Survivalists have always prepared for the end of civilisation – but are they upping the stakes now Brexit, Trump, and climate change mean catastrophe actually seems imminent?
Robin Hood keeps a crossbow under his bed, along with 50 bolts. Underneath the stairs in the 37-year-old’s home are boxes and cans of porridge, beans, and rice.
On the outskirts of a small village in south Wales – 700ft above sea level, surrounded by a forest, near a river – Robin is prepared to survive. He has a few five litre containers ready to fill with water, a basic medical kit, and a windup radio. If he needed to, he’s ready to kill and eat the rabbits and deer that live nearby.
His name, of course, isn’t really Robin Hood.
“I like to be well armed with knowledge and build up a good, educated idea of what is coming down the line,” says “Robin”, who chose this pseudonym because of his distrust of the “draconic” British police, who might try to take away his weapon.
“From a personal standpoint I have been through so much hardship in life from a young age, the game was stacked against me,” he explains of his motivations to “prep” – slang for preparing supplies and a survival plan should catastrophe strike.
“I am not so sure I will still be alive in 15 to 20 years’ time. I think the world will be on its knees by that point.”
Over the last few months, “We’re all going to die!” has become less of a fringe belief and more of a perfectly normal reaction to reading the daily news. From climate-change-seems-pretty-real-now heatwaves to tweeted threats of nuclear war, the four horseman seem closer than ever.
In July, when the British government admitted its plans to stockpile food and medicine in the case of a no-deal Brexit, prepper life became instantly less ridiculous.
But how do seasoned preppers feel about our current global climate (both political and literal)? Have their worries (and stockpiles) increased? Are they upping the stakes?
Robin Hood thinks that resistance is futile.
Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, the online home of doomsday survivalists, Reddit’s eight-year-old r/preppers, has jumped from 36,000 to 72,000 subscribers.
In January 2018, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) announced that humanity was closer to the apocalypse than it had been at any time since 1953; their symbolic Doomsday Clock was moved to “two minutes to midnight”.
“In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change,” wrote BAS president Rachel Bronson at the time, “To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger – and its immediacy.”
Timothy has three gas masks, but he isn’t too worried about Donald Trump.
“A few months ago, back when Trump was going to visit North Korea, I genuinely, genuinely thought that he was going to get assassinated, and it would kick-start some massive backlash,” says the 24-year-old Londoner, who has been prepping for a few years.
“I just think Trump’s an idiot, but Putin worries me… because it’s really hard to predict what it is he’s actually trying to do.”
Timothy (all the preppers in this piece have had their names changed, on their request) says that the current political climate had made him increase his preps “a little bit”.
As well as his three gas masks (“They were on sale for a tenner and I just bought them on a whim”) he has two first aid kits, navigational tools, knives, torches, water filters, and cans of beans, peaches, soups, and tomatoes all prepared in a rucksack.
“When I first started, it was out of anxiety, probably a bit of paranoia, now it’s like a hobby,” he says of prepping. “I try and keep it like, every time I go grocery shopping I’ll just add one extra bag of rice or one extra tin of beans or whatever… instead of going all out and spending hundreds of pounds on a year’s worth of food all at once.”
On the whole, English preppers are significantly milder than their American counterparts. Rather than bunking down in basements and stockpiling ammunition, they are more inclined to buy extra pasta in the supermarket and stock up on candles and batteries.
“The Trump tariffs are interesting because it increases the price of certain items, so sweetcorn, chickpeas, I like those things,” says Gareth, a 62-year-old prepper from the East of England, when I ask if he’s concerned about the American president’s volatility.
Gareth started prepping with his wife after they watched the American reality TV show Doomsday Preppers five years ago, and he says he isn’t interested in what might cause a disaster – he’s only interested in being prepared. “It’s just worthwhile having a fully stocked pantry just in case there are interruptions, it doesn’t matter what the interruption is,” he says.
“I think the trump Tarriff on chickpeas was something like 40 per cent, so you can expect the price of chickpeas to go up by 40 percent. Well I quite like chickpeas, so I deposit my 2-for-1s in the kitchen.”
While the hypothetical threat of nuclear war doesn’t trouble most British preppers, the very real and very impending threat of Brexit does. Gareth says there’s been a significant number of people visiting Reddit’s prepper forum because of it, and describes a no-deal scenario as “the Winter of Discontent meets the London riots”.
Luke, a 30-year-old from Northamptonshire, only started prepping in July after reading the news about government stockpiles. “That was what made me realise that the very real consequence of a bad Brexit would be that there is no food on the shelves,” he says. “So I started stocking up for myself.”
A 28-year-old prepper from Essex, Robert, similarly increased his efforts because of Brexit. “Whatever prepping I’m doing is purely based on the idea that we are going to crash out of the EU with no plan in place, because of Tory arrogance and incompetence,” he says.
Prepping for these individuals isn’t about life and death, it’s about common sense. The government have their own guidelines on how to prep for an emergency, which includes compiling an emergency grab bag just like Timothy’s.
“Honestly I have no idea how Brexit’s gonna play out,” he says, “but the way that it’s looking, it doesn’t look hopeful.” Timothy believes there will be another financial crisis and economic hardships for many Britons, and recommends people become “financial preppers” by saving cash and food.
Robin Hood is less concerned. “Brexit is nothing, I couldn’t care less about it,” he says when I ask if the current political climate has made him double down on his preps, “I voted Leave and I stand by that… Big deal. We might get a recession out of it.”
Robin’s real concerns aren’t national: they’re global.
“I think right now we are living in final times of mankind,” he says, “and no amount of prepping can save anyone.”
Climate change is so troubling to Robin Hood that he believes no one – not even preppers – can survive.
“I believe the media portrays climate change to be much less serious than it really is,” he says. “So no, rather than doubling down and prepping hard I think it’s a futile gesture.
“I am resigned to the fate that our time as a species is almost over. Prepping won’t accomplish anything to change that.”
Robin’s concerns about Trump start and end with the climate, as he fears the president will case a “huge spike” in CO2 output from the USA, thus “shaving a few years off” humanity’s remaining time.
“Here’s the thing, the world government knew way back in the 1970s about climate change,” he says.
“They knew that by 2050 the survival of the human race looked sketchy. There were so many BBC documentaries on the subject when I was a kid growing up… We have the Paris Accords that every nation signed up for in a landmark historical agreement to curb climate change. But all of this is a joke. It needed to happen 30+ years ago. Now is way past too late.”
Over the last few years, Silicon Valley billionaires have been buying bunkers and making doomsday plans to relocate to New Zealand. Rather than investing in scientific research to reverse climate change, the world’s richest are creating their own survival plans.
“I think it’s one of those slow burns, I don’t think it’s going to turn into a Day After Tomorrow situation where all of a sudden in like 24 hours the world changes,” Timothy says. He is currently looking into ways that he can store water without it overheating in his flat.
“I think it’s going to be one of those things where we look back on it and suddenly realise the world’s fucked and there’s not really anything we can do to help repair it.”
When people who dedicate their spare time to ensuring their survival believe that survival is hopeless, things suddenly seem pretty dire. Gareth, however, says it’s better to keep your prepping plans low-key.
“If there was a bad harvest, well I’ve got some food in the kitchen, if the prices went up in the shops, I’ve got a few tins,” he says. “My advice that I always give is have a fire plan. The thing that’s most likely to go wrong is there will be a house fire, have a fire plan. Have a fire extinguisher.
“You’ve got to prep for your own circumstances,” he goes on.
“There’s no point of worrying about nuclear this, that and the other if you can’t get out of your house in a fire.”
Although he feels long-term prepping may be futile, Robin Hood also has advice for the short-term.
“Don’t have kids!” he says. “And spend your remaining time enjoying your life.”
(Pic: Gary Ogden/Getty)