Monday, 9 September 2019

What I've Been Reading, August 2019

Links

Miscellaneous

The New Fascism, and Antifa

I hear a lot of well educated people saying that the people some of us are calling fascists don't really meet all the criteria for being "real" fascists. Others have even accused us of calling anyone we disagree with a fascist. I predict that a few decades from now those same people will be saying they wish they hadn't been quite so fussy with their definitions, and had acted sooner to oppose these "new fascists", even if they weren't identical to the fascists of the twentieth century.

The Amazon is Burning

Collapse

Peak Oil

Climate Change

Economic Contraction and Growing Inequality

  • Wages Are Low and Workers Are Scarce. Wait, What?, by Annie Lowrey, Medium—Atlantic
    The author is missing the effects of the decreasing surplus energy situation—which are similar to lower productivity, but stem from what amounts to increased energy cost and result in reduced growth rates.

Hazard and Risk

Agriculture

Before jumping to the erroneous conclusion that this section was paid for by Monsanto, stop for a moment and understand that organic agriculture/food is a multi-billion dollar per year industry that relies on fear to get people to buy its product. Millions of dollars are being spent to convince you that non-organic food is dangerous. In fact both conventionally grown and organic foods are equally safe. Sadly neither method of agriculture is even remotely substainable.

Food

Practical Skills

Politics

Linguistics

Dancing on Graves

For those that object to speaking ill of the dead, I'll just say that I hope David Koch is soon reunited with his brother.

Secession

Debunking Resources

These are of such importance that I've decide to leave them here on an ongoing basis.

Science Based Medicine

  • The Message of Measles, by Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker
    "As public-health officials confront the largest outbreak in the U.S. in decades, they’ve been fighting as much against dangerous ideas as they have against the disease."
    “It’s shocking how strong the anti-vax movement is,” Zucker said. “What surprises me is the really educated people who are passionately against vaccinations. I see this as part of a larger war against science-based reality. We need to study vaccine hesitancy as a disease.”
    My thought is that it's not a matter of "believing" or "not believing" in vaccines, but one of acknowledging the facts—they do work and they do not pose a significant risk.

Lacking an Owner's Manual

The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.

There is No God, and Thou Shall Have No Other Gods

I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that I am an atheist, but I may not have made it clear that I think any sort of worship is a bad thing and that believing in things is to be avoided whenever possible. Indeed, I do not believe in belief itself. That's what the "Thou shall have no other gods" is about—it's not enough to quit believing in whatever God or Gods you were raised to believe in, but also we must avoid other gods, including material wealth, power and fame.

Poverty, Homeless People, Minimum Wage, UBI, Health Care, Housing

  • This Company Hired Anyone Who Applied. Now It’s Starting a Movement., by Eillie Anzilotti, Pocket—Fast Company
  • The company’s slogan reads “we don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.”
    I would say that if you aren't a capitalist, then the justification for starting a company (which of course would be a co-operative) would be to meet a public need while earning a living for the workers. And of course you wouldn't want to externalize costs that then end up being a burden on society.
  • The New American Homeless, by Brian Goldstone, The New Republic
    "Housing insecurity in the nation’s richest cities is far worse than government statistics claim. Just ask the Goodmans."

Automation and Jobs

Books

Fiction

Non-Fiction

  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century , by Yuval Noah Harari
    This book starts out talking about the changes that will be forced on us by advances in biotechnology and artificial intelligence. Some might say the author is technophobic, but I'd say he is just the opposite—naively buying into the claims being made by the cheerleaders in those fields. I'd say the problems we'll face will result not from the unbridled success of biotech and AI, but from their failure to deliver as expected.
    As the book goes on, though, he gets into territory where he actually knows what he's talking about, and that part of it is definitely worth reading.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Responding to Collapse, Part 11: coping with power outages, the basics

Storm moving in off Lake Huron, August 2019

In my last post I talked about some of the problems with using "for profit" companies to provide infrastructure services and went on to look at how one major part of our infrastructure—the power grid—is likely to gradually fail over the coming years. I ended up looking at the effects of power outages, but ran out of space to cover how you can mitigate those effects and what your community can do to cope when it finally finds itself permanently isolated from the grid. I'll start talking about that today, but it looks like it's going to take three or four posts to cover this subject in the detail it deserves.

If you're following or considering following the suggestions I've been making in this series of posts, you're probably receptive to the idea of making preparations for collapse—possibly quite eager to get at it. The endgame here is the end of industrial civilization, with the grid shut down completely and the wells, mines, farms and factories it supports no longer running. So, you might think it would be a good idea to just dive in right now and go off grid.

In general, though, when preparing for any of the effects of collapse, it is important to remember kollapsniks like me have a pretty bad track record when it comes to attaching dates to our predictions. So the shape of your preparations should be such as to not squander your resources and leave you broke or in debt when the apocalypse doesn't happen a week from Tuesday. Ideally your preparations should enhance your life as BAU (business as usual) continues to gradually wind down, as well as making it possible to get by when BAU is finally gone. Which may be quite a way down the road as yet.

When most people talk about going off grid, they are talking not about doing without electricity but about generating some of their own, in order to maintain a certain level of modernity in their lifestyle. To do this requires access to two things: an energy source or sources and technology that can convert that energy into electricity. It is also helpful to be able to store the electricity you generate if your energy source is intermittent.

Today's consumer society makes energy sources, generating equipment and batteries readily available. This, unfortunately, will involve a significant upfront investment, the electricity you produce is likely to be more expensive than the electricity you can buy from the grid, and you won't have really gained any long term degree of independence from BAU. If you can afford it, this may be one way of setting up to weather power outages with a good degree of comfort and convenience. I suspect, though, that many of my readers are not wealthy enough to spend many thousands of dollars on an off grid power system.

It is probably true that at some point, as grid power increases in cost and decreases in reliability, home generated power becomes a winner. But at that point you'd also like to become much more independent of BAU, so a different approach will be required, and whether you can arrange to have electricity at all without relying on BAU for fuel, equipment or spare parts is a serious question. Which I'll get into in a post just a little way down the road.

But first, let's get back to the issue of coping with power outages. The effects of such outages, especially longer ones, are so far reaching that it is overwhelming to think of coping with them all. So I'll just concentrate on the most immediately impactful: lighting, cooking, refrigeration, food, water, sewage, heating, cooling, communications and transportation. Not necessarily in that order.

I'm going to divide the rest of this into four sections, each of which deals with a different sort of response to the challenge of power outages, roughly speaking in increasing order of expense and personal commitment. The first of those sections will be covered in the rest of this post and the final three in my next few posts.

I am assuming that many of my readers are convinced enough of the inevitability of collapse that they already have or are seriously considering moving to a remote small town and are eager to do some preparation, but they may be limited in their financial resources and practical skills. Sections 1 and 2 will cater to those limits.

1) Short Outages, minimal response

In the case of short outages, you can simply do without for a few hours, and experience little more than minor inconvenience. Indeed, the most important technique I can recommend for coping with any of the effects of collapse is to be ready to cheerfully accept some loss of comfort and convenience.

Around here, minor outages used to last from 2 to 4 hours. Now it's more like 4 to 8 hours, which is almost entirely due to power companies trying to save money on staffing. Most of us have lived through a few of these, especially in rural areas where power is distributed via overhead lines strung on wooden poles. This is, realistically, part of living in an industrial civilization—the cost of eliminating all outages would be too high.

So kick back, read a book and wait for the power to come on. Of course, if the power is still off after sunset that book is going to be hard to read, and it sure would be nice to have a flashlight and/or some candles. A little more thought and you'll soon realize that there are a few things that aren't terribly expensive and which would make short power outages much less of a nuisance.

Even people who don't accept the "collapse narrative" will benefit from some basic preparation of this sort. At this point (August 2019) all the resources of BAU are still available to consumers, so everything you'll need can be had very easily.

Lighting

Flashlights and batteries

In the short run, the lost of electric lighting is one of the main things to prepare for and also one of the easiest. You don't want to be stumbling around in the dark as you do the things you'll want to do to cope with an outage. And once that's out of the way, you're going to find it pretty boring without all the electronic entertainment you're used to. It takes light even to enjoy books and board games. At this basic level, you'll use flashlights and/or candles to provide light.

Flashlights have improved a lot in the last few years. LEDs have replaced incandescent bulbs, increasing battery life and making flashlights much sturdier. These days the best batteries have a shelf life of around 10 years, so that you can leave your flashlight sitting on a shelf for a long time and not end up with dead batteries or a corroded mess. And I guess if you plan on using a flashlight a lot, one with rechargeable batteries would be a good idea. One useful variation on that idea is a flashlight with rechargeable batteries and a built in hand cranked generator.

In emergency situations, a flashlight is especially handy when you need to move around in the dark. They also don't present a fire hazard the way candles do.

In the photo on the right are the flashlights found around our house and car, all of which were purchased at Canadian Tire. (Canadian tire is a chain of automotive/hardware/houseware/sports and garden stores here in Canada. If you live outside Canada don't know what you are missing.) At the back is a worklight that takes 4 AA cells and produces a startling amount of light for along time. Comes with a hook to hang it by and magnets in the base to stick to any iron or steel surface. In the middle is a Garrity handcranked flashlight. Thirty seconds of vugorous cranking gives you 3 to 5 minutes of light, depending on how dim you're willing to let it get before cranking it up again. At the front on the left is the Maglite single AAA flashlight that I carry on my keychain. Put out 47 lumens. Second from the left at the front is the Maglite 2 AA flashlight that we keep in the glove box of our car. Puts out 97 lumens. On the front right is a cheap 3 AAA flashlight that only puts out 60 lumens.

Candles and holders, matches and lighter

Candles are good too, especially as a stationary source of illumination. Unfortunately most candles don't come with built in holders and being tall and skinny, don't stand up very well on their own. So it is a good idea to have a few candle holders around the house, sized to fit whatever kind of candle you keep in stock. In the front right of the photo to the right is a tea light, which comes with a built in holder and doesn't take up much space. Useful in emergency bags.

Since candles don't light themselves, you'll need matches or a lighter of some sort. Nobody smokes in our family, so the lighter we have is made for lighting barbeques, but works fine for lighting candles and our woodstove as well. The long nose keeps you hand back a bit from whatever you're trying to light.

Water

Water storage in the cold room at our house

Water is your next most urgent need. And while the municipal water supply or your own pressure system may continue to supply enough water for drinking and washing for a short period, it is wise to have a few gallons of potable water stored away. It is usually recommended that you have one gallon per person per day just for drink and washing.

Water from a chlorinated municipal water supply does not need further treatment when stored in clean, food-grade containers. Non-chlorinated water should be treated with bleach. Add 8 drops of liquid household chlorine bleach (5 to 6% sodium hypochlorite) for every 4 litres (one gallon) of water. More details can be found here and here.

I'm not, by the way suggesting you go out and get a few cases of bottled water in single use 500 ml plastic bottles. First off, if you can't drink your tap water, you're living in the wrong place. Second, bottled water is an expense you should avoid. Third, those bottles are a serious waste problem. If you're strapped for cash, save food grade plastic containers that you would otherwise throw out, wash them and use them to store water. Things like 2 litre beverage bottles, juice bottles, and so forth. And if you can afford a relatively small investment, you can easily get sturdy purpose built water bottles that hold 20 litres (5 gallons) and have a built in spigot. In the photo above there is also a blue 2.5 gallon water container from Canadian Tire that we use when travelling.

Our 60 gallon
electric water heater

Another source of water is your water heater which probably holds 40 or 60 gallons of potable water. If it's never been flushed then the water at the bottom, which will come out first, will probably be rusty. The drain valve is also probably very close to the floor, and you likely need a screwdriver or wrench to operate that valve. Best to check this out in advance and make sure you have the required tools and a pan that will fit under the valve to catch the water. In any case it's also a good idea to flush your water tank annually.

Sewage

Safe handling of human waste is an important public health issue. And when you gotta go, you gotta go—it really is an emergency. Even during a short power outage, the odds are that someone in your home will need to use the facilities.

You probably have a flush toilet hooked up to a septic tank and weeping bed or to municipal sewers. The septic tank and weeping bed is likely gravity fed, so it is OK to use the toilet even when the power is off. Municipal sewers may be gravity fed, but it is likely that some parts of town are downhill from the sewage processing plant and rely on electrically powered pumps to make things flow in the right direction. I live in such a location and the town used to show up with a vacuum truck during outages and use it to make sure that our sewers didn't back up. Recently they installed some upgrades, including backup generators for critical sewage pumps. It wouldn't hurt to check into the situation in your town.

Your toilet is good for one flush using the water in its tank. If you've made no other preparations, you need to make the most of that flush, and not waste it when there is nothing more than urine in the bowl. Then you need to be looking for a source of flushing water, which you can just pour into the bowl to make the toilet flush. Many sources of water that you wouldn't want to drink are fine for flushing a toilet. The rusty water from the bottom of your water heater is certainly OK, as is rain water and surface water from streams and ponds. A five gallon (20 litre) bucket is useful to have if you are reduced to scrounging flush water from such sources.

Emergency bucket toilet
with waste bags

People like me, who grew up on farms and have spent some time in the bush, are not above finding a secluded spot outdoors to urinate, and in a pinch even to defecate. Though it is important to realize that feces are a health hazard to other people using the area. This brings us to the idea of emergency toilets which you can put together quickly. Here are several good articles on the subject:
How to create an emergency toilet
Make and use an emergency toilet

Amazon will be glad to sell you a bucket, seat, lid and waste bags, all ready to go. Or you can buy just the seat, lid and waste bags, and supply your own bucket.
Portable Toilet Bucket with Seat and Lid Attachment

I would recommend having one of those emergency bucket toilets on hand. I don't have one because I have a Jenkins style sawdust toilet made up and ready to go for emergency use. These are often called composting toilets, but only because when the bucket gets full you can dump it in your compost pile. The legality of doing that with human waste varies from place to place, so it is best to be discreet.

Food and Cooking

During short outages you can either go hungry for a few hours (it won't kill you) or have some food on hand that can be eaten without cooking.

Refrigeration

Your concern here will be that food in your refrigerator don't spoil and frozen food in your freezer doesn't thaw.

Food in your refrigerator should be OK for up to about 4 hours provided you don't open the door too often and let the cold air out. If you freezer is full, food should be safe in it for about 48 hours, 24 hours if it is half full. If your freezer isn't full, it is a good idea keep some ice in it for increased thermal mass. I use several jugs of water, which freeze after they are put in the freezer. It might also be a good idea to open the door of your refrigerator just once and put in a jug or two of ice from your freezer.

Some good advice on keeping food safe during an emergency can be found here.

Frozen food that still has ice crystals and feels cold is usually safe to refreeze. Frozen food that has thawed out, and food that normally requires refrigeration, and has been above 40 degrees F. for more than 2 hours, should be discarded.

Heating and Cooling

If you've chosen your location carefully, you should be able to get by without air conditioning, and just suffer through the few hottest days in summer. Shade and ventilation will help, as will moving heat generating activities like cooking outdoors. And believe it or not, if you stay out of air conditioned spaces for a few days, you will get used to the heat. Try to take it easy though, until you've adapted.

Here's some good advice on how to stay comfortable and safe during hot weather.

The same careful choice of location will, unfortunately, put you in some pretty cold weather in the winter. If your home is well insulated and well sealed it shouldn't cool things off more than a few degrees during a short outage.

But just in case things get worse than that, here's some good advice on keeping warm in a winter weather emergency. The basic idea is to limit the spaces you're trying to heat, and whenever possible to heat humans, not spaces.

Communications

Handcranked and battery operated radios

You may want to call the power company to let them know about the outage and to contact family and friends to see if they need help. Your cell phone, if it is charged up, will probably work through a short outage as will your land line phone. But if your landline phone is a cordless one, it won't work unless there is power to the base station, so get at least one old fashioned directly wired phone and make sure it works if it is not connected to a power source.

A battery operated radio is also a good idea, for both information and entertainment. The handcranked radio on the left (a Grundig FR-200) in the photo to the right inlcudes a flashlight and receives AM, FM and 2 shortwave bandsworks. It work off 3 AA cells as well as the buildin rechargable battery. Sadly, the quality of the souond is poor, and it doesn;t discriminate between closely adjacent stations very well. The small Sony boom box onthe right takes 6 D cells and works just fine off them or 120VAC. The sound quality is great and it plays cassette tapes and CDs as well as AM and FM radio.

Transportation

Personally, I would advise staying off the roads during a short outage. Traffic lights aren't likely to be working and those who are on the roads may be panicky and not thinking straight. But just in case you do have to go somewhere, it's a good idea to keep your fuel tank at least half full. That's a good idea in any case, really.

Miscellaneous

If you work at home using a computer losing unsaved work in the event of a power outage can be expensive. Of course a laptop with a good battery will allow you to save your work before shutting down. If, like me, you are still using a desktop computer, a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) is a really good idea.

When the power comes back on the voltage is likely to be quite low due to heavy loading. This can cause problems for voltage sensitive equipment like motors and electronics. You can do your part to help with this problem by turning off heavy loads such as your electric furnace or baseboard heaters in cold weather or air conditioners in hot weather, and also your water heater, stove and clothes dryer. And to be safe, disconnect sensitive equipment like refrigerators, freezers, computers and televisions.

In Closing

You can make these few, simple preparations even if you're living in an apartment where you can't make big changes to the infrastructure. And it won't cost you very much, either. Everyone should have these basics under control.

But I would guess that along with a few short outages the immediate future holds the possibility of one or more substantially longer outages, which will do much to change our complacent attitudes and render us eager to be more prepared.

In my next post I'll cover a higher level of preparation, still achievable on a tight budget and still relying on BAU for supplies and equipment, but suited to coping with longer and more frequent outages.


Links to the rest of this series of posts, Preparing for (Responding to) Collapse:

Monday, 5 August 2019

What I've Been Reading, July 2019

Links

Miscellaneous

Fascism

Collapse

  • Are We Doomed? Let’s Have a Conversation, by Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute
  • The Age of Denial, by Umair Haque, Medium—Eudaimonia & Co
    I certainly agree with most of what Umair is saying, especially the part about the present day rise of fascism. But I would add resource depletion to his list of problems, and instead of "stagnation", I'd say our economic problem is a system that works well only when it's growing, when we need an economy that can handle degrowth with a minimum of disastrous consequences.
    Anyway, his closing paragraph is brilliant: "Let us all learn the lesson, my friends. Denial has already broken the mightiest nations on earth today — like twigs. It has made them laughingstocks, pariahs, jokes, and paupers. If it can do that to them — nobody is above being brought low this century, no matter how rich or powerful. Who will denial bring down next? Or will the rest of the world learn from the strange, sad story of the world’s two most powerful countries — whom denial made its newest collapsed ones? That part, I imagine, is up to you."
  • The Big Crash, by Umair Haque, Medium—Eudaimonia & Co
    "America is now a country of a tiny number of ultra rich, who effectively own everything, and one of something very much like neo serfs — the average American will die in debt, which means he’ll never (in net terms) own, earn, or save anything. Anything."
  • ‘High likelihood of human civilization coming to end’ by 2050, report finds, by Harry Cockburn, The Independent

Peak Oil

Climate Change

Economic Contraction and Growing Inequality

Energy

Hazard and Risk

Agriculture

Before jumping to the erroneous conclusion that I am a shill for Monsanto, stop for a moment and understand that organic agriculture/food is a multi-billion dollar per year industry that relies on fear to get people to buy its product. Millions of dollars are being spent to convince you that non-organic food is dangerous. In fact both conventionally grown and organic foods are equally safe. Sadly neither method of agriculture is even remotely substainable.

Food

Practical Skills

  • You’ve Probably Never Had Real Soy Sauce, by Wei Tchou, Medium—Heated
    A few years ago, I made soy sauce, using a procedure similar to the one in this article. I got the soy beans from a local farmer, the wheat from Bulk Barn, the mold from Gem Cultures, and miso (the source of another culture) from a local health food store. Worked well and the result was a very nice soy sauce.

Politics

Canadian Politics

Ontario Politics

Debunking Resources

These are of such importance that I've decide to leave them here on an ongoing basis.

Science Based Medicine

Lacking an Owner's Manual

The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.

  • Why We Don’t Just Go Get Help For Depression, by Shannon Ashley, Medium—Honestly Yours
  • The problem of mindfulness, by Sahanika Ratnayake, Aeon
    "Mindfulness promotes itself as value-neutral but it is loaded with (troubling) assumptions about the self and the cosmos"
  • The Science Behind Eureka Moments, by Markham Heid, Medium—elemental
    Aha experiences aren’t as serendipitous as you may think. Here’s how to proactively produce them.
  • Against ‘natural’ parenting, by Olga Mecking , Aeon
    "We’re opportunistic, inventive and flexible animals, and there is no ‘natural’ or ‘right’ way to bring up our children."
  • There is No God, and Thou Shall Have No Other Gods

    I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that I am an atheist, but I may not have made it clear that I think any sort of worship is a bad thing and that believing in things is to be avoided whenever possible. Indeed, I do not believe in belief itself. That's what the "Thou shall have no other gods" is about—it's not enough to quit believing in whatever God or Gods you were raised to believe in, but also we must avoid other gods, including material wealth, power and fame.

    • Why I’ll Never Go on a Mission Trip Again, by Mariette Williams, Medium—Zora
      "Our well-intentioned attempts to serve Black and Brown people barely made an impact
      " This piece speaks volumes about that's wrong with Christianity in America.

    Puerto Rico

    Poverty, Homeless People, Minimum Wage, UBI, Health Care, Housing

    Artificial Intelligence

    Education

    Humour

    These are great times for political satire.

    Books

    Fiction

    Non-Fiction

    Wednesday, 17 July 2019

    Responding to Collapse, Part 10: the future of the power grid

    Sunset over Lake Huron

    In this series of posts I've been advising my readers that moving to a small town remote from large population centres, in an area that can supply the basic necessities of water, food and firewood, is a prudent way of coping with the ongoing collapse of BAU (Business as Usual). With the caveat that some advance preparation will be needed to ensure successful use of those resources.

    In the next few posts in this series, we'll look at some of the details of how BAU will collapse and how you can prepare to weather that collapse. In the immediate future infrastructure breakdowns will get more frequent and longer until finally it's no longer practical to rely on BAU for the necessities of life. It seems to me that supplies of electrical power, diesel fuel and money will be at the heart of many of the troubles that lie ahead, so I'll concentrate on those areas.

    And while I'll mainly be talking about infrastructure breakdowns we should remember that interruptions of service can occur for a couple of other reasons.

    The first has to do with the way our economy is organized and how we choose to provide vital services such as power, water, sewers, housing, food, communications, transportation, education, health care and so forth.

    Today most of the world's nations are capitalistic, with a distinct neo-liberal flavour. Under such conditions, companies are operated to make a profit and other goals, such as the public good, are strictly secondary. So when a "for profit" company finds its business becoming less profitable they must find ways to increase their charges or to supply less for the same fees or to quit supplying customers in less profitable areas altogether. And if they don't do those things they will either be bought out by companies that will, or they'll suffer bankruptcy. If there doesn't appear to be much chance that another company could make a good profit in the same business then it will never be reestablished. And if the public was relying on that company to provide vital services, then we are just out of luck.

    Of course there are other ways of organizing an economy, and in particular other ways of setting up companies to provide infrastructure services. But the argument is often made that for profit companies operating in a free market are more efficient. I would question if there has ever been any such thing as a free market, and whether it would function as predicted in any case. Efficiency in this case is defined as the amount of return on share holders' investments, and has nothing to do with providing a high quality and reliable service to your customers.

    But perhaps we should set all that aside in order to focus on the really critical thing, which is the difference between the way such companies work in growing economies versus contracting economies. In a growing economy it is relatively easy to make a profit and do so while supplying a service for the public good. But when the economy begins to contract that becomes more and more difficult for "for profit" companies.

    Governments can set up non-profit organizations whose primary goal is to provide services for the public good and they are likely to last longer in a contracting economy. In my experience, contrary to typical capitalist propaganda, they can also be quite efficient. But as the economy contracts so will tax revenues and eventually governments will have to cut back on the services they provide. With good planning though, they can do this in a controlled manner with lots of advanced warning, and give people time to adapt to the situation.

    As the economy gets even weaker, co-operatives organized by the people who need the services hold considerable promise. I'll have more to say about this over the next few posts.

    The second thing is that if you rely on BAU to make a living, you will find that your own economic circumstances are declining. When you can no longer afford the services you have come to rely on, you'll have find ways to provide them for yourself, and in the process learn how to get by with less, like it or not.

    I can consume along with the best of them, and there are certainly all kinds of things that it would be useful to have as we try to become more self reliant. But don't worry too much if you can't afford some of the shiny toys I'll be mentioning in future posts. As well trained consumers we may feel that buying things must be the solution to the problems that face us, but it isn't. Actually, there is no solution to the fix the world is in at the moment, and the best we can do is adapt to the changing conditions. Part of that is learning to get by while consuming less. This is hard for me and I'll bet it's hard for you too. That's why I talked first about preparing by become part of your new community (in posts 7 and 8 of this series), rather that the less important preparations that involve accumulating "stuff".

    Back 2012, when I started this blog, the authorities recommended that you be prepared to weather emergencies lasting for as long as three days (72 hours). They were basically saying, "don't rely on us to be there immediately—it may take as long as 72 hours before help arrives." In the meantime, this has been changed to two weeks in some areas. Is emergency response capability declining, or are they expecting more lengthy and severe emergencies? I suspect both. Of course serious "preppers" are laughing at this—they'd recommend that you have supplies on hand for a year or two. I don't disagree, but you have to start somewhere. And as collapse deepens those longer intervals to prepare for will come to seem more reasonable.


    Power Outages

    Power outages will probably be the most frequent infrastructure failure you'll have to cope with. Short outages have relatively minor impacts, but because electricity is at the heart of so much that goes on in modern civilization, as outages stretch out they start to effect more and more things.

    Eventually, it seems very likely that the power grid in many, if not most, areas will cease to function. I encounter two different responses to this idea. Many people cannot conceive that their 24 hour a day, essentially infinite supply of power could every come to an end. Others are fixated on the idea of a sudden and hard crash which will bring the whole of industrial civilization to an end, including the power grid.

    I'm somewhere in between, holding what I think is a more detailed and nuanced opinion. Most of the rest of this post is going to be spent talking about how the slow decline of the power grid will go, leaving the responses I would recommend for the next post.

    Power outages can be as simple as a utility pole getting knocked over during a traffic accident, to as complex as the grid failures that happened in northeastern North America in 1965 and 2003. And to take it even further, EMPs (electromagnetic pulses) from nuclear weapons or coronal mass ejections (solar flares) can do huge damage to electrical girds which may be very hard to recover from. But I think some of the most common and serious problems with the grid will come from three specific areas:

    • The first is equipment failure due to age and/or lack of maintenance, aggravated by overloads such as air conditioning load during summer heat waves. As the economy continues to contract power companies are going to find themselves short of capital and less able to invest in their own systems, leaving those systems more susceptible to failure. /li>
    • The second will be damage due to storms that are growing more frequent and more intense due to climate change—things like high winds, tornados and ice storms in particular. Lengthy outages will happen when there are widespread weather related problems combined with shortages of spare parts and limited manpower to install them. Those latter two problems will come mainly from cash strapped utilities trying to save money.
    • The third is sabotage. The grid is very exposed to a saboteur who knows what he is doing, and because of its geographically diffuse nature, very hard to secure. As collapse intensifies, there will be increased civil unrest—more angry people looking for easy targets that symbolize the establishment. The grid is certainly one such target.

    Of course, these concerns apply to the grid as it exists today, using conventional generation. It seems there is going to be a serious attempt to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, primarily solar and wind. Those who are pushing for a "Green New Deal" are telling people that we can use wind and solar to replace fossil fuels, and that in the process more jobs will be created and we'll actually end up more prosperous. This is a very unrealistic dream and just off the top of my head I can think of four serious problems with it:

    1. What solar and wind produce is electricity. But electricity supplies only 18 to 20% of our current energy use. Most of the rest comes directly from coal, oil and natural gas, and those fuels are used in ways that will be difficult, if not outright impossible, to replace with electricity.

      The main issue is that a battery is not nearly as effective a way to store energy as a tank of diesel fuel. And there are definite physical limitations on how much better batteries can get— we can probably improve them by a factor of two, but that's about it. Despite what we keep hearing in the news, it simply isn't practical to use batteries to power airplanes or long distance heavy transport by road, rail or sea. The quantity of batteries needed, and the size and weight of those batteries, is the problem.

      There are many industrial processes that use coal or natural gas for heat. Replacing those fuels with electricity may be theoretically possible but we haven't, for the most part, even started to develop ways to do so, much less begun to implement them.

    2. Phasing out fossil fuels would require using renewables to supply much larger quantities of electricity than we are currently using. But there are fundamental problems with using renewables to produce even part of the comparatively small amount of electricity we use now.

      One aspect of running a power grid that the general public is largely unaware of is that generation must be matched exactly to the load. Since load is something the grid operator cannot control to any great extent, generation that is "dispatchable"—that can be turned on and off on demand and ramped up and down as required—is very important. Conventional generation is dispatchable to varying degrees but renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are intermittent and for the most part not under the control of the grid operator—the very opposite of dispatchable. As such, renewables only exacerbate the problems of running a grid, especially given the lack of feasible large scale storage technologies. Yes, I know there are a number of storage technologies available but none of them are economical to use on the scale that would be required for use in a power grid with intermittent renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

      The concept of a "smart grid" which gives greater control of both generation and load offers hope of addressing these problems to some minor degree, but only at the price of adding complexity to the system. And adding complexity never increases reliability.

    3. The immediate reason for switching away from fossil fuels is to reduce the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere in order to combat climate change. But no one seems to be thinking of the carbon footprint of switching away from carbon. The switchover to renewables would be a massive undertaking powered mainly by fossil fuels, and the amount of CO2 being released would greatly increase during that effort.

      Much of this construction effort would also require large quantities of steel and concrete. Making steel and concrete involves the release of CO2, regardless of where the energy comes from—it's inherent to the chemistry of the processes involved.

      So it is by no means obvious that we can get off fossil fuels and onto renewables without creating an even worse climate crisis that the one we are currently facing.

    4. Renewables have a very low EROEI (energy returned on energy invested). A high EROEI is essential to the functioning of a modern industrial economy--money is just accounting, energy is really what makes the economy go. Any country which adds a large quantity of renewables to its energy mix will lower its overall average EROEI, making it more difficult to support a growing economy and a high tech industrial society. So even if we could somehow manage to switch over entirely to renewables, we'd have trouble sustaining a high enough level of technology to maintain and repair solar and wind generation facilities. And replacing them when they wear out would be a real stretch. Switching to renewables is something we might be able to do once, but then we'd be in big trouble.

    All this is of course based on not having to change our lifestyles, not having to accept a lower level of prosperity and consumption. Indeed one frequently hears people talking about increasing economic growth in order to bring the poor parts of the world up to our level of consumption. It is clear to me that this is not going to happen and that what we really need to do is reduce our levels of consumption down to what can be supported without fossil fuels, using local, sustainable, low tech renewables. It is also clear to me that we will not do this voluntarily, that the majority of our efforts will go into maintaining business as usual regardless of the consequences.

    Give all these factors time to work and it will become difficult to continue running the power grid as a whole. Some parts of the gird will simply quit working. Others that have proved unreliable, which place the grid as a whole at risk, will eventually have to be excluded from the grid. These islands will grow until the grid as we know it falls apart.

    There will be a few areas where generating equipment will continue to function for a long time and will be able to supply local load. Again, the matching generation and load will be a problem since most such generation comes in large chunks and is a long way from large amounts of load. The most hopeful situations are small hydro (water) powered generators, which can be run at less than full capacity and adjust quickly to match varying loads.

    Anyway, it seems clear that we can indeed expect more frequent and longer power outages. But what are the effects of these outages, and what can we do to mitigate them?


    The effects of power outages

    When the power goes out, you lose the lights, heat, cooling, cooking equipment, refrigeration and so forth in your own home. Even most oil, gas and wood heating systems rely on electricity for control, ignition and circulating fans. Then there are all the services that comes to you from outside your home, that you rely on to just work, but which need electricity to do that.

    In general, the most critical services run off batteries which are kept fully charged as long as the power is on. When the power goes out, these services keep right on running as if nothing had happened, at least until the batteries are discharged. The batteries for the controls in power stations are rated for eight hours. The batteries in cell phone towers are rated for two to four hours.

    Everything I'm finding on the internet says that the central switching stations for land line telephone service should keep working even during long power outages, which implies both batteries and backup generators. I have some doubts about this, and I'll be keeping an eye out for more detailed information.

    Many slightly less critical services have generators that start automatically with only a brief interruption when the power goes out and run as long as there is fuel (usually diesel fuel) in the tank. If arrangements have been made to refill that tank, then this can go on for quite a long time.

    Even less critical services than these can have a portable generator hooked up to them if need be. This would include facilities operating on battery power, if the power is off so long that the batteries need to be recharged.

    Most service stations don't have backup power so you likely won't be able to get fuel (gasoline, diesel, propane) while the power is off. During long outages the many supply chains that are powered by gasoline and/or diesel fuel will be in trouble.

    Natural gas pipelines have to be pressurized to keep to gas flowing through them. Some of the pumps used to do this are powered by natural gas, some by electricity. And I suspect that at least some of the controls for the gas powered pumps are electrical. So your natural gas supply, at least in some areas, will be compromised during electrical outages.

    The pumps in municipal water and sewage systems need electrical power too. Some may have backup generators, but not all. If you live on a farm or in a very small town, your toilet is likely gravity feed into a septic system and weeping bed, and will work as long as you have water to flush them. Or perhaps you have already set up a composting toilet which requires no power at all. Your water supply is probably from you own well, with a pump driven by an electric motor that uses 240V AC (if you are in North America). Even if you have a generator, you may need an electrician to help you hook it up to that motor.

    Refrigeration of food in grocery stores and pharmaceuticals in pharmacies and hospitals will be jeopardized. Fortunately our local hospital does have a backup generator.

    Radio and TV can be important sources of information during emergencies. But you will likely find that only a very few of your local stations are set up to keep broadcasting during power outages.

    It would also be great if internet service could continue during power outages. I understand it some areas it does, but we get our internet through the local cable TV company, and even short outages to their facilities knock out our internet connection and our cable TV service, even if the power is still on at our place. Your situation may be different—I hope so.

    Oddly, or so it seems to me, most traffic lights aren't backed up in any way and stop working when the power is off.

    ATMs won't be working, nor the systems that allows us to pay for things by credit and debit cards. Even if you do have cash in hand, you may find many retail outlets are unable to sell you anything when their cash registers and product code scanners aren't working. Many of them may just lock their doors for the duration of the outage.

    Not all of them, though—I was quite impressed during a recent outage when I saw the guy behind the counter at a nearby convenience store beavering away with a cash box, battery operated calculator and a notebook to record sales in. It can be done, but one hopes the prices are marked clearly on items rather than encoded in UPCs. This is an example of an individual (or maybe his manager) taking the situation in hand and keeping things working rather than sitting back and letting them fall apart.

    No doubt I am missing many of the potential effects of long power outages, but I think this gives you the flavour of what you'll be facing. Next time I'll talk about how you can mitigate the effects of power outages, both short and long, and what your community can do to cope when it finally finds itself permanently isolated from the grid.


    Links to the rest of this series of posts, Preparing for (Responding to) Collapse:

    Tuesday, 9 July 2019

    What I've Been Reading, June 2019

    Links

    Miscellaneous

    • What Bikini Atoll Looks Like Today, by Sam Scott, Medium—Stanford Magazine
      "Sixty years after the nuclear tests, the groundwater is contaminated and the coconuts are radioactive. But are the coral reefs thriving?"
    • A radical legal ideology nurtured our era of economic inequality, by Sanjukta Paul, Aeon
      "...economic coordination is increasingly accomplished through the mechanism of large, powerful firms, while economic cooperation among smaller players is increasingly disfavoured. These choices are fundamental to the policy prescriptions made by the law-and-economics approach. Again, we find ourselves with a choice that is necessarily moral and political: we can allocate coordination rights in a way that exacerbates imbalances in economic power, or in a way that ameliorates them. What we cannot do is pretend not to make the choice."
      Capitalism couldn't function without government support in the form of laws that govern economic activity in favour of capitalist and against the working class. This article does a pretty good job of explaining how this works in the U.S.
    • Fully Automated Luxury Communism Isn’t Our Future, by Robin Whitlock, Medium—OneZero

    Collapse

    Peak Oil

    Climate Change

    • An object lesson in greenwashing, by Tim Watkins, The Consciousness of Sheep
      "... if our intention is to stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then we need to stop doing all of the things—including economic growth and having babies—that cause greenhouse gas emissions. We cannot grow our way out of the consequences of growth; but it is easier to brush over this inconvenient truth in bright green paint than it is to take the hard decisions that are now essential."
    • Tree planting 'has mind-blowing potential' to tackle climate crisis, by Damian Carrington, The Guardian
    • Planting trees cannot replace cutting carbon dioxide emissions, study shows, by Lauren Lipuma, Geo Space
      A careful reading shows both this article and the one above are saying much the same thing—first cut back on carbon emmissions, then plant trees to reduce the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.
    • Deconstructing Federal Conservative Climate Policy, by Bill Hullet, The Guelph Backgrounder
      "I'm getting sick of writing post after post about how awful the Conservatives are right now. It makes me feel that somehow I'm not being "fair" or "balanced". But the fact of the matter is that currently they have their heads shoved up their butts in a truly spectacular way. These are not ordinary times. I have always tried to be as honest and objective as possible in everything I write—and it is just a fact that there is something really wrong right now with conservatives all over the planet."

    Economic Contraction and Growing Inequality

    • #152: Stuffed—why the monetary lifeboat won’t float, by Tim Morgan, Surplus Energy Economics
      " Conceptually, it’s useful to think in terms of ‘two economies’. One of these is the ‘real’ economy of goods and services, its operation characterised by the use of labour and resources, but its performance ultimately driven by energy. "The other is the ‘financial’ economy of money and credit, a parallel or shadow of the ‘real’ economy, useful for managing the real economy, but wholly lacking in stand-alone substance."

    Agriculture

    Before jumping to the erroneous conclusion that this section was paid for by Monsanto, stop for a moment and understand that organic agriculture/food is a multi-billion dollar per year industry that relies on fear to get people to buy its product. Millions of dollars are being spent to convince you that non-organic food is dangerous. In fact both conventionally grown and organic foods are equally safe. Sadly neither method of agriculture is even remotely substainable.

    Food

    Practical Skills

    • The Nomad's Ger, Producer: Daniel Grossman , Aeon
      "Mongolian nomads building a traditional yurt is a master class in cooperation"

    Politics

    Ontario Politics

    Debunking Resources

    These are of such importance that I've decide to leave them here on an ongoing basis.

    Science

    Science Based Medicine

    Lacking an Owner's Manual

    The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.

    Poverty, Homeless People, Minimum Wage, UBI, Health Care, Housing

    • Do the Rich Deserve to be Rich? — Basic Income Ethics, by Robert Jameson, Medium—Bob's Economics
      I don't agree with a lot of what this article has to say about the role of the market and the supposedly positive things the market does. But it's main point is that the market doesn't give people what they deserve, and with that I agree completely.
    • Is taxation theft?, by Phillip Goff, Aeon
      "The assumption that you own the contents of your pay-packet, although almost universal, is demonstrably confused."

    Humour

    These are great times for political satire.

    Books

    Fiction

    • Dies The Fire, by S,M. Stirling
      This is a favourite among kollapsniks, and while it is certainly an entertaining read, the picture it gives of collapse is pretty unrealistic.
    • A Meeting at Corvallis, by S,M. Stirling

    Non-Fiction

    I am reading a couple of excellent non-fiction books at the moment and hope to list them here at the end of July.