One morning in February of 2021, Texans woke up to a winter wonderland and near-zero-degree temperatures. Although this happens in many parts of America every year, Texas wasn’t prepared for it. By day three of the storm, millions of Texas residents stopped making snowmen and started trying to melt them down for water to flush their toilets.
While some of these issues received national attention during and after the storm, this article is about personal realities. In any disaster or disruption, the effects on individuals are what matters. To paraphrase Harry Truman, when the nation loses millions of jobs it’s a recession; when you lose your job it’s a depression.
When the lights go out and your child starts to shiver from the cold, politics and personal opinions no longer matter. When the water stops flowing and the bottled water you have stored inside freezes because you live in an all-electric apartment, your title at work means little. When the banks all go dark—along with the stores, gas pumps, and ATMs—your bank balance and credit limit suddenly make no difference.
Let’s review what happens the day money stops working.
Homesteading vs Prepping
Being a homesteader isn’t the same as being a prepper. Some aspects of homesteading made the disaster more difficult for us than it was for city folk. The largest issue with the homestead during the nearly week-long snow-in was our livestock. Chickens, goats, and rabbits need water and feed. Everything was covered in a six-inch blanket of snow and ice. Our animals had never seen snow either!
One night, in the worst of the cold, one of our Nigerian Dwarf milk goats gave birth to two does. They froze before we even knew they were born. While we have water stored inside for our human use, the water we had stored outside for animals in giant IBC totes (550 gallons) froze and we couldn’t use it. Animals can go longer without food than they can without water. Luckily, water kept flowing under the ice in our little creek.
The temperature where we live in East Texas hovered near zero Fahrenheit at night and stayed in the low single digits during the day. Our driveway has an upward slope that stranded us for the first two days of the storm. We couldn’t get any vehicle out. The diesel tractor froze up and wouldn’t start, so we couldn’t use it.
We kept our faucets dripping so that we had running water for a while, then the local water co-op pumps failed for a reason I never bothered to explore. On the fourth day, our electricity went out and stayed out until the snow cleared days later. It wasn’t part of the rolling blackouts; it was a line issue. I think these issues happened in about the same order for millions of Texans.
That’s when people realized that some problems can’t be solved with money. Those who ventured on the ice and snow-covered roads (with no snow tires) found all the stores dark, all the restaurants closed. They had the same issues as everyone else. Whatever supplies you had at the start of the disaster were probably all you were going to have.
Unlike the COVID lock-ins, Amazon was not coming to the rescue.
I’ve had a few experiences with disasters both from the military and from being alive and fearless for 50 years. Once my family was caught in a Walmart at night during a tornado. When the lights went out someone not 40 feet away from me shouted, “Snatch and run!” With the lights on everyone appears civil and nice, when they go out we often find out differently.
I learned that day that when the electricity goes out at a Walmart, the doors automatically LOCK (at least that’s what the clerk told me after they came back on.) Imagine being in a pitch-black Walmart surrounded by strangers, some of whom are starting to loot, with two small children and a spouse to look after. I took my family behind the deli counter and was prepared to head into the back areas of the store to get out of the problem when the lights flickered and came back on.
When Money Stops Working
If you have ever known someone with a terminal illness then you know how it feels when money stops working: no amount of money can change the disaster that is happening. If you have ever lost your wallet while on a long car trip then you know how it feels when money stops working: even though you have lots of credit and plenty of money in the bank, you are stranded until help arrives. When the electricity goes out area-wide anywhere (New York City, Sacramento, or tiny East Texas), we quickly find out what life is like when money stops working.
In case you’re wondering what “they” will do when money stops working… you know who I’m talking about “they,” “them,” “the people in charge.” The answer is, “little to nothing.” When I was a member of the board of directors, I forced the water company to put a propane generator and 500 gallons of propane on the pump site in case of emergency. We had this ice disaster emergency, the water still failed even with a brand new generator on site. Why did the water stop flowing? Does it matter why if you’re thirsty or want to flush a toilet? The “why” is always an excuse after the “what”, after the failure.
When I was Vice President of Information Technology for a travel incentive company we had the best backup plans, redundant systems, and Halon fire suppression for our server room. When two 747s flew into the Twin Towers on 9/11, none of that preparation mattered one whit. With over 100 people in transit across the country and abroad, and every plane in the U.S. grounded, there was little we could do to stop the personal disasters they all had to endure—my wife included since she was part of a delegation 1,000 miles away. It took her 3 days to get home.
Those were two situations where I was personally involved in the preparations—I was “them”—yet I could do nothing to change the outcome of the disaster.
We have also seen national disasters from Hurricane Katrina to the 2008 economic collapse and now the COVID-19 disaster where “they” continue to be caught flat-footed and incapable of reacting in time. With COVID, we found out that all the movies about the CDC swooping in and stopping a pandemic are just fiction. The CDC is a governmental reporting agency, not Batman.
Real Disasters Do Happen
We, as a nation, have been amazingly lucky since The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl. Those were the last disasters that America just couldn’t solve with money. WWII happened “over there” and was solved with money. Every recession since 1980 has been solved with money. 9/11 was solved with money. There were great personal tragedies in each event, but “the system” could solve the overlying issues with money.
Some national disasters cannot be solved with money.
The Dust Bowl was one. No amount of money could save the farmland from record droughts and massive drifts of loose soil that buried the farmland and the houses. There is no reason that could not happen again.
The Year Without a Summer is another that occurred in 1816 when the Indonesian volcano, Tambora, erupted filling the atmosphere and blotting out the sun worldwide. A Massachusetts historian wrote: “Severe frosts occurred every month; June 7th and 8th snow fell, and it was so cold that crops were cut down, even freezing the roots … In the early Autumn when corn was in the milk it was so thoroughly frozen that it never ripened and was scarcely worth harvesting. Breadstuffs were scarce and prices high and the poorer class of people were often in straits for want of food. It must be remembered that the granaries of the great west had not then been opened to us by railroad communication, and people were obliged to rely upon their own resources or upon others in their immediate locality.”
Imagine if such a thing happened today. Volcanos haven’t stopped erupting.
Ever heard of the Laki Eruption in 1783 Iceland? When a fissure volcano erupted in Iceland in 1783, the effect on Europe was profound. According to a BBC documentary about it, in Europe “Inhaling sulfur dioxide gas causes victims to choke as their internal soft tissue swells – the gas reacts with the moisture in lungs and produces sulfurous acid. The local death rate in Chartres was up by 5% during August and September, with more than 40 dead. In Great Britain, the east of England was most affected. The records show that the additional deaths were among outdoor workers; the death rate in Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire and the east coast was perhaps two or three times the normal rate. It has been estimated that 23,000 British people died from the poisoning.” Additionally, crops failed due to sulfur poisoning.
Nature is Not Concerned with the Consequences
Dust Bowls, volcanos, the collapse of key aquifers which irrigate the heartland, electro-magnetic pulses caused by solar flares, or meteors. We live in an age of monoculture crops and pandemics. At least 5 times as many COVID-19 cases occurred as were officially reported (perhaps 10 times). The final death rate of COVID could be as low as 2 in 1,000 infections—and it still destroyed the economy. The only thing that saved us? FED money. What if its death rate was higher? What if the money couldn’t be printed?
Terrorists are Not Concerned with Consequences
On the morning of June 3rd, 2010, I logged into my personal Bank of America bank account and saw that it was overdrawn by $172,091.
After lunch, it read the correct amount again. I never received any answer as to what happened. It just happened and then it was erased. Imagine if something happened to your bank account that said you were overdrawn by $172,091. How much “money” would you have then? That actually happened to me. What if that happened to EVERYBODY’S money in America from a cyberattack? How long would it take to unwind, if it could be unwound at all? Parts of Texas went without power for a few days. What if the power went out for your state for an entire month due to a cyberattack?
The goal of some terrorists is to usher in Armageddon. They have ZERO concern for the consequences of a nuclear or biological attack on America. They have ZERO concern about the retaliatory strike it would create.
Amazon Prime has a documentary called The Man Who Saved The World about the commander of the Soviet Nuclear Missile defense system who refused to initiate a counter-attack when all of their systems said that America had launched not one, but FIVE ICBM’s at Russia. All of their systems declared the “highest level” of confidence that a nuclear attack was underway. They were wrong. He refused to listen to them and literally saved the world from a full-scale nuclear war between the USSR and the US. This happened in 1983! Where were you in 1983?
There is nothing any of us can do on our homesteads to stop a nuclear war or a pandemic or a drought or a volcanic winter or a flash crash or a financial cyberattack or even a water supply disruption. I know, I have actually tried to stop a water disruption.
The point of this article is to say that money can stop working for a while for many reasons, even something as simple as losing your job. If you tried to buy hand sanitizer during the first few weeks of the pandemic—or toilet paper—then you saw how money can’t solve a supply crisis. We can live without toilet paper for two weeks, but we can’t live without water for two weeks or without crops for a summer.
My homestead has electric heat, propane heat, and wood heat. We made it through the ice disaster just fine. We had water stored for people and a creek to water the animals and flush the toilets. We had food stored in case we couldn’t get to the grocery store. Our family of five expanded to nine as we took in relatives who had no heat or water during the disaster.
I was taught an old parable in Sunday School as a child about a man who was hired onto a farm. When he was hired the owner asked him a lot of questions about his abilities. His answer to every question was “I can sleep through a storm.” The owner didn’t know what he meant but hired him anyway. Years later a giant storm did hit the farm. The owner ran to check the horses; they were safe in the barn. He ran to batten down the doors and equipment; they were already tied down. Everything on the farm was ready before the storm ever arrived. He learned that night what his hired hand had meant when he said, “I can sleep through a storm.”
Cash on hand, food storage, water storage, fuel, alternate ways of living without electricity. These are all available to buy when there is no storm. That’s when I buy mine. Today I purchased 18 pounds of butter that I will be canning and 20 pounds of instant potato flakes. Why? I don’t need them today. But, when the ice storm arrived and the electricity went out; when the water failed and the driveway iced over; when the tractor wouldn’t start and four people showed up for help, our preparations, and our homestead itself, made it possible for all of us to “sleep through the storm.”
Think about what you might do to sleep through a storm that may come your way. A layoff, an illness, an electrical outage, a drought, a fire, a financial collapse. You don’t want to be one of the people standing at the end of a long desperate line hoping that the government agency doesn’t run out of water or food before you make it to the front. Store some of your own.