Want to Survive 2012? Be a 'Prepper'

When people ask me about investing in gold, I often reply that my two favorite sectors are canned food and ammunition.

When the young and unemployed ask me for career advice, I tell them to learn how to organize friends and neighbors into a militia and establish a perimeter.

Yes, I have been up late at night watching the National Geographic Channel, learning the many ways the world as we know it may soon end, from a global economic collapse to unfathomable horrors from outer space.   Nostradamus, the ancient Maya, the Book of Revelations -- I've heard it all on cable TV. But this month, Nat Geo is out with a new show called "Doomsday Preppers," featuring ordinary, everyday people who are actually doing something about it:

- Christopher Nyerges is prepping for an earthquake that might flatten Los Angeles. He's learned to live off shrubs and weeds and carries a flint to build fires.

- Megan Hurwitt is expecting an unusually nasty oil crisis. The Houston party girl built an impressive survival cache in her tiny apartment, and she practices a night-time backpacking route to get out of a city she expects to find completely blacked out.

- Paul Range foresees a polar shift, or the entire earth doing a backflip on its axis. He's constructed a home near San Antonio, Texas, using eight steel shipping containers, and he's loaded it up with enough food and ammo to last 20 years.

- Dennis McClung, who lives in a suburb of Phoenix, is expecting a coronal mass ejection, a huge bubble of gas threaded with magnetic field lines that's ejected from the sun, in 2012 that will take out the electrical grid and blast civilization back to the Stone Age. He's got 1,000 tilapia fish in his swimming pool, chickens and goats roaming in his backyard, and a Mayan calendar on his flat-screen TV, counting down to the predicted doomsday of Dec. 21.

We used to call these people whack-jobs or survivalists. Now they are called preppers. This upgraded nomenclature, by itself, is a manifestation of our grim times.

After years of sluggish economic recovery, endless wars, and a skyrocketing national debt, the national zeitgeist has gone "Apocalypse Now." Turn on the AM radio, or search the Internet, and you'll find scores of companies peddling emergency food supplies and anything else you can imagine needing after the big one hits.

Nat Geo says nearly 4.3 million viewers tuned in when its new 10-part series premiered Feb. 7 at 9 p.m. EST. This was the biggest Tuesday night in the channel's 11-year history, with two episodes titled "Bullets, Lots of Bullets" and "I Hope I Am Crazy."

I hope I am crazy, too, because this show has me singing a jingle: "I'm a prepper, he's a prepper, she's a prepper, we're a prepper. Wouldn't you like to be a prepper, too?"

(The National Geographic Channel is a joint venture between National Geographic Ventures and FOX Cable Networks, a unit of News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWSA), which owns Dow Jones Newswires, The Wall Street Journal and the FOX Business Network.)

Nat Geo also paired up with Kelton Research to survey more than 1,000 people about the nation's growing doomsday hysteria. Among the results:

- 71% foresee a major disaster in their lifetime as an act of God, not man. (Yes, but doesn't God have to do this because of man?)

- 62% expect a global catastrophe in less than 20 years. And in the next 25 years, they expect the U.S. to experience: nuclear fallout (14%), a pandemic (29%), a significant blackout (37%), a financial collapse (51%), terrorism (55%), hurricanes (63%), earthquakes (64%). (Yes, but hasn't most of this stuff happened already?)

- 52% believe that if a Republican wins the White House, a man-made catastrophe is more likely. (Yes, but didn't George W. Bush already prove this? Why rub it in?)

- 40% say "to hell with a 401(k)," save money for catastrophes instead. (Yes, but why not stay in cash until the world ends, and then invest? The market always bounces back.)

- 27% think the Mayan calendar's prediction will be at least "somewhat true." (Yes, but isn't it "somewhat true" that Dec. 21 will be on a Friday?)

Despite all this anxiety, 85% say they are not ready for a devastating event. And of those who are prepping, 39% said they would not be able to survive more than two weeks with the supplies they've stored. (Yes, these are the people whom more advanced preppers may one day call slaves.)

The scariest results, however, come from a question about which movie most accurately predicts what will happen in the next 25 years: "The Day After Tomorrow" (37%), "Armageddon" (31%), "Water World" (9%) and "Planet of the Apes" (7%).

I go with "Planet of the Apes." After seeing who is most prepared to survive, I realize that evolution is a funny thing.

(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at al.lewis@dowjones.com or tellittoal.com)