the tightly sealed seed samples can last for thousands of years, even in the event of power loss or nuclear war. Some of the wealthiest individuals in the world have invested in this project, for obvious reasons.

Water supply

Water supplies will likely be seriously reduced in the event of a nuclear war. Dams and large irrigation projects will almost certainly be targeted, while reduced rainfall and potentially freezing temperatures would freeze surface waters. Radioactive fall-out would contaminate reservoirs and surface waters with long-lived radioactive isotopes, which have a half-life of between 28 and 33 years. These elements in the groundwater would enter the food chain through plants, becoming concentrated in humans and contributing to the long-term burden of radioactivity in survivors.

Radiation in water can be removed by the following five methods, each requiring some specialist knowledge and/or equipment: reverse osmosis; activated carbon and ion exchange; distillation; lime softening; filtration (carbon or soil).

Food scarcity would be compounded by lack of sanitation, due to the destruction of refrigeration and food-processing methods, and contamination by bacteria. Pathogens, to which we have long since lost resistance, would proliferate due to contamination by flies, rodents and human waste.

Cresson Kearny, a US military man turned explorer, authored what is widely accepted as the original survivalist bible, Nuclear War Survival Skills. Kearny bequeathed his intellectual property rights to his disciple, Steven Harris, who went on to update the original edition and who posts frequent podcasts on the subject through NuclearWarSurvivalSkills.com and Harris1234.com. (Harris makes free downloads of the original NWSS edition available on request. The updated edition is available for purchase on Amazon.)

Harris recorded a special podcast for BBeyond Magazine, which he tailored based on the profile of our typical reader: economically self-sufficient and eminently mobile/not tied to a particular location, but with a non-negotiable need to have communication with the outside world, or what’s left of it.

Below is a brief summary of what he said.

Preparedness is a mindset

Cultivating awareness and a sense of vigilance as part of our mindset is critical in the pursuit of preparedness. We all have a fear of the unknown but over-sensualizing things – viruses, pandemics, asteroids, radiation, etc – often makes people hysterical. We cannot see radiation, nor can most of us differentiate between radiation exposure and ingestion. In fact, the majority of people have little to no understanding of it.  

And it isn’t just radiation that’s lethal. Hurricanes and famine are major killers, as are chemical weapons (these can be sprayed across large areas; and, as they don’t evaporate, only microscopic amounts are needed to kill a living organism).

Preparedness is understanding and self-education

Being well-informed removes some of the fear and equips you for any eventuality.  In the case of our hypothetical group of 6-10 well-heeled individuals determined to survive any apocalyptic scenario, this means identifying the most survival-friendly location. This needs to be as far as possible from any present or potential conflict, not prone to hurricanes, yet enjoy a temperate climate (we are all of us only some 30 minutes away from dying of hypothermia) and be no less than 1000m above sea level. Unless you happen to live in such a location, you would need to get to it. 

Cataclysmic events have a habit of getting international travel suspended, as evidenced by the Covid19 pandemic. Your best bet is owning or having access to a well-equipped sailing vessel that doesn’t require refuelling. 

Your location needs to be self-sufficient in terms of food supplies (most countries are not and some are net importers). If you plan to start your own garden, don’t be too reliant on it – gardens give you things to eat, but not food that guarantees survival.  The majority of the world is fed off starch crops: wheat, corn, rice and potatoes. You need a plentiful supply of multivitamins to avoid scurvy and you need a comprehensive supply of medicines in an expansive first aid kit. 

The proximity of an ocean is also critical as aquatic life is less affected by radiation, for example, and would provide you with proteins and blubber (the fat of sea mammals). Without sufficient calories derived from fat, protein and starches we would die. 

Master languages and cultivate a cultural versatility – you need to be able to understand your host country and its language. Try and pick a geographical area you are familiar with: know what is lacking, what is readily available, what is easy to obtain and how.

Master basic skills for preserving food. Buy a big used trawler to store things; it could double up as a transportable home. 

Learn survival skills and adjust to subsistence living mode – this is how our predecessors lived. Subsistence farming is a full-time job so consider where your in-abundance sources of food are.

Always keep basic supplies in stock

No matter where in the world you are, always keep a good month worth of food supplies: high sugar content food stuffs, hot cocoa, coffee and tea, tinned and vacuum-sealed food.  Shortbread is a must as it is the ultimate high calory nutrient. Keep a large freezer and pack food in easy to transport crates in times of urgency.

Minimal amount of possessions is key. In a global famine scenario, there will be too many people fighting over food, so try and buy supplies directly from producers and again, live close to a coastal area. 

Ultimately, the cost of having goods shipped will be prohibitive, so be where the disaster is not, if at all possible.

Other considerations

Understand that weather and climate are not interchangeable. Weather is measured in hours. Climate is measured in 3-5 years but more likely decades and centuries.

Most still die of parasites through contaminated surface water – intestinal disease is one of the biggest killers.

The higher the level of radiation in an area, the faster it kills (but also decays). Radiation can be airborne, so keep a pace ahead of it. Pack iodine supplies. Radiation is survivable, however, and its presence is not necessarily a death sentence. We live in a sea of natural radiation: Earth itself is made of lead and uranium that emit radiation.  We get some degree of radiation each time we take a flight. 

In any apocalyptic scenario, there will be a fierce competition for resources. You need to keep guns and ammunition to protect these and your family.

Steven Harris teaches survival classes. His final words are, ‘You can do this; spread the knowledge!’