Paul Range and Gloria Haswell have enough food, water, and guns to see the apocalypse through. And you're not invited.
Published: May 9, 2012
In its segment, National Geographic paints Range and Haswell as fringe ideologues who fear a coming shift of the magnetic poles that will shake up the continents and life as we know it. "None of that's true," Range says. "We think economy, government, food supply, they're all shaky constructs. That's where we're coming from." Then he adds with a grin, "They needed some schtick for their program."
The couple call their lifestyle a proactive response to an uncertain, disaster-prone world. They note 2011's startling record of earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes that racked up a record tab of $380 billion in property damages, according to global insurance firm Munich Re. The destruction isn't necessarily a sign of some pre-determined biblical end-of-days; the fear here is over "questionable, tenuous institutions" that won't survive if shaken hard enough — like our industrial food system, which Range insists is prone to disruptions that could have sweeping reverberations. "People are too separated from their food. … They can't provide for themselves when they're pushed to." Hence, "I truly believe the system will collapse at some point," he says. "And simply put, that's why we're dependent on ourselves, not anybody else. … I don't have faith that the center's gonna hold, if you know what I mean."
It's not difficult to see how Range, in particular, got here. In the late 1950s, growing up in the Texas Panhandle, Range says his father deeply feared Cold War-driven catastrophe. He'd tell Range, then just 11 years old, to scout out deep caves, shelters, and abandoned basements where the family could hunker down in a pinch. As a child he stockpiled canned foods for a disaster that never came.
After going to war in Vietnam, Range came back to the States captivated by the work of John Todd, a biologist and so-called New Alchemist who in the 1970s pioneered new, alternative methods for sustainable food production, water use, and wastewater processing. Range was enthralled with Todd's "living machine" projects, ecosystems designed to feed off themselves by using natural purification methods mimicking streams, ponds, and marshes to restore, conserve, or recycle sewage and other polluted water.
Soon after, Range delved into aquaponics (a portmanteau of aquaculture and hydroponics) to raise fish and plants — the system conserves water through constant recycling, while fertilizing plants with natural fish emulsion. During stints in Colorado, New Mexico (where he lived out of a bus), and Arizona, he studied at a hodgepodge of universities, eventually finishing a degree in sustainable agriculture. He's built a sizable aquaponics system inside the courtyard of his Floresville fortress, and routinely travels to speak at conferences on the method — it's how he met Haswell, a fellow veteran, about seven years ago.
Range is also keen on referencing the more recent writings of Jared Diamond, a renowned UCLA geography and physiology professor. Diamond's 2005 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed focuses on the dips in human society over the last 13,000 years (his previous book Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies took the opposite approach, looking at contributing factors in successful societal buildup). As triggers for collapse, Diamond lists a number of environmental contributors we see hints of today, like deforestation and habitat destruction, degrading soil (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility loss), poor water management, overhunting and overfishing, introduced and native species battling it out for dominance, as well as overpopulation. Furthermore, Diamond predicts factors like climate change, the buildup of toxins in the environment, and energy shortages could very well do more to weaken current societal structures.
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