Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Autobiographical Notes, Part 5: Becoming a Kollapsnik

Kincardine Community Garden

In the process of writing these autobiographical notes (1, 2, 3, 4), I realized how much living through the downsizing and breakup of Ontario Hydro prepared me to accept the ideas of Peak Oil and the Limits to Growth. I had learned a lot about the limitations of both human organizations and technology as solutions for our problems.

Then I watched my kids and their spouses spend their time as members of the "precariat", working underpaid, part time and totally insecure jobs. They never joined the ranks of the homeless, but on several occasions that was only because I was there to help. Many others are not so fortunate. This convinced me that our society is already failing miserably, not even capable of providing the basic needs of many of its members. This despite the fact that others, sheltered from reality by their wealth and privilege, see this as the best of times, with nothing but further progress in sight for the future.

In 2005 I retired from Hydro One at age 51. Typically people in that position start accumulating toys and having fun with them (hopefully—the fun seems to be the hard part). This is often financed by going back to work on contract for Hydro One, OPG or Bruce Power, collecting an excellent wage and a pension as well. But if I had wanted to go on working I would have stayed in the job I already had.

C&I Graphics, my design, printing and sign making company kept me busy about half of the available working hours, which was enough. For the first time in years I managed to get enough sleep. But I also knew about Peak Oil and the likelihood of it leading to some sort of crash/collapse. Such a crash would mean that neither my pension or my business could be relied on to support my family and I. My mind inevitably turned to preparing for what was coming.

You might ask, why not get involved in some sort of activism? Well, it seems to me that the efforts of most activists are focused on bandaid fixes to minor aspects of the problems facing us, and that they are unlikely to have any great amount of success because doing so would rock the "business as usual" (BAU) boat too much. Further, the activist themselves are highly invested in the continuation of BAU, even though it lies at the heart of the problems they claim to want fixed.

The only exception that comes to mind would by activism in the service of identity politics, where there has been some success in addressing racial and LGBTQ issues. Probably because the changes these people are seeking don't much threaten BAU. I congratulate these folks on their successes, but identity politics has little to do with the issues that concern me most.

In any case, it was clear to me that what we faced was a predicament, not a problem. In other words, something that couldn't be solved but to which we would just have to adapt. My main concern was, and is, to determine what those adaptations need to be and get started making them. BAU is doomed and there is no chance that we'll fix what's wrong with it before it is too late. But I do believe that being well prepared will greatly increase one's chances of making it through collapse relatively undamaged.

If you weren't there, I would guess that it is difficult to imagine the degree of panic in the peak oil community in the years leading up to 2008. It really seemed like we were facing a hard, fast crash and it was going to happen soon.

Almost everyone these days is dependent on the global infrastructure network for the very necessities of life. An economic crash, an energy crisis, the many consequences of climate change, either jointly or severally, all promised to damage that network and leave us in a very tough spot. As a former employee of an infrastructure company, the failure of infrastructure seems quite plausible to me. Indeed I was personally involved in the efforts to patch the power grid back together following the widespread outage in north eastern North America in August of 2003. This sort of thing was not some hypothetical possibility to me, but rather a very immediate reality.

And I had always had a keen interest in doing things for myself, making things and understanding how things work, which lead easily enough to a collapse preparation mindset. The only question was how exactly to start preparing. Even in 2006 I didn't think collapse would be sudden and permanent. I've written at length about this, but the upshot is that, initially at least, being prepared for relatively short infrastructure outages would be a big help.

I'm somewhat concerned that the following will be taken as virtue signaling or boasting. It has happened before—I prepare a list of things I've done to prepare for collapse, and somebody sees it as a challenge. Nothing could be further from my intention, which is more to show you how I have put a lot of effort into not actually accomplishing very much.

We built our house in 1982 with energy efficiency in mind. We have R40 in the walls, R60 in the attic, double pane windows (lots of them facing south), well insulated and sealed doors and an air exchanger to maintain air quality.

We have electric heat, with a long range plan to add a wood stove, which we never seem to get around to. The expense of having a chimney built is probably the biggest obstacle, even though the foundation for the chimney was part of the initial build. But hopefully later this year we'll get started on that project.

As it turned out, overheating in the summer was a bigger problem than being cold in the winter. In mid 1980s we put in an attic fan, which was a big help since it almost always cools off in the evening here and we can cool the house by drawing in cooler air from outside.

In 2007 we built a set of awnings to go over the south and west windows on the main floor. This stops the house from heating up during the day in the summer. We take the awnings down in the fall to let the sun in for the winter and put them up again in the spring. A bit of extra work, but worth the trouble. And the awnings have worked well enough that we didn't have to replace our window air conditioning unit when it failed.

Kincardine is often very cloudy in the winter, so solar heating is less effective here than you might think. Our large south facing windows are sometimes more of a liability than a asset in the winter. Over the last few years I built insulating panels to slip into the windows to reduce heat loss. But there are a couple of problems with this.

You have to get a good air seal on the warm side of the panels, or warm moisture laden air gets to the cold side and condenses, which isn't good for the wooden window frames. I haven't found a solution that allows the panels to be taken in and out easily, on a daily basis, but "tuck tape", normally used for sealing joints in vapour barrier, works well for those panels that can be left in all winter.

The other thing is that when the sun does shine on a window with an insulating panel in it, it really heats up the sunny side of the panels, enough to crack the window glass. We've only had this happen once so far. But this past winter I pulled back to just putting the panels in windows that are shaded most of the winter. I'm looking for a seal that would allow the panels to be inserted and removed easily.

At any rate, our house is well enough insulated and sealed that it takes a fairly long power outage before the temperature inside drops much. So far, most power outages hereabouts are less than 8 hours long, during which time the temperature in the house only drops a few degrees.

It was pretty clear to me by 2006 that food would be a major problem during a collapse and I had always had an interest in gardening and cooking. That spring, I set up a garden in raised beds in our front yard. We have continued with this since then, gradually expanding and improving the garden.

But our front yard is not large and limits the amount of food we can grow. In 2010 a community garden started up in Kincardine and I became involved, taking one plot in 2010 and 2 plots ever since then. Since 2015 I have been the co-ordinator for the garden, keeping things running fairly smoothly and interfacing with the municipality, which is actually quite supportive.

Even so, we still don't have a lot of garden space, certainly not enough to be anywhere near self-sufficient, even in the vegetables that grow well around here. For a couple of years, 2012 and 2013, we had some space in the large garden of friends who have a farm north of Kincardine. The gardens worked out well, as did sharing the space, but it was too far from home, too much time spent driving and I was still running C&I Graphics, so time was at a premium.

I have more time now that C&I is gone, but I'm co-ordinating the Community Garden, writing this blog and spending time with our grand kids, so we haven't tried to expand the gardens any further.

The space we have is enough to let us learn what works around here and how to cope with the problems that inevitably come up. That first year we used the techniques in the book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew, but we learned the limits of that method pretty quickly. The plants are quite close together and in raised beds. You have to use really rich soil to support that sort of density, and even with good soil, there is a limit to how close together plants can be and prosper, since they are competing for sunlight. The raised beds are good in that they warm up and dry out earlier in the spring so you can get a head start on the season. But they dry out quicker in the summer and must be watered religiously.

The good news is that we live in the middle of a productive farming area and no one hereabouts need fear starvation in the event of a collapse, provided someone can organize a switchover to production for local consumption and the use of farming techniques that don't require a global scale network of suppliers.

In the short run, I am more concerned about occasional interruptions in deliveries. So we started, as far back as 2006, to stock more food in the house, using the "store what you eat, eat what you store" method. Turns out that it's convenient to mostly have everything we need in the house and it saves money to stock up during sales and to buy in bulk.

Beyond the food storage, we've also worked on being well prepared for emergencies. I've written more about that in a couple of posts in the early days of this blog, here and here.

Carolynn and I have always enjoyed cooking from scratch, having learned a lot from our mothers and grandmothers. I've been baking bread for more than 40 years now. We have a couple of hand cranked flour mills, some grain in stock and more is available locally. During the last few years I've taken up cheese making.

We've made an effort to reduce the waste we produce, composting everything that is compostable, switching to cloth shopping bags, and cloth rags instead of paper towels, using less, repairing what can be fixed, reusing where possible, and recycling.

In addition to the gardening, bread and cheese making, I've been developing a number of useful skills, including wood working and blade sharpening, and weaving willow baskets from willow I've harvested locally.

But no man is an island and it soon became clear to me that all my efforts would be easier as part of a like minded community. So I set out to find a group of people to prepare with and rely on. This turned out to be even harder than I had expected.

I started mentioning what I was finding out about collapse to friends and family. Most rejected the idea as absurd, only a very few even really listened to what I had to say and fewer still ended up agreeing with me.

Around 2010 I started hearing about the Transition Town Movement, got myself a copy of the Transition Handbook and began wondering how to get a Transition Town started here in Kincardine. I am not any sort of extrovert and had no idea of how to get a group of people together.

One day in the spring of 2011 some people from the local anti wind turbine group dropped by my print shop to pick up some posters I had printed for them at the same time as one of the members of the Meaford Transition Town group came to pick up some Farmers Market flyers. We got talking about Transition and decided to try to set up a group in Kincardine. Something that would be more positive than the negative activism the anti wind people were involved in (as they themselves said).

In 2011 and 2012 Transition was a big thing in Southern Ontario, but since then it has petered out and you hardly hear about it at all. I've since talked to a number of people and heard that there is a tendency for the transition groups to be co-opted by activists (various sorts of "antis") and used as platform to further their goals, with transition (preparation for collapse) soon fading into the background.

Anyway, we had several meetings and set up the Penetagore Transition Town in the summer/fall of 2011. I met some new people, some of whom became good friends. But there was a lot of "woo" (beliefs not supported by evidence) that rubbed me the wrong way. Still, I had read that Transition Towns were often made up of a mix of such folks and rationalists, and if you didn't make a big deal of it, it was possible for them to work together effectively. So I hung in there.

It wasn't long, though, before it became clear that many of the people in the group were activists and looking for something to fight against rather than something positive to do, despite what they had originally said. The issue of bringing natural gas to Kincardine came up and they were eager to oppose it. When it became clear that this was the direction the Transition Town really wanted to go, I dropped out of the group and then it pretty much fell apart. Nothing more has been done since then, but I am happy to say that I am back on speaking terms with everyone who was involved. That's an important thing in a town this small and who knows what may develop in the future.

In the fall of 2011 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and in the winter of 2012, while recovering from the surgery, I started this blog. I was writing to take out some of the frustration I felt.

Since the enlightenment, the scientific method has enabled us to build up a good bit of reliable knowledge about the world we live in, always subject to revision as that same method refines and expands what we know. This "scientific consensus" is really the best understanding we have and you'd be a fool to ignore it, even though it is far from a final and absolute truth. But many ideologies today would have us believe whatever suits them, regardless of what the scientific consensus says. Two of those ideologies are of primary interest here.

On one side we have what I've been calling BAU (Business as Usual), made up people who believe that business can just continue along as usual, that we live in the best of times and that progress will continue and keep making things even better. Unfortunately this implies that humanity and the economy will keep growing. Most people don't see any woo in that, but such exponential growth has inevitable consequences, especially on a finite planet like ours. I talked about this at greater length in a post entitled the Biggest Lie.

Industrial civilization has turned out to be a wonderful device for turning natural resources into pollution, while producing a small amount of comfort and convenience for a few of the more fortunate of its members. Unfortunately there are finite quantities of both natural resources and sinks for pollution on this planet and BAU refuses to recognize this. We are currently running into some of these limits: depletion of fossil fuels, climate change, ocean acidification, shrinking habitat space and so on. Even if we find a way around one limit, we'll soon run into another. This was explained very clearly in The Limits to Growth, a book which I reviewed in great detail in a series of posts back in 2016.

One of the greatest "achievements" of BAU is the way it has convinced almost everyone that it is "scientific"—science and progress are firmly linked together in our minds, even though the scientific consensus clearly points out what's wrong with BAU.

To make the situation even worse, it seems that there is very little chance that BAU will change. The short term interests of a great many powerful people and institutions count on BAU continuing on its present course.

On the other side we have the counter culture, what I call the "Crunchies", who see what's wrong with BAU and would like to fix it. But they are fooled by BAU's claims about science and thus refuse to accept much of the scientific consensus. In the process they end up believing in a lot of things that aren't supported by the evidence—woo, in other words.

Sadly this means that many of the efforts made by Crunchies to change the world for the better are misdirected and a lot of effort is spent fighting things that aren't doing any harm while ignoring things that are.

My position is that of being a Crunchy (opposed to BAU), but without the woo. Indeed if I had it to do again, I'd probably call this blog "Crunchy Without the Woo". Starting in May of 2016 I discussed this idea in a series of post entitled "BAU, Crunchies and Woo".

Surprisingly, I've found there are a few other people in the world who think like this, and a number of them are regular readers of this blog. We don't agree 100% on everything, but then no one does. And that is something we all need to keep in mind while we are searching for people we can work with. We also need to keep in mind that people (including me) aren't all of a piece—we hold a variety of beliefs, some of which reflect reality and some which do not. And of course this is not a black and white thing, but a range of grays. It is quite possible to work together with people who are just reasonably close to being "of the same mind", and to reach decisions by consensus where everyone is just fairly happy with the results. Especially in the life and death situations we will face as collapse progresses, when it will be more important to survive that be proven absolutely right on every issue.

I find myself especially drawn to "working together in groups for mutual support". This idea has immense potential to insulate the members of such groups from the chaos in the world around them and to meet their human needs in ways that BAU does not do well even now and will do even less so as time passes. Indeed I would say that the formation and operation of such groups is at the heart of the response we need to make to the collapse of BAU.

I think many different variations on this theme need to be tried in order to see what works and what doesn't. And we need to be open to adopting what works for other people and discarding that parts of our own approach that aren't working. I am a big fan of "dissensus", which is the opposite of consensus, and consists of agreeing to disagree and wishing the other guy well while he goes his own way. In the coming decades, as energy become less available and the economy contracts and can no longer support the current level of centralization and complexity, we will be forced to decentralize, relocalize and simplify our society. Under these conditions, dissensus will become somewhat easier—we simply won't have the wherewithal to force our ideas on other groups, nor they on us.

Within these groups, we will find ourselves not worrying so much about a rigid ideology, and more about friendship and helping each other when the going gets tough. So the thing to do now is find some friends and practice getting along with them. This is by no means easy, but it is the direction we need to be heading. It is encouraging to find, that even though I am an introvert and quite shy, I have a fairly large network of acquaintances to draw upon—the people I knew while working at Ontario Hydro/Hydro One, the customers and suppliers I got to know while running C&I Graphics, the people at the Community Garden, my wife's large family (including our own kids and grandkids) and her far ranging networks, the group of guys organized by my friend Dave Leigh, who get together with regularly for coffee, and the people his wife Sylvia gets together to play trivia once a month at the Royal Canadian Legion.

Well, I think that just about finishes up my series of autobiographical notes. Next time I'm planning to start a new series of posts, looking in more detail at strategies for living through collapse.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

What I've Been Reading, June 2018

This note used to say that the links below appear in the order I read them and was meant imply that they were more or less random in their subject matter, other than being of interest to me. Recently I started a few new sections at the bottom of the links on subjects that are of particular interest to me. But I can see that as time passes I am moving to a greater degree of "curation", which the dictionary tells me is about organizing and maintaining a collection. Applied to this collection of links and books I guess this will mean selecting links less randomly and trying to make them relevant in the context of this blog and whatever is going on in the world during the month.

But my originally statement still applies to the first section of links—they are pretty much random and just in the order I read them.

Links

Intelligence

Refugees and Migration

  • Five myths about the refugee crisis, by Daniel Trilling, The Guardian
    "...how likely is it that states which treat migrants with such callousness will behave similarly towards their own citizens?"

Poverty, Homelessness, Minimum Wage

Books

Fiction

Non-Fiction

I'm still wading slowly through The Bell Curve, in order to be able to criticize it with some degree of credibility. Almost half way through at this point. This has also lead to reading some scholarly articles about IQ on the web, further slowing down my other reading. I did read a couple of short non-fiction works this month, though.

  • This is Water, by David Foster Wallace
    "Some thoughts, delivered on a significant occasion, about living a compassionate life."
    As a committed atheist, I don't agree with the author's thoughts on the impossibility of not worshipping. I do agree that many people do worship things other than God, that are a bad or worse than God. But the important part is what the author has to say about the importance of seeing things from the other guy's viewpoint.
  • Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, by David Graeber
    An excellent little book about anarchism.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Autobiographical Notes, Part 4: My Peak Oil Journey

For some time now I been intending to do a post about "My Peak Oil Journey", describing how my understanding of Peak Oil has evolved over the years. I think it will fit nicely at this point in my series of autobiographical notes.

Throughout the history of this blog I've focused on three of the challenges we face: Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Economic Contraction.

I first became aware of climate change in the late 80s and had no trouble accepting its reality. I expected that nuclear fusion or possibly renewable power sources, especially solar, would take over from fossil fuels and solve the problem with ease. But things have not worked out quite so well.

Sometime in 2000 or 2001 I first heard of Peak Oil. Again, my initial reaction was that improved technology would solve the problem. But I was drawn back to the topic repeatedly and by the time I retired from Hydro One, I was convinced that this is not a problem we are going to solve. I retired with a very nice pension, but also a keen awareness that this pension was contingent on the continuing growth of the economy. And even that early on, my reading about Peak Oil made it pretty clear that continued economic growth was far from a sure thing.

My current understanding of the economy took much longer to come together, and is intimately intertwined with my understanding of Peak Oil.

In the early 2000s many people, myself included, had quite a naive understanding of how Peak Oil might play out. I think many of us thought of oil fields as big underground tanks, originally full of oil. In this view we'd be able to keep pumping oil out of the ground until one day it suddenly ran dry. We also thought that the demand for oil was quite inelastic and running out would cause a very serious disaster, quite possibly the collapse of industrial civilization.

There was a lot of speculation about the amount of oil that was actually left, and good reason to suspect that official estimates of oil reserves were artificially inflated. Both the privately owned oil companies and the OPEC countries had (and still have) much to gain from claiming that their reserves are larger than they are in reality. Some of the agencies estimating future oil use numbers based them solely on predicted demand, without considering the realities of the supply side at all.

Gradually, this way of thinking came around to a more realistic picture of porous rock formations saturated with oil and gas and capped with layers of impermeable rock. Drill through the cap rock and the oil (and gas) would start running out. With this more accurate picture came many inconvenient details which gradually, as events played out over the years, became more obvious.

The rate at which oil comes out of the ground is determined by the geology of each particular well, and is at a maximum when the well is new and declines as the well ages until eventually it is no longer profitable to operate the well, the costs of operation being higher than the small remaining production is worth. This happens before all of the oil is removed from the well. There are techniques such as water injection which can be used to increase the rate at which oil comes out of a well, but this may increase the decline rate so that the total production of the well is less in the end.

Discovery of new oil resources must make up for the decline of existing wells and allow for increased use of oil as the economy grows. For the last few decades this has not happened, and it appears to me that the production of "conventional" oil peaked around 2005. This was reflected in the increase in the price of oil from around $12 per barrel in late 90s to just over $140 per barrel in the summer of 2008. The price of oil goes up as demand exceeds supply or even if events make it seem that supply might soon be constrained. It seems that in the months leading up to the summer of 2008, both of those factors were involved in making the price of oil spike upwards.

Looking back on the effect of oil price on the economy, post 2008, it became clear that almost every recession since the 1950s had been preceded by a spike in the price of oil. It turns out that the demand for oil is not nearly so inelastic as some had imagined. When the price goes up we see what is known as "demand destruction"—economic growth slows and people find themselves short of cash, cutting back on discretionary spending and doing whatever they can to use less energy. If the price goes high enough, even conservation begins to look like attractive.

At the same time, the idea that there is no alternative to oil turns out to be a little too simplistic. As the price goes up, oil wells that have been shut down as unprofitable become profitable again. Alternative forms of oil, what is known as "non-conventional oil" (deep offshore oil, Arctic oil, fracked oil, heavy oil and bitumen from tar sands) which had previously been too expensive to bother with, also become economically feasible.

The demand for oil dropped off from 86.3 million barrels per day in 2007 to less than 84.5 in 2009, and the price dropped to just over $40 per barrel. As the economy recovered, non-conventional oil made up for the decline in production of conventional oil and total demand increased to over 99 million barrels per day in 2018. Higher prices 2010 to 2014 (peaking at over $100 per barrel in early 2014) no doubt drove developments in non-conventional oil, while at the same time slowing the recovery of the economy.

In that period (2008 to 2014) the idea of Peak Oil was alive and well. Lots of people were interested, there were numerous websites and books being published, and a variety of groups, (of which the Transition Town movement is probably best known) sprang up in an attempt to bring people together to prepare for what was coming.

And while overall global oil production kept growing, many oil exporting countries reached their production peaks. In a phenomenon described by "The Export Land Model", this happened even quicker than it might have otherwise. As most such countries were experiencing growth in their own economies and improvements in their standards of living, so their domestic consumption of oil was increasing, leaving even less to export than could be accounted for by natural decline, and putting their balance of payments in an ever worsening situation post peak.

In the Middle East climate change brought on increased temperatures and droughts, making agriculture less and less feasible. And this was at a time when money to import food and jobs for bankrupt farmers fleeing to the cities were both in short supply. There is no doubt in my mind that both climate change and peaking of oil exports were factors in the so called "Arab spring". But changing governments does little to improve the situation when there are real, fundamental problems that even the best government would be hard pressed to cope with. In general, everywhere in the world, there is growing disillusionment with new governments, elected to deal with economic and social problems, who turn out to be just as inept as the old ones, and just as much in denial about what's wrong.

It was sometime after 2008 when I put together the missing pieces in my understanding of economics.

The first thing was to realize that it's not really about money.

Money is just a convenient set of tokens—a medium of exchange, a unit of account and a store of value. Of course, a whole "meta" level of business, the financial sector, is based on money. But it's vital not to lose sight of the underlying realities.

The second thing was to understand role of growth in the economy.

Modern economies run on credit. Money is created by the banks as debt and those debts must be paid back with interest. The extra money for the interest comes from yet more loans. This works fine as long as the economy is growing and the banks have good confidence that debtors will continue to pay back their loans, with interest. If the economy stops growing, or even if its growth slows down very much, governments, businesses and individuals who have taken out loans find themselves unable to continue making their payments and are forced to default on their loans. Too many defaults and the banks themselves start failing. So it is vital that the economy continued to grow.

The third thing is the role of energy in the economy.

The reason that debtors can pay back loans is that they used the borrowed money to set up enterprises that create more value than the capital and labour that are put into them. This surplus value can be used to pay off loans, with interest, and leave something as well for the owners of the enterprise. Or in the case of large companies, pay dividends to the investors. Conventional economic theory is pretty vague about where this extra value comes from. But when I read up on "biophysical economics" it became clear to me that the extra value comes from the energy inputs to the process, because the energy costs substantially less than the value it enables us to create.

That Wikipedia article I linked to doesn't mention the two sources where I learned about biophysical economics: Energy and the Wealth of Nations by Charles Hall and Kent Klitgaard, and Life After Growth by Tim Morgan. Morgan also has a website with up to date information.

Extra value (wealth) coming from surplus energy was true to a limited extent even in the past when energy came in the form of food and was converted in mechanical form by human or animal muscles. Things improved somewhat when we learned to harness the mechanical energy in moving air (wind) and falling water. But with the invention of engines that could convert the heat of burning fuel into mechanical energy, things really took off. These engines could drive automated factories which could produce goods with a fraction of the human labor previously required. This started with steam engines burning coal to pump water out of coal mines, replacing horse powered pumps. What followed was the industrial revolution.

The economy grew as it never had before, and as long as abundant cheap energy was available, it continued to grow.

Throughout the history of fossil fuel use, we've used the lowest hanging fruit first—the easiest to access and the highest quality fuels among those. With the result that as time passes, the remaining fuels are harder to access and/or of poorer quality. This leads us to concept of Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI), and the related idea of surplus or net energy.

Taking a typical oil well from the early twentieth century, the energy equivalent of 1 barrel of oil would have been used to get 100 barrels of oil out of the well. This gives you an EROEI of 100, and surplus energy of 99 barrels of oil equivalent.

Looking at present day corn based ethanol, to produce 1.3 gallons, it takes the energy equivalent of 1 gallon of ethanol. This gives you an EROEI of 1.3 and surplus energy of .3 gallons of ethanol equivalent.

This can be helpful in choosing the sorts of energy we should be using—early twentieth century oil wells are something we can only dream of today and the corn ethanol business is hardly viable without large subsidies. But there is more to it than that, because surplus energy is what drives the economy and makes economic growth possible. If you look at all the energy sources a country uses and calculate a weighted average EROEI, it can tell you quite a lot about that country's economy.

As that average EROEI declines toward about 15, economic growth grinds to a halt and it becomes difficult to raise capital to start new ventures and to maintain existing infrastructure. Below 15 a modern industrial civilization quits working. Because this is a weighted average, choosing to produce more energy from low EROEI sources makes things worse while temporarily seeming to make them better. It has been estimated that the current average EROEI of the world economy is around 11. Of course some lucky countries are doing much better than that.

But because of our "lowest hanging fruit first" approach, EROEI continues to decline. Real economic growth appears to have stopped in the 1990s, with governments using clever new ways of calculating gross domestic product, and unemployment and cost of living statistics to make things look better in the short run. And low interest rate policies to encourage lots of borrowing and keep the economy growing, again, in the short run.

By early 2014, oil prices had topped $100 per barrel and it looked to many of us like the economy might fall apart again as it had done in 2008.

But then oil prices started to fall, bottoming out below $40 per barrel. Why the slump happened is not well understood, but it had been predicted by a few (notably Nicole Foss of the Automatic Earth) as yet another step on the way to Peak Oil.

There was a glut in oil supply from 2014 to 2017. Several factors contributed to this.

The first, no doubt, was the increase in non-conventional oil production, particularly tight oil in continental US, accessed through the "hydro-fracturing" process, commonly referred to as "fracking". Contrary to popular belief this was not enough supply all of America's demand for crude oil. But it did add about 4 million barrels a day to US oil production.

All the hype about fracking as a new source of crude oil and natural gas caused some people to conclude that Peak Oil was dead, and that any shortage of oil was a very long way in the future. Even President Obama announced that there was enough tight oil to last 100 years. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. In 2017, the United States produced an average of about 14.2 million barrels per day, and consumed about 19.8 million barrels per day, with the difference made up by imports, changes in petroleum inventories, and petroleum refinery processing gain.

No doubt fracking has significantly decreased the amount of oil the US has to import. But this is temporary—the decline rates of fracked wells are much higher than those of conventional wells and most of the sweet spots in the tight oil plays have already been used up. Realistically, America's supply of tight oil will likely run out early in the 2020s.

But even if there was enough tight oil and gas to last 100 years, fracking is a classic case of trying to use a low EROEI energy source (somewhere between 3 and 5, in this case) to keep an economy going. You might expect that this oil would be more expensive than conventional oil, but as we learned in 2008, high energy prices cause recessions, which should lead to over-production and lower prices.

Parts of this happened—oil prices certainly went down. But oil consumption continued to grow, by about 1.7% per year. Strangely, it appears that this extra energy did not result in corresponding growth of the US economy. It is a bit of a puzzle where the energy went, until you realize that fracking is a very energy intensive process (the "energy invested" part of EROEI). Fracking itself is the "gas guzzler" that was causing the growth in US oil consumption. This is what I call "energy sprawl", where the extensive infrastructure and energy use required to make low EROEI energy sources work begins to dominate the economy and the landscape.

OPEC was initially unwilling to cut back production to bring the price back up, but in late 2016 an agreement to cut production was signed by many OPEC producers and Russia as well. At the same time, many other non-OPEC producers were experiencing natural decline.

The price of oil bottomed out just under $40/barrel in early 2016, bounced around in the $40s and low $50s, and then in mid 2017 started to increase pretty much steadily, as the glut began to dwindle. Today the price is in the high $70s/barrel and has topped $80 in the past few weeks. The glut is over and the U.S. government has quietly asked Saudi Arabia and some other OPEC producers to increase oil production by about 1 million barrels a day to bring the price down to a more acceptable level.

OPEC economies were hurt badly by several years of low prices and one suspects they will be only too glad to increase production. The question is how long they will be able to do so before the natural decline rates of their oil fields catch up with them.

The major oil companies were hurt by low prices too, and cut back on their investment on discovery in order to save money. This has left us in a very bad situation as far as oil supply goes over the next few years. Trillions of dollars would have to be spent on discovery to catch up with demand. It seems to some of us that there is no sweet spot where oil prices are low enough to keep the economy growing and high enough to make the oil business profitable.

In any case, it seems unlikely that there are actually sufficient oil resources out there even if we could find the money to spend on discovery. Beyond natural supply decline and reduced spending on discovery, we are seeing geopolitics playing a role in Peak Oil as well. Major oil producers like Venezuela are facing sanctions and internal economic chaos. Their oil industry is suffering as a result and production is falling off. If President Trump gets his way, something similar will likely happen with Iran. An overall peak in production will likely occur sometime in the next few years.

How will the economy respond to this? Not well, to be sure, but the specific details will include some surprises that are very hard to anticipate.

That's my "Peak Oil Journey", to date at any rate. No doubt there is more to learn. We're pretty good at explained what just happened, but not so good at predicting what's coming next. It always seems to involve something we just haven't considered yet.

While I was following the story of Peak Oil, my life carried on and I tried to prepare for the challenges that lay ahead. Eventually this lead to me starting this blog and calling myself a "Kollapsnik". More on that next time.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

What I've Been Reading, May 2018

This note used to say that the links below appear in the order I read them and was meant imply that they were more or less random in their subject matter, other than being of interest to me. Recently I started a few new sections at the bottom of the links on subjects that are of particular interest to me. But I can see that as time passes I am moving to a greater degree of "curation", which the dictionary tell me is about organizing and maintaining a collection. Applied to this collection of links and books I guess this will mean selecting links less randomly and trying to make them relevant in the context of this blog and whatever is going on in the world during the month.

Links

Intelligence

  • The unwelcome revival of "race science", by Gavin Evans, The Guardian
  • Socioeconomic Status Modifies Heritability Of IQ In Young Children, by Eric Turkheimer et al, University of Virginia
    "Results demonstrate that the proportions of IQ variance attributable to genes and environment vary nonlinearly with SES. The models suggest that in impoverished families, 60% of the variance in IQ is accounted for by the shared environment, and the contribution of genes is close to zero; in affluent families, the result is almost exactly the reverse."

Poverty, Homelessness, Minimum Wage

Puerto Rico

Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Vehicles

Books

Fiction

  • Step to the Stars, by Lester del Rey
    I originally read this when I was about 10 years old. Re-read it purely for nostalgic reasons.
  • Nemesis Games, by James S. A. Corey
    Book five of the Expanse series.
  • On a Red Station Drifting, by Aliette de Bodard
  • Into the Fire, by Elizabeth Moon
    Another episode in the "Vatta's Peace" series
  • After the Last Day, by Don Hayward
    The author is a fellow I actually know, who lives in Goderich, the next town south from Kincardine along Lake Huron. What mainly attracted me to the book, though, is that it is a story of life after the collapse of civilization in the area where I grew up. It starts in the town where I went to high school, and then the plot expands to include most of Southern Ontario and a small part of Northern Ontario. Don has done a pretty good job of sketching out the events following a major financial collapse.

Non-Fiction

I'm still wading slowly through The Bell Curve, in order to be able to criticize it with some degree of credibility. This has also lead to reading some scholarly articles about IQ on the web, further slowing down my other reading. So I didn't read any other non-fiction books this month, even those I have a growing pile that I'd like to get to. To make up for this lack, here is a short list of some gems from my bookshelf:

Monday, 7 May 2018

Autobiographical Notes, Part 3

Bruce Nuclear site, in the foreground Bruce GSB (left) and Bruce B switchyard (right).

After 1992 my life seemed to have several parallel streams, even more so than it had before, so that's the way I'll present this.

If you missed the first two parts of this series, have a look here: Part 1 and Part 2.

Power and Politics

For most of the twentieth century, the province of Ontario was the industrial heartland of Canada. Ontario Hydro, as the supplier of cheap and plentiful electrical power, was a major enabling factor of that situation. Hydro was seen as an example by other power utilities, who used us as benchmark for their activities.

Ontario Hydro was publicly owned from when it started in 1906 as the Hydro Electric Power Commission. In 1974 (incidentally the year I was hired) the HEPC was reconstituted as Ontario Hydro, a "Crown Corporation" with a single stock holder: the provincial government. Our CEO reported directly to the Minister of Energy. When things weren't going well economically for the province, Hydro was a convenient scapegoat for the high cost of power (regardless of what the cost was) and the competence of Hydro's management would be questioned. And when things weren't going well at Hydro, the fortunes of whatever political party was in power would often take a dive.

In the 1980's, based on expected economic growth, the province was going to need a lot more power over the coming decades, and supplying that power was going to mean a big upfront investment in new generation and transmission lines. But cost and schedule overruns on construction of the nuclear plants at Pickering and Bruce led to controversy over whether Hydro was competent to undertake such a program of expansion. More overruns in the construction of the Darlington Nuclear plant in the early 90s further fueled that controversy.

"Fortunately", those forecasts of economic growth didn't pan out and Ontario switched from being Canada's industrial heartland to being Canada's rust belt. And Ontario Hydro went from being the benchmark for utility operations to "a failing utility", even though in the late 90s we were making record profits. We went through several reorganizations and downsizings and many stern lectures about running the company "like a business".

In the mid 90s there was such concern over the "incompetent management" of the Hydro's Nuclear Generating division that a group of American nuclear experts (often referred to behind their backs as the seven horsemen of the apocalypse) were brought in to solve the problem. These poor fellows were pretty much in awe of the size of the Bruce Nuclear site, and proved to have little of value to offer.

It soon became obvious that the American nuclear industry had a strong military background, having started with nuclear submarines, and that culture clashed pretty badly with the more democratic Canadian approach to management. The whole effort was a poor solution to a problem that hadn't really been much of a problem in the first place.

But the American managers' zero tolerance approach did a lot of temporary damage to the positive workplace culture that had existed at the nuclear plants and soon taught our nuclear workers to hid things instead of being honest about mistakes and using them as learning opportunities for everyone. It seemed to me that things went back to normal after the Yanks left, although some may question that.

In 1999 Ontario Hydro was broken up into two commercial successor corporations, Ontario Power Generation Inc. and Ontario Hydro Services Company Inc. (OHSC), as well as two not-for-profit agencies, the Independent Electricity Market Operator and the Electrical Safety Authority. About a year later, OHSC was renamed Hydro One.

The Conservative Provincial Government under Mike Harris planned to sell Hydro One, and the process for an initial public offering was well underway. But increased power prices and public concern over the advisability of privatizing the province's electrical grid caused the government to call the process to a halt and freeze power prices. It appeared to me that this controversy had a lot to do with the Liberal victory in the 2003 election.

In 2015 the Liberal government under Kathleen Wynne announced a plan to privatize 60% of Hydro One and despite considerable discussion about whether or not this was a good idea, over the next couple of years, 50.1 percent of Hydro One was sold, with the province retaining 49.9 percent.

In 2001 OPG leased the nuclear units at the Bruce site to Bruce Power, a partnership of several companies, including British Energy. In 2002 British energy dropped out, and Bruce power became wholly Canadian owned. The motivation behind this deal was that Bruce Power would raise the money for refurbishment of the 4 units at Bruce A (and eventually all 8 unit at Bruce), so the province didn't have to. This has gone well so far, except that Bruce Power has just as much trouble with cost and schedule overruns as Ontario Hydro did. And of course, when it is time to finally shut down the Bruce Units, OPG gets stuck with the job.

I should note here that the real reason for all these cost and schedule overruns is that the estimates for each of the jobs were low balled in the first place. If the estimates had been realistic, then approval never would have been given to go ahead with the projects. Ontario needed the power, we didn't want to admit the cost, so we accepted the unrealistically low estimates, and people with a golden parachutes took the blame when the dust settled at the end of each project. All part of the job, and nice work if you can get it.

My Job at Ontario Hydro/Hydro One

So, the job I got in the fall of 1992 was that of Union Trade Supervisor, Level 2 (UTS2), commonly known as Crew Foreman. There were two of us UTS2s in the crew at Bruce, each with a crew of 4 or 5 journeymen. As the name implies, we were in the same union as the people we were supervising.

As I said in my last post, I took this job to stop someone even worse than me from getting it. I approached the job with considerable trepidation and I was not disappointed. I do not get any thrill from being in a position of authority, and in any case this job came with no real authority. About the best you could hope for was to earn the respect and personal loyalty of the people working for you. Fortunately, my experience was that usually only about one person in twenty would be a serious problem.

One of the things that made being a UTS II at Bruce more challenging than at many other location in Ontario Hydro was the interface with the nuclear stations. We did a lot of work for them, mainly on their main output transformers and station service transformers. Most of this was done during unit outages and I had to work closely with the outage planners at Bruce GSB. Fortunately, the head of that department was Hans Braul, a friend of mine from Chamber Music Kincardine (see below). We had to coordinate with operators, control techs, mechanics and scaffolders from the plant and with OPG who provided cranes and crane operators. And despite the best efforts of the planners, much of the work got planned by the foremen from each workgroup, often getting together after the daily planning meeting was over.

I could tell many war stories about supervising people (herding cats is easier), but a bigger part of my job was coping with the many downsizings, reorganizations, and the eventual breakup of the company.

In 1996 the Electrical Mtce. crew at Hanover was shut down and the workers moved to the Bruce, two of them in my crew, and two of them in the other crew. This would have been bad enough, but the foreman from Hanover, a TMS2 (same level as UTS II, but in management rather than the union) was put in charge of the whole bunch of us. This is the same guy who'd made my stay in Hanover as an apprentice so miserable. It was a stressful time. The other UTS2 ended up quitting because of the conflict, and in 1999 the TMS II's health failed due to the stress and he retired. There was a "retirement package" in 2000 to encourage employees to take early retirement (easing the downsizing process) and 4 members of the crew left. I was left as the only UTS2, in charge of an eight man crew.

If my memory serves, there were seven different people in the position above me in the thirteen years between 1992 and 2005. Training many new bosses who had very little idea what they were doing was a constant challenge. Barry Fuller, who had been our District Foreman for many years retired in the fall of 1993, when Ontario Hydro offered a retirement package. During the following years, I began to realize just how good a supervisor Barry had been.

Even the title of that position changed occasionally and in April 2004 I became the eighth guy since 1992 in what was by then called the "Front Line Manager" position for Hydro One at Bruce. Once again, I took this job in self defense. The fellow who preceded me was a real problem child and I didn't want to take the chance that he would be replaced by someone as bad or worse. In the 15 months that I was in this position I think I did a fairly good job of it and I was actually starting to win over the guy above me, who at the outset had clearly had his doubts.

Taking this job involved moving to another bargaining unit, the Society of Energy Professionals. Hydro One's CEO at the time, a transplant from Australia, had taken it in his head to blame Hydro One's problems on the Society, especially the FLMs. Our contract expired in the spring of 2005 and it was obvious that management was looking for some major concessions. One was that new hires would be under a different and very much inferior contract and this was something we weren't willing to consider. At the start of June 2005 we went on strike.

This was a pretty acrimonious strike, with management working hard to stir up bad feelings between the Society and the Power Workers Union, the organization representing the people who worked for me. The thought of going back to work after the strike and having to represent management to the working guys was pretty appalling. As it happened, I was eligible to take early retirement by then and I did so, ending my career with Ontario Hydro/Hydro One at the end of June, 2005.

I miss some of my friends in the crew at the Bruce, but not the work. I probably could have gone back as a contract worker with either Hydro One or Bruce Power, but never did so. If I'd wanted to stay, I would have stayed as FLM and worked on some of the changes that I'd been aiming for. But it was not to be.

When I broached the idea of retiring with my wife she was very supportive, eager indeed to have me at home all the time. And neither of us has regretted it in the years since.

CMK and KSMF

Since 1988 I'd been volunteering with Chamber Music Kincardine (CMK), doing publicity for a yearly series of chamber music concerts in Kincardine. This continued until 2000 when decreasing support from the Ontario Arts Council made it infeasible to continue.

In the spring of 1992 it became clear that the summer music camp in Southampton was not going to happen, so a group of people in Kincardine organized the first Kincardine Summer Music Festival. This was set up as a project of CMK, as part of CMK's mandate to bring music to the community. KSMF was a music camp with evening concerts performed by the teaching staff. I attended as a violin student in 92 and 93 and in the fall of 1993 took over as publicity director.

I had the privilege of working with Ron Lewis, who was chair of the KSMF organizing committee and also happened to be the Station Manager at Bruce Generating Station B. He knew more about ethics and how to treat people well that anybody I've ever met. I learned a great deal from Ron. The Lewis' left the area in 1999 and I took over as chairperson of KSMF in the fall of 99.

In 1992 we had somewhat over 200 students enrolled and by 2002 enrollment was over 600 in programs including jazz, chamber music, band, strings, vocal and "Music for Young People". I passed the chair position on to one of the other organizers after the festival in 2001 and retired altogether after the festival in 2002.

C&I Graphics

In 1992, along with everything else that was going on, we bought our first desktop computer and a big inkjet printer and started a graphic design and printing business which we named C&I Graphics.

Experience gained at C&I was a big help when reorganization began at Hydro and I, as a supervisor, was expected to "run things like a business".

At the start we mainly did work for CMK and KSMF, but we soon acquired many other clients—individuals and businesses in the Kincardine area. One of these clients was John Sangster, a fellow who ran a screen printing business and had us produce artwork for him to print, mainly real estate signs. Then John became a real estate agent himself and asked me to create a website for him and take photos of properties as well.

We had an assortment of photocopiers over the years and then copiers that were also printers—you could print to them directly from the computer. The quality kept getting better and so did the capability to print on heavier paper and coated papers. By the early 2000s colour laser printers got to the point where they could be called "digital printing presses". We had a Canon Imagerunner first and then switched over to Xerox machines which were pretty much the equal of an offset press for short runs of printing, which we specialized in.

After I retired from Hydro One business picked up considerably.

There was quite a demand in the area for large printing on a one-off basis, something that John Sangster couldn't do since screen printing is all about doing larger runs. Late in 2007 I bought a second hand inkjet printer made for printing on vinyl which could do up to 36" wide and we started to get into the sign making business. In the winter of 2009 we replaced it with a 54" Roland inkjet/vinyl cutter which was amazingly capable. And durable—it is still in use today, over nine years later.

We were also getting requests to print and bind books and I picked up a very rudimentary perfect binding machine on ebay, and replaced it a year or so later with a better model.

In 2008 the Municipality of Kincardine got together with a local historian, Bill Pace (who I had worked with at Hydro One) to create a set of plaques describing the history of each of the business on the main street of Kincardine, to be hung in the front windows of each of those businesses. Working from Bill's research we did the design and typesetting and printed those plaques and later we printed and bound a book with a page for each of the plaques. This was excellent publicity for our sign making and book binding capabilities.

In 2010 I was contacted by Eunice Lawrence, a retired school teacher and an absolutely brilliant woman. She had previously published a book on English grammar through on of the major text book publishers in Canada, but had a idea for another such book which would be done her way. She was in her 90s and this book was to be her legacy. We worked very closely together and turned out a grammar book that she was very satisfied with, and then another one on composition.

In 2014 I turned 60 and began to think about retiring from this second career. At the end of the year we sold to Progressive Results Group, run by a young fellow who was doing web sites and social media promotions and wanted to add printing and signmaking to the services he was offering. I was finally ready to retire, but not to relax, or at least not too much.

I don't miss deadlines or customers who can't be relied on to check proofs for typos. But I do miss the day to day contact with my customers, many of whom had become friends. C&I, along with CMK and KSMF, enabled me to do a lot of networking and to become well known in the community.

My Family and Friends

For the sake of their privacy, I'll let my wife and children tell their own stories when they choose to do so. But I will say becoming a husband and father was an experience involving a great deal of learning and growth that was helpful in everything else I did. When my kids set out to make their way in the world, I learned a lot about what it is really like out there today, that I wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. And I am pretty proud of how my kids are doing in the messed up world that us baby boomer have left for them.

Carolynn has been steadfastly at my side all this time and also busy helping our kids and grandkids in every way possible and volunteering in the community as well. She is an amazing networking resource—just seems to know everybody.

Dad died at September 17, 1996, just before his 87th birthday. He was in a nursing home in Shelburne, and Mom was in the retirement home part of the same facility. The whole family got together at the retirement home to celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary on September 15. I wheeled dad back to the nursing home side and talked to him for a while. He was suffering from some sort of dementia, but he made it pretty clear that he didn't want me to leave him alone there. I explained that everyone was waiting for me and we had to head for home and then left him. If I had it to do over again, I would have let everyone else wait a while longer and spent some more time with him.

Two days later I got a call early in the morning that Dad was failing fast and I should come as quickly as possible. We were in the middle of a big job at Bruce GSB and I stopped in at work long enough to get things moving before heading for Shelburne, even though a phone call would have sufficed. When I arrived, Dad was already gone. Seems I always have to learn things the hard way.

Mom died in June of 2001. The weekend before she passed away we had a very nice visit with her. When the call came that she had been rushed to the hospital in Orangeville, we left immediately and made it in time to see her before she passed on.

I haven't lengthened this account by talking about all the dogs and cats we've had over the years, but they have been a big part of our lives. After I retired in 2005 we got involved in fostering dogs for a local pet rescue and eventually adopted Rumour, a Siberian Husky/German Shepherd mix. He is thirteen years old now and still going strong. Carolynn and I both got pedometers and started walking at least 10,000 steps a day and Rumour has served as a personal training, giving us lots of encouragement in this endeavour.

Friends are a good thing to have and will become even more important as times get harder.

In 1993 I met my steadfast friend and financial adviser David Leigh. He doesn't give me a hard time about not drinking alcohol and I don't give him a hard time abut being a vegan, so we get along well.

In 2013, Dave had the idea of getting a group of self employed or retired guys together once a month for coffee and talk. This caught on very well and there are seven of us now. These are some friends I would never have met if not for Dave.

In a couple of other cases I've met a new male friend, only to find that Carolynn knew his wife, through Aquafit, or the choir she sings in. This has led to close friendships with several couples in the area.

More next time: how I became a kollapsnik

I had hoped to finish up with this post, but it's already long enough and what is possibly the best part is still left to tell. So I'll break off here and leave how I became a kollapsnik for next time.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

What I've Been Reading, April 2018

Links

This note used to say that the links appear in the order I read them and was meant to imply that they were more or less random in their subject matter, other than being of interest to me. Recently I started a few new sections at the bottom of the links on subjects that are of particular interest to me. But I can see that as time passes I am moving to a greater degree of "curation", which the dictionary tell me is about organizing and maintaining a collection. Applied to this collection of links and books I guess this will mean selecting links less randomly and trying to make them relevant in the context of this blog and whatever is going on in the world during the month.

Intelligence

KMO, of the C-Realm.com, gave me a bit of a tuning up a while back about criticizing things I haven't even read, in connection with The Bell Curve. I now have a copy of that book and am slugging my way slowly through it. But I've also been keeping an eye out for more rigorous criticism of the book, and this has led me down quite a trail of links. The ones I've actually read are listed below:

  • The Skewed Logic of the Bell-Shaped Curve, by Diane F. Halpern, Skeptic.com
    A negative review of The Bell Curve:
    "Commenting on The Bell Curve is a lot like trying to catch a ball of jello. The arguments are slick and, like most skilled rhetoricians who are attempting to change how people think, the authors provide a veneer of fairness to cover the flaws and biases in their message."
  • Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ: podcaster and author Sam Harris is the latest to fall for it. By Eric Turkheimer, Kathryn Paige Harden, and Richard E. Nisbett, Vox
    "Asserting that the relatively poorer intellectual performance of racial groups is based on their genes is mistaken theoretically and unfounded empirically; and given the consequences of promulgating the policies that follow from such assertions, it is egregiously wrong morally."
    "Our bottom line is that there is a responsible, scientifically informed alternative to Murrayism: a non-essentialist view of intelligence, a non-deterministic view of behavior genetics, and a view of group differences that avoids oversimplified biology."
  • Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns, The Report of a Task Force Established by the American Psychological Association, February 1996
    The scientific consensus on intelligence as of 1996.
  • Intelligence: New Findings and Theoretical Developments, by:
    Richard E. Nisbett et al, published in The American Psychologist, February-March 2012
    The scientific consenus on intelligence, updated as of 2012.

Poverty, Homelessness, Minimum Wage

  • The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America's Middle Class, by Jeff Tietz, Rolling Stone
    They had good, stable jobs - until the recession hit. Now they're living out of their cars in parking lots. I think this will become more and more common over the next few years.
    "The Great Recession cost 8 million Americans their jobs. Three years after the economy technically entered recovery, there are positions available for fewer than one out of every three job seekers. In this labor market, formerly middle-class workers like Curtis and Concita Cates and Janis Adkins and Sean Kennan cannot reliably secure even entry-level full-time work, and many will never again find jobs as lucrative and stable as those they lost. Long-term unemployment tarnishes résumés and erodes basic skills, making it harder for workers to regain high-paying jobs, and the average length of unemployment is currently at a 60-year high. Many formerly middle-class people will never be middle-class again. Self-identities derived from five or 10 or 40 years of middle-class options and expectations will capsize."
  • Without a Home, LA Times
    "They're part of the Los Angeles streetscape, as familiar as the swaying palm trees and idling traffic, living under freeways, alongside riverbeds and on canyon hillsides. The mentally ill, the drug addicts, the economically disadvantaged, many with their life belongings in a backpack or shopping cart. In this ongoing series, Without a Home, The Times is examining the crisis of homelessness in our region."
  • Homeless in Seattle, by Ethan Epstein, The Weekly Standard
    "The relationship between rising rents and increased homelessness is particularly strong in four metros currently experiencing a crisis in homelessness—Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and Seattle."
    "With rents rising faster than incomes, we need to bring everybody to the table to produce more affordable housing and ease the pressure that is forcing too many of our neighbors into our shelters and onto our streets."

Puerto Rico

Autonomous Vehicles

  • The Dangers of (Self-)Driving Cars, by Melinda Sacks, Stanford Magazine
    Stanford researchers zero in on the safety challenges of autonomous vehicles.
    This article does a good job of raising some of the ethical issues with self driving cars, but it completely buys into popular ideas about the benefits of autonomous cars, about which I am very skeptical.
  • Uber’s negligence killed someone. It can’t be allowed to happen again, by Paris Marx, Medium
    Take note of the chart about half way down in the article. I wouldn't have guessed that Uber and Tesla are near the rear of the pack among companies developing autonomous vehicles, but apparently so.
  • What Uber’s Fatal Accident Could Mean for the Autonomous Car Industry, by MIT Technology Review, Medium
    "The first pedestrian death leads some to ask whether the industry is moving too fast to deploy the technology." “The sensors probably didn’t pick her up, or the algorithm didn’t understand what it’s seeing.”
    "...the Uber accident raises questions about the ability of safety drivers to monitor systems effectively, especially after long hours of testing..."

Books

Fiction

Non-Fiction

This month I've been bogged down reading one non-fiction book, which I haven't finished yet. So instead of what I've been reading this month, here are some gems from my bookshelf: