A year ago, Adam Taggart chose Sebastopol as a "high resiliency" town from which to warn the world that its economy is poised for a long, hard slog.
Taggart and author Chris Martenson are the co-founders of PeakProsperity, a contrarian website known for asserting that humanity's best financial days lie in the rearview mirror.
PeakProsperity draws more than 250,000 unique visitors a month, Taggart said. Along with bracing predictions — "Blast Shields Up! Prepare for Incoming!" warned a recent headline — the site calls readers to consider a road less traveled, namely finding ways to boost their quality of life with less money in their pocketbooks.
According to Martenson's book, "The Crash Course," the worst-case scenario within the next two decades is "jarring chaos" caused when unsustainable debt and the end of cheap oil bring financial crises. The best case is a steady decline of global living standards.
In keeping with their convictions, both men left behind careers in corporate America — Taggart as a vice president at Yahoo and Martenson as a vice president at SAIC, a Fortune 500 company. They each moved their families to small towns with ample farmland and residents who look out for each other.
Outside Sebastopol last week, Taggart sat on his back deck with an unobstructed view of Mount St. Helena and the hills around Santa Rosa. The small ranchette near new vineyards and old apple orchards gives him the chance to raise a half-dozen chickens, a small garden and a few bee hives.
A jar of honey, he said, is "great social currency."
Western Sonoma County has a high degree of resiliency, Taggart maintained. He likes it not only for its climate, farmlands and watershed but also for residents who embrace sustainability and typically know their neighbors.
Should basic services ever be "compromised," he wrote later, "I'd rather be in Sonoma County, with Sonoma County people," than in Silicon Valley.
Despite their concerns, the two men seek to distinguish themselves from those futurists who "live in the doom-and-gloom space," Taggart said. They maintain that their readers subscribe to the website in order to forge connections with like-minded people and to find ways to build a more holistic vision of prosperity.
"I think the biggest thing we offer them is a community to plug into," said Taggart.
Martenson earned a doctorate in pathology from Duke University and an MBA from Cornell University. Nearly a decade ago he began developing presentations on the potential for economic troubles after seeking answers to why his stock portfolio declined during the bear market of 2002. He now lives in western Massachusetts and speaks to audiences around the globe.
Taggart spent nine years at Yahoo and received his MBA from Stanford University. He began his own economic investigations last decade during the housing market bubble — back then he offered $1 million for a very modest home in Silicon Valley and still found himself outbid.
Eventually Taggart came across Martenson's work, and the two joined forces three years ago. While they contract for certain services, it's basically a two-man operation, with Taggart running the business side and Martinson writing and speaking.
PeakProsperity's audience is 79 percent male. Sixty-seven percent of readers still have children living at home. Seventy-five percent have at least a college degree and about 40 percent have annual incomes of more than $100,000.