8 min read

The Second Cold War

Photo of marching soldiers from the waist down.
Photo by Filip Andrejevic on Unsplash

You might have noticed lately that everybody is talking about China. Not exactly suddenly, but, you know, pretty suddenly. And not in calm, even tones. If you can't figure out why this is the case, let me get real clear and cynical with you: the American government needs enemies in order to continue to grow the various private sectors to which it is beholden, otherwise the economy will stagnate, wither, and die. Instead of realizing that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet, capitalism will demand that governments find reasons for wars, or at least find reasons to threaten war. This allows for more billion-dollar warplanes and contracts for folk like Erik Prince, the world's worst person. Without a race-baiting conflict, after all, what would the people do? Realize our enemy is the State? Can't have that.

While Trump started the pretty-sudden escalation in animosity with China, it's our continued tension with the second-largest economy in the world that is truly telling of America's position. We've always been a little nervous about China, the world's most populous country, but China's swift ascension as an economic superpower made it an easy target for bi-partisan saber-rattling. One of Trump's trade advisors was known for writing a book (lampooned on Last Week Tonight), that called the battle between American and Chinese economies a "zero-sum game," staging Trump's approach as especially combative. Rather than de-escalate, Joe Biden has kept tensions high (by no means without fault to China, to be clear). Secretary of State Antony Blinken had some extremely tense, largely failed talks with China, and it would appear that one of the few points the administrations can agree upon is lukewarm tactics to fight climate change (which I'd consider lucky). But while Blinken will suggest that it's not America's intent to "contain" China, broader opinions will disagree, and the specter of COVID-19 has poured gasoline on the coals. It's no surprise that Trump and his ilk blamed COVID on China, but with the resurgence of the narrative that it was a possible leak from a Chinese lab, we have obvious grounds for the entire world to increase animosity.

I am unequivocally not a fan of China, given their history of brutal repression (get bent, tankies!), but I am even less pleased by the possibility of a war, cold or otherwise, that will shift attention away from the worldwide existential threat that is climate change. China and America in particular need to be focused on scaling back emissions, and that won't be possible if both are showing their air force and navies off to each other. Most likely we'll land somewhere south of an out-and-out Cold War, but tensions like this are not good for the world, and they're rising at a particularly critical juncture.

Prepping for the Second Cold War

First off: you can't. Not in a traditional sense. If we're talking a Cold War in which we daily fear the threat of nuclear annihilation, rest assured that 1. it's not likely to happen, and 2. there ain't nothing you can do about it if it does. If this were a conservative prepping newsletter, I'd tell you to build a bunker and buy some air filters, stock up on about 10,000 gallons of water and cross your fingers. But this is a leftist newsletter, and we do not prep for our survival alone. Our prepping is predicated on helping others survive, and let's be real: you probably don't have double-wide bunker money for your neighbor and their kids.

The most likely scenario for the Second Cold War involves proxy wars, much like the first. China's increasingly authoritarian approach to Hong Kong and Taiwan mean that we may take the excuse of intervention to start a fight. As remote as that may sound, I don't want you to relax even if you're above draft age. We live in the time of climate change, the threat multiplier, so we don't have to make many leaps before we come to some conclusions that hurt us at home. For instance: when the Trump administration levied tariffs against China, China responded in kind. In particular, this pained farmers, who export a great deal of soy overseas. If we were to go to war with China, you can bet that there would be enormous economic implications, with markets for produce like soybeans going out the window. When something like that happens, remember, it doesn't mean that your food costs less. At the start of COVID, millions of pounds of produce were destroyed–not sold for cheap–because the market evaporated overnight.

Moreover, a lot of our tech and materials come from China. The solar industry, cheap steel, hell, the cell phone industry, will be hobbled. It will be an expensive conflict, should it come to pass. And as I said above, this is emphatically not the time for it. We need renewables to proceed without impediment, and we need good relations with giants like China so that we can agree, as a globe, to drawdown on emissions and to work together to find solutions. Even if they aren't enough to halt climate change (which they aren't), +1.5C is better than 2, and 2 is better than 3.

Unfortunately, there is no hack, no cool gadget, no new bag that is going to help fix what we're up against here. These problems are problems we've heard before, and no one thing is going to make our reality suddenly easier to bear. We know the basics of the work of preparation and mutual aid, and while it may not be very click-worthy, it's what will keep you safe.

The Two Prongs Have One Solution

Unless you're an aerospace engineer, war with China isn't good news for you. Cut off from Chinese steel (among other things), many goods here in America will increase in price, and many people who produce those goods will be out of a job. Likewise, products we export will be closed off from a huge market, and our government–great a bailing out corporations, bad at bailing out people–can be counted on to screw up providing relief for individual farmers, especially farmers of color. This means we can expect a number of folks–in particular the ones we rely on for food–to be hard-up. Combine that in the days to come with the increasing ravages of climate change, and you basically have what this whole newsletter is about: the lukewarm apocalypse that is daily life in the 21st century. The primary way that these two threats will manifest is the increased scarcity and increased price of goods. This means that buying and preparing now is going to save you the pain of paying later.

What we're most concerned about in this scenario is food, though if you were thinking about buying a solar phone charger or something, you might want to get on that now as well. A conflict like what we're discussing isn't going to dissipate quickly, so my normally recommended buffer of one month of food won't necessarily cut it. Remember, though, that we're not talking about storing so much food that you are eating entirely out of your prep-pantry; we're talking about having enough food laid by so that you can soften the blow of inflated food prices, and help others out when they need it.

The first thing to address is for folks that don't have a lot of space--which I know we're running up against if we're talking about more than a month's-worth of food. The solution to this is one we've touched on before: the unappetizing idea of literal buckets of food. I know, we've done it. We've finally reached the stereotype of "prepper with buckets of food in basement." But there really isn't much of an alternative if you're lacking space. There are freeze-dried options to consider first, and these will last you a very long time. Mountain House, for instance, makes food that will last for thirty damn years. Various other companies out there provide some vegetarian and vegan options, some that are cheaper, etc., but Mountain House is what most people in the business swear by. They are fairly expensive, however, which is why I recommend going DIY and buying those food-grade buckets I mentioned a while back. Buy a few, get a few gamma lids, and buy just a ton of beans. Buy a ton of beans, buy salt, pepper, and other spices to make those beans palatable. Dried beans last essentially forever if stored properly, and that's why you're storing these in food-grade buckets, with good lids, with an oxygen absorber or two. Label them, set them in a safe place, and leave them be until needed. This is good advice for anyone–not just folks running out of room.

If you have the space, you can keep buying varieties of cans, keep rotating your stock, and most importantly, look for fresh solutions. Cans–all food, over time–will slowly degrade in nutritional value. I stress cans despite their limited utility because it will be easier for you to give cans out as mutual aid to your neighbors or other comrades than sacks of dried beans, and they'll be more immediately useful, too. Fresh produce, grown in your backyard, will supplement for yourself and others. Buy a couple chickens for eggs (whether or not your city permits, because you've made good enough friends with your neighbors no one will rat you out–and otherwise, fuck the local power).

I can't stress enough that being able to grow or raise your own food is one of the most important skills you can learn as we go forward into this crap-sack future. It will defray future costs, it helps you unplug from capitalism, and it's better for the environment than getting your food from the store. All goods things, when looking ahead. While it's not likely that you'll become entirely independent, that's not our goal. We're not trying to be hermits here; we're trying to be a beneficial part of a sustainable ecosystem.

The Future of When/If

You might have noticed that I am essentially out of new prepping tips, and that the newsletter has begun to skew toward "fight the power" over "prep for when the power falls." As an introduction to prepping for leftists, When/If has served its purpose. There are dozens more things that I could teach you, but I would be diving into areas that other leftists would do a better job of explaining. The Poor Prole's Almanac does a fantastic job of educating listeners about the finer points of growing your own food, for example, and Armed Margins (and plenty of other folks) can teach you about the details of firearm ownership.

The best I can do going forward is continue to bring you interpretations of events through a leftist prepper's lens, which I am happy to do if that's the sort of thing folks are still interested in. There's plenty going on in the world that's worth talking about, and I might have occasionally relevant tips and calls to action, but as much as I like saying it, I can ask you to buy beans only so many times.

If you're still into this sort of thing, re-up your subscription by clicking on the button nearby. I permanently suspended all subscription collections at Substack, so there won't be multiple charges. Ghost, unlike the TERF-haven Substack, costs me a small reoccurring fee, so I wouldn't mind breaking even on this endeavor. If there's not much interest in future content (you can always respond via email or hit me up on Twitter if you don't have the funds), I'll host this content on my author website for future reference.