Friday, May 27, 2011

The Froth on the Sewage

While it would be nice to believe that my blogging about the coming crash will somehow compel or spark a revolution whereby one person reads my blog and then that person tells two others and they tell two more until, like an uncontrolled nuclear reaction, a vast number of people suddenly "get it" and march upon civilization and make it stop killing the planet and therefore all of us.

The problem is, of course, we are civilization. We are not on the outside looking in, except in our intellectual fantasies. We are the meat and marrow of the planet killing juggernaut. To be not part of it, would mean giving up all energy except that of the sun. It would mean walking away from all of our harmful practices: non-local resources, the repair of failing tech, non-personal entertainment, electronics, and well, you name it. If we could all simply walk away, out into the woods, the prairies, the swamps, the mountains, anywhere that is away from poison world, we could live off that landbase, if only at a subsistence level, then we could save the planet in one fell swoop. But we know that cannot happen.

The primary problem is the lack of skills. Not one person in one hundred thousand could claim to have walk-away skills that would serve them for the rest of their days. No, the truth is each one of us in a certain unique environment that requires rules be obeyed implicit to that unique environment. Those living in the large cities will suffer greatly without the land to grow their food even though some claim that all one need do is plant all the available green spaces and the rooftops for a wonderful cornucopia to be had by one and all. The problem is that the 12 million people of the New York area need on average 2000 calories per day. Without boring you with the math, that works out to twenty-thousand square miles of perfectly managed farmland to feed New York alone. If you have not been to the East Coast, you would discover that it has become to a great extent one vast city comprised of 112, 642,503 people. That means that that would need 187,000 square miles of perfectly managed farmland within that local area. No cheating through import! This, of course, assumes that all of the calories go towards only people and not traction animals or chickens. It means millions upon millions of people hand-tending their gardens.

Think of the logistics. Think of transportation: water, food, fiber, building supplies, people, animals, fuel, and well, everything. Each road means less farmland. Each foot path means less farmland. Each shed for tools, each home for a local farmer, each plot of land set aside for fuel production means that 187,000 square miles must be expanded. If we decide to use traction animals, then we need to grow fodder! By the time it is said and done, we will need to double the square miles we need (at least).

The point is a person living in New York will face certain problems related to starvation as surely as someone living in Phoenix where water is a huge problem. If we must move all of the people who live in untenable areas such as the Southwest, which includes such metropolises as Los Angeles, into areas which might support them, then we have a serious problem.

Ultimately, we need to calculate the number of calories needed and the land area required to produce that amount. Using the current numbers from the CIA factbook (a source that is bound to be on the high end), after making conversions and calculating per capita requirements, each person needs 1.2 acres to just gain the food stuffs we need. We have 1.6 acres per person available. Many would sigh with relief at this point and move on, but that would be a mistake. You must remember that this is a system that injects billions of pounds of fossil fuel energy into the ground in the form of anhydrous ammonia (made from natural gas) in order to fertilize what has become a largely sterile ecosystem. As one farmer I interviewed said, "Without the input of fertilizer, diesel to move the machinery, pesticides, and herbicides, I would go from 50/60 bushels of wheat per acre to maybe 7 bushels."

It is more than land that supports us, it is cheap fossil sunlight.

So. Back to the premise. Getting the word out is unlikely. We, the community of anti-civ people and animals, are so few in number that we are like the froth on the sewage pond. We've seen the light, but our efforts to communicate what we've seen to the depths of bullshit that most people live within will likely go unheard or unheeded. More than likely, we will not be heard until it is plain for everyone to see, and at which point it will be too late.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

New Review of The Heirloom!

Here is a great review by Amy Crawford!

Amy writes, "The Heirloom takes an innovative and very effective approach in dealing with current potential outcomes, if society continues down the road it's on.

A well written novel, interesting characters and believable scenarios. It grapples with the reality of life. We live in such a fantasy world of "I want it to be this way". .. but what happens if the "foundation" falls out. i.e. not just expensive fuel.. but NO fuel; what then?

This is not a downer storyline where the story line is "no one will listen, the world is falling apart". It's much more interesting than that. Instead there are solutions but our protagonist resists the new reality... just as most of us would.

If the "worst happens" what are the possible outcomes, and what are the alternatives. Because the "future" IS unknown the author hints at possibilities.

But underneath it all, the core issues and realities are look squarely in the face, and dealt with. The whole time I was reading the book I kept thinking, "Yes! someone's finally put the whole picture together!" I woke up in the middle of the night and had to get up and go finish reading... it definitely held my interest every moment of the way."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Getting the Message Out

In an extraordinary rebuff of the planet destroyers, the graduating students of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA sought an alternative to Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil and noted war criminal in the battle to save the planet, as a commencement speaker. After negotiations with the school, the students brought in Richard Heinberg to speak directly after Tillerson. Heinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.

This move is all the more interesting as WPI is a leading engineering and technology school. When one of the premier Planet Killer Universities finds itself in the odd position of its students rising up and demanding that a prophet of civilizational collapse speak at their commencement, you have to wonder what will happen next? Cats and dogs sleeping together? G. W. Bush admitting he was not only wrong but should be prosecuted for war crimes? That Newt Gingrich doesn't sound like an amphibian dental disease?

This all begs the question: what does this mean? Do these students understand the technological trap we've fallen into six thousand years ago and now see the light and wish to return to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, or will they continue the destruction of the planet but with a lesser technology, a smattering of smart grids, recycling, and french fry grease to power itsy-bitsy cars? While I applaud their audacity in the face of their indoctrination at the hands of a tech school, I find it hard to believe that they are willing to give up the planet-wrecking cudgel of technology.

In the brilliant, forward-looking minds of these young engineers and scientists, I suspect that they see not the elimination of killer tech but a "refinement," a subtle series of adjustments that will allow business as usual to proceed but with a seemingly sustainable engine of "new" technology to power our lifestyles. Among the many technologies I would imagine they see continuing would include the computer. For them, the computer represents a "smart" use of energy, something that is part of the solution, rather than one of the world's most pernicious problems. But it must be eliminated, or rather, it will suffer slow death, compared to its meteoric rise as the grid collapses in small gradations. Without server farms sucking down the equivalent of a Seattle's worth of electricity, the computer becomes a stand alone curiosity, no longer attached to the huge web of pseudo information that has come to supplant true experience. Another point of refinement will be the automobile. While it is not fair to paint all of these graduates with the same brush, I will bet that there is a gradation of autophilia in their hearts that will manifest itself in the form of various "super" cars that will get increasingly great mileage.

But that is exactly the problem. The resources must still be mined and moved and shaped and assembled, all of which requires energy. The destruction goes on albeit with a sweet veneer of techno-green. If you play out the formula to its natural and inevitable end, we end up at the same place--planetary destruction. Like the spiderweb cracks that race across your windshield when a rock thrown up by a truck smacks it, the web of necessary precursors reach back and forward into time. Need plastics? Where do we get them? Oil? Natural Gas? Do we use corn fed plastics? How do we plant the corn? By hand? Harvest? By hand? No. Machines. Lots of machines. Do the machines magically appear or are they made? Does it cost energy to make them? What do we make them out of? Metal? We have to mine the metal. That takes large machinery. It must be made. We need metal machines that melt and refine the metal. Machines to shape the metal, from ingots to sheets to wire. We need roads to deliver the metal. That means asphalt and concrete. That takes oil and plenty of energy. In other words, we need a pre-existing oil-based manufacturing base in order to build the "alternative" future. And, we need constant maintenance of the base.

Chicken and egg, my friend.

So, these wonderful baby engineers and scientists are all chomping at the bit to fix the technology problem with more technology. Yea!

So, while I appreciate the press coverage and the thought that enough students at a Planet Destroyer University got together to demand that this rather radical person in the form of Richard Heinberg be present to offer up a breath of truth, I cannot help but feel that people out there will think that these students have an alternative version of the tech problem that works better, and that is a problem.

Because it will not. The truth is we are part of a brief spike in technology and population, a tiny thin micro spike in the two million year history of humanity that will completely be forgotten in another micro spike. This aberration is at its peak.

We need the message to change, but we risk offering business as usual when what is needed is a clean break. Bless you Richard Heinberg and the students of WPI for telling us part of the truth. Let us hope that the rest leaks out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sitting on the Porch

One of the most pleasing activities I've ever enjoyed is sitting on the porch, wine glass in hand, tunes squawking from the tiny iPod amplifier, and simply watching the fire in the chiminea. It seems to be a bit old fashioned, but it is relaxing. And, depending on your age, this activity may seem anachronistic to the point of laughter, but many of the people I know, the artists, the writers, the musicians who are shaping local communities with local ideas are being seen more and more on each other's porches, playing music, talking softly about their day and all mostly under the age of forty and many in their thirties and twenties. Ironically, the ones who seem to see this as stodgy are in fact the older generations of the nineteen sixties and seventies.

Yes, the vast majority of Americans shift from theme bar to theme bar, ever seeking the best pre-packaged experience that money can buy, eyeing the fifty flat screens filled with generic sports, cheering for cheering's sake, going to movies showing the retread techno-triumphilist de jour, and then home to the local weather guy and his corny hand-off to the anchor team.

But that is going to change with the upcoming energy shortage. I have a feeling that the country will quickly become a nation of porch sitters. We will grudgingly leave the dark caves of our homes, the info-packed flickering screens forgotten as we find ourselves forging new relationships with our neighbors in light of fewer jobs, less money, more time on our hands, and an oppressive, cable/internet bill.

Hot summer days will be mitigated in the porch's shade and breeze because running the A/C will be far too expensive. Maybe the cooling unit will be turned on for the occasional party, an expensive treat for one's guests, or ran as a single window unit in the highly insulated bedroom during the sweltering nights. Maybe the sleeping porch will come back into fashion.

Perhaps the neighbors will stop by with baskets of eggs, pickles, tomatoes, jerked rabbit meat, or some of their famous blackberry jam, seeking a trade for your time, expertise, tools, leather scraps, or singing skills. As a node in the informal economy, the porch may prove extremely useful.

Security will also be part of the porch's domain. Every pair of eyes on the street means fewer strangers able to get into mischief. With a sinking economy, crime is likely to rise. People who can no longer fulfill their fake dreams of plastic riches through a growing economy, may try to keep the dream alive through ransacking their neighbors homes. As relationships and trust grow in the neighborhood, so will the sense of possibility. Fear will decrease as people come to believe that their neighbors have their best interests in mind. And, with that trust, a sense of an extended world will emerge, the sense that your land does not end at your property line but is connected by air, wind, and water, meaning that your pollution will not be spilled onto your neighbors' land or your own land, not because you, he, or she owns it and want to keep it pristine, but because any insult to a particular part of the land will be an insult to all of the land. The land is indivisible.

In this blog, I intend to talk about many things, but I wish above all to convey the sense that despite all that is coming down the pike, right smack at us, that localism must feel like the answer. We know it is the answer. We must feel it is the answer.