The End is Near Inc.
Chris Martenson quit corporate America to craft an unusual life of financial readiness — in case the economy really implodes — and now thousands of Internet followers are buying the message. Literally.
The DVD sets now range from $24.99 to $169.99, and Martenson charges $500 an hour for private consultations. By "enrolling" on his website ($30 for a one-month membership; $300 for a year), followers get premium content, including podcasts, newsletters, access to member forums, and the vow of zero advertising. The website now earns enough to support the Martenson family and to employ a part-time staff of four.
Yet Martenson seems driven solely by an urgent desire to share his ideas. His core message is still available at no charge. Anyone can go online and watch him advise Americans to hunker down and safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. "I deeply care that you get this material," he tells his viewers.
And somehow he makes his fans feel like it’s perfectly normal to amass a year’s supply of beans. As one follower puts it: "Chris has this very calming and positive way of telling you the end is near."
- CRASH COURSE WORK SHEET
Martenson’s average client is a type-A male who has watched Crash Course and fears losing his savings in a blink. "They want to know what they can buy" to fix the problem, he says. He tells clients they’ll have to transform their psyches as well as their stock portfolios. In workshops and retreats, he guides them through the "six stages of awareness," from denial to acceptance. His website now draws, on average, 100,000 unique visitors per month, more than 4,000 of them from Boston.
One recent Crash Course convert, George Hults, works in the control room at the Pilgrim Nuclear Station in Plymouth. Last August, a general unease sent him roving around the Internet, where he discovered Martenson. Hults should have felt protected from economic Armageddon: When you’re the guy who stops nuclear meltdowns, you can be sure of a steady paycheck. Yet once he immersed himself in Martensonia, he began to worry. Hults would walk into a supermarket and marvel at the rotisserie chickens, trying to imagine how much oil it took to make that piece of food so absurdly convenient. "I don’t see products anymore," he says. "I see oil." Studying his own house, Hults thought, "What if oil goes away? Do I have backup systems?" He is now in the process of installing a solar hot-water heater, a gas fireplace, and a wood stove. He has started to grow vegetables.
It’s not just Martenson and his followers who have embraced the worst-case scenario. Many New Englanders practically vibrate with pessimism and a sudden fascination with eschatology. The Vermont environmentalist and author Bill McKibben has given the planet a new name, Eaarth, to suggest that the climate has changed so profoundly, human beings will have to adapt in order to survive. A revolutionary wing of the Britain-based Transition Towns environmental movement seeks to establish neighborhoods that can withstand hard times ahead; here in Massachusetts, more than 20 groups have sprung up to create