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Triage Planning for the Slow-Motion Apocalypse
March 19, 2022
by William P. Meyers

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Selecting the Grapes of Wrath

Most people have heard of the concept of triage, exemplified by medical care on or near battlefields. Triage is a system used to maximize outcomes when there is a shortage of resources. Near a battlefield there are likely a large number of sick or wounded soldiers with only a small staff, and minimal equipment, available to save and heal them. Typically three tranches of patients are created. First, those who are highly likely to die despite any treatment given. These are not treated, except perhaps with pain killers. Second, those who can survive for a reasonable period of time without treatment. These are sent away to the rear, or can wait for treatment until medical personnel are less busy. Third, those that treatment will make a significant difference for; at minimum, it will save their lives.

In 2021, in some localities in the U.S. and around the world, because of the Covid pandemic, some hospitals entered triage mode. People with elective surgeries scheduled had them postponed. ICU equipment in short supply had to be rationed, notably ventilators. The spots available were given to those who were most likely to benefit from them and then rotate out to allow others a chance. The very sickest patients were no longer the first priority.

Now let us turn to what I have been calling the Slow-Motion Apocalypse, but which already is producing numerous, if localized, emergency situations each year. So far these incidents have mostly been weather related: tornadoes, tropical storms, winter storms, and drought. Triage is not just about medical care. It may be about who gets housing rebuilt first, priorities of law enforcement, or when utilities are restored. If you don't live in the locally damaged area, you tend to ignore the situation. But we are seeing problems become globalized. A fire in a semiconductor chip factor in Japan, combined with supply chain disruptions, forced American car and truck manufacturers to triage production. That is just one example of how, in the modern global economy, a problem in one locality can ripple through the entire system.

I think everyone needs a triage plan. I know a lot of people just do not plan, so they will be subject to government plans, which are not likely to be very smart or realistic. I have seen government plans, locally, for incidents like earthquakes. That is good, but usually the plans assume the world at large will come in and help. We just need to muddle through a few days or weeks. After all, that happens all the time in the coastal areas subject to hurricanes.

Our world has changed. We have almost 8 billion humans crawling over it, and we have about picked it clean. Everyone was warned the world was dangerously overpopulated back in the 1960s [3 billion people], but people kept breeding anyway. Governments encouraged them, for more people ruled over means more power. Business owners know more people means more profits. A few brave people spoke out for Earth, but their voices were drowned out by government and corporate media.

So now we need triage plans, both as individuals and as groups, including government plans. As with all else, different types of people will create different categories for triage. If there are food shortages, and there will be sooner or later, homelessness and welfare advocacy groups will want to prioritize food for their clients, even if it means working people starve and become incapable of producing, transporting and preparing food. Right-wing middle-class people are likely to want to cut off or minimize food aid programs. Will the rich countries keep shipping corn and wheat to overpopulated famine nations? I doubt it.

Who will we consider too far gone to survive? One problem with triage plans during this apocalyptic era is that they work best when applied to known problems. With a hurricane, we can decide when to evacuate, when to shelter in place, and whether to rebuild, in a reasonably rational manner, because we have weathered so many storms. But what about a hurricane, fire, or tornado combined with famine, or with supply chain disruptions, civic unrest, or even civil war or a war on American soil? We have no experience with that.

I remember when I was a child, in the late 1950s through the mid 1960s, the U.S. had a very large store of food, enough (supposedly) to feed people for years in the event of a nuclear war. The U.S. no longer has such a reserve. One reason we had one back then is because we produced more grain than we could consume or sell on the world market. That is no longer true. The harvest of a crop can be expected to last us about a year. True, more than half of Americans are fat, so with rationing we might do a little better. But what if drought (or crop pests) reduce our crops to, say, half of the current level? Where is the triage plan for that situation?

Many nations have already banned, at times, exports of foods when their production was bad, so that their own demand could be met. Will the U.S. ban exports?

What if the power grid goes down, what if the internet goes down?

Survivalists have a tendency to be right-wing in their politics, and to be a bit gun crazy, but I think the idea of individual food storage is a good one. Community food storage would be good too, if a community can get it together enough to do that. But what I have been mainly hearing for years now is not that communities are struggling to store food for the future, but that they are struggling to keep up an adequate supply (to feed those who are poor or spent their money on other things) for the present.

Triage is a form of prioritization. Our normal priorities may not matter much once we are in a triage situation. I hope to help my neighbors if a disaster occurs. If it is short enough and local enough, perhaps everyone can be saved. But if I have to start making choices, I will prioritize those who I think will, if they survive, make the world a better place. From what I have seen of the prevalence of human stupidity, I suspect that after a few weeks (the time it takes a person to die from starvation), people will sort themselves out without my having to intervene.

My priority is not humans. There are 8 billion of them, when the sustainable number is perhaps 1 billion. My priority is the rest of the animals, plants, and their ecosystems. So in a triage situation, after I take care of myself, I will take care of animals and plants. Humans that can survive without me, I don't need to worry about. And among those that need my help, I would only help those humans who agree with me about prioritizing animals and plants so the earth can heal.

You should think about it and make your own slow motion apocalypse survival and triage plan. You may need to change it to meet real circumstances as they occur, but having one now will be to your advantage.

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