How jolly it must be to live as a billionaire prepper. During the Cold War, a wary family might be content building a bunker in the garage just large enough to fit a bucket toilet and a month's supply of Rice-a-Roni. Now, the hedge-fund manager and the tech entrepreneur can sail off into the apocalypse in a luxury bunker designed to look like a cruise ship, complete with swimming pools and bowling alleys. It's high times for the End Times.
Sure, the oceans are rising, the coral is dying and the risk of nuclear conflict is greater than it's been since the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that is only a problem if you haven't invested your rainy-day money in a blast-fortified fortress fitted with Wolf appliances and a SWAT team at the door to keep unwanted visitors away.
Stories of platinum paranoia have abounded recently, thanks to you-know-who and his control over an arsenal of several thousand nuclear warheads (not to mention his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord). According to the Hollywood Reporter, entertainment moguls are building subterranean complexes big enough to stable their horses and shooting ranges, accessed by secret doors that mimic Get Smart and Batman.
An American outfit called Vivos offers luxury bunkers that are the "place to be when the party's over and the shtf." While the conflagration rages overhead, you'll be able to use the games room, the pool or have a cozy dinner for two. Perhaps there's even a library where you can pick up a copy of The Road or A Canticle for Leibowitz.
This is the age of "gilded despair," the New Yorker's Evan Osnos wrote in a recent piece about the panicked nightmares of America's superrich. Some are planning to flee to New Zealand in the event of a catastrophe; others will burrow underground, mimicking the heedless life they lived on the surface, complete with gyms and climbing walls. Because if there's anything that will help you survive Armageddon, it's a ripped set of pecs and the ability to hold the plank position for two minutes.
As Mr. Osnos writes, fear has caused these titans to turn inward: "Faced with evidence of frailty in the American project, in the institutions and norms from which they have benefited, some are permitting themselves to imagine failure."
What if they turned some of that energy outward, and tried to solve these problems instead of burying their heads in the climate-controlled sand? What if they spent that money investing in green technologies, or financing disarmament advocacy?
I bring this up because, at this very moment, there are 132 countries working very hard at the United Nations on a ban that would bring an end to the nuclear weapons that so terrify Silicon Valley moguls and the producers of Hollywood disaster movies.
The nuclear-ban treaty has been shockingly underreported, perhaps because it's being boycotted by the nine states that possess these weapons (and therefore the ability to destroy the 90 per cent of countries that don't). The United States has arm-twisted its allies, including Canada, into not participating. It is not our finest hour on the global stage.
The countries that are negotiating realize they can't force the nine nuclear states to give up their weapons, but hope to create a framework for eventually outlawing them, as chemical and biological weapons were outlawed in the past. There is a draft treaty in place, and there is hope that a final version will be ready by the UN-mandated deadline of July 7.
The argument put forward by civil-society organizations is that a nuclear conflict would be a humanitarian disaster that would disproportionately affect the world's most marginalized – women, children and the poor. People who don't have Xboxes in their bunkers, in other words.
The rising sense of panic that led some billionaires to their doomsday forts has led more civic-minded citizens to band together and sound the alarm. Elder statesmen from Mikhail Gorbachev to William Perry, the former U.S. secretary of defence, are spending their senior years campaigning against nuclear weapons.
Some 3,700 scientists from around the globe, including high-profile stars such as Stephen Hawking and John Polanyi, have signed an open letter in support of the ban negotiations. "Nuclear weapons threaten not merely those who have them," the letter reads, "but all people on Earth."
In January, the scientific advisory board that manages the Doomsday Clock pushed its hands 30 seconds closer to midnight, based on rising nuclear tensions and uncertainty around climate change (a separate Climate Clock, which counts down the time until the global average temperature rises by 2 degrees Celsius, was recently launched by the Human Impact Lab at Concordia University). Now the Doomsday Clock sits at 2 1/2 minutes to midnight, the closest it's been since 1953, just after the United States and Soviets first tested hydrogen weapons.
If this all sounds a bit bleak for a lovely summer weekend, keep in mind that countless people around the world are tirelessly and quietly working for a more peaceful, secure future for everyone – not just themselves. They understand the fundamental truth that you might try to run, but in the end you can't hide. Not even in the pool.