Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Responding to Collapse, Part 14: adapting to life without the grid

Late October Sunset over Lake Huron

This is the last of 4 posts on coping with the decline and demise of the power grid that I promised in Part 11) of this Responding to Collapse series. Last time, with the help of Joe Clarkson, we looked at a typical off grid solar electric system. I would encourage anyone with sufficient financial resources to set up such a system. But even using the most durable equipment produced by BAU (business as usual), and with lots of spare parts in stock, such a system will eventually come to the point where no more use can be eked out of it using locally available "village" level technology and materials.

Before things come to that point, though, such a system can serve two very import uses:

1) allow us to use electrical power for things like lighting, refrigeration, pumping water, communication and entertainment, which will help reduce the initial shock of adapting to post grid life.

2) allow us to use what modern tools and power equipment we have on hand to facilitate the construction of low tech power systems that don't need things semiconductors or fossil fuels, which will be in short supply.

That second use is what I'll be talking about today.

The Context of Collapse

But first I'd like to review the context in which I believe all this will be happening—it has been a while since I've talked about that.

The majority of people in the "collapse sphere" here on the internet are expecting a hard, fast collapse sometime in the next few years. Many of them have been expecting it to happen next year for 15 or 20 years now and others have begun to chuckle at the long string of failed predictions. But my observation is that collapse started back in the 1970s when conventional oil production peaked in the continental United States. It has progressed since then and I expect it will continue, gradually and bumpily—unevenly (geographically), unsteadily (chronologically) and unequally (socially), until BAU can no longer provide us with the necessities of life.

One popular expectation among kollapsniks is that some trigger event will cause a financial crash and that will lead to a breakdown of supply chains that will leave almost everyone cold, hungry and in the dark. This sort of fast collapse makes for great stories with lots of conflict and drama, but in reality a planet is a big place. I can't imagine the degree of co-ordination it would take to make this happen fast and hard, all at once across the whole world. Especially when many of us will be working together to stop it from happening.

So yes, there will a financial crash or, most likely, several crashes over a period of years, but the damage will not be uniform across the whole system. And yes, in some areas, it will be serious enough that the supply chains supporting human life will start to fail. But not completely and not everywhere at once.

Initially governments will still have the wherewithal to mount relief efforts for the worst hit areas. Probably using the military to move fuel, water, food and medical supplies to affected areas, and to set up refugee camps for those who are forced to leave their homes. But as the economy crumbles it will have a weakening effect on governments and their resources will be stretched thin. Already we are seeing a tendency to blame people for whatever plight they find themselves in and to abandon them to their own devices, cutting back on expensive relief efforts. This will no doubt get worse, especially in right wing countries where the social contract is weak and the upper classes rule solely for their own benefit. That would include the USA, in my opinion.

Things will get pretty grim, especially in those camps. Indeed, I suspect that in areas where no help is forthcoming, the majority of people (maybe as many as 80 to 90 percent) aren't going to make it through. This is certainly nothing to cheer about, but I am afraid it is one of the harsh realities of collapse. Another unpleasant reality is that under such circumstances, there will be large numbers of desperate, hungry refugees walking out of the large population centres where food is no longer to be found.

Because collapse is happening unevenly, when you find yourself in difficult circumstances, you can usually find someplace else where things aren't so bad. I have been talking, throughout this series of posts, about doing just that—setting yourself up in a small remote town with local food and energy resources, far enough from large towns and cities so that the majority of refugees travelling on foot are unlikely to make it to your small town. That way, you'll be able to welcome those who do make it, rather than being swamped by them.

And I've been urging people to make their move while there is still time to build a network of acquaintances and friends who can help you cope with the gradual decline of BAU and adapt to its eventual demise. I am not suggesting that such places will be exempt from collapse, but rather that they have the local resources to adapt in ways that large population centres simply can't. A big part of that preparation will include being ready to switch over to subsistence farming when those supply chains finally let you down. And having sufficient food stored to see you through to your first harvest. All within walking distance of where you live.

That is really a subject for another day, but it does have a connection to the eventual demise of the power grid and our response to that demise. Bumpy collapse is hard on continent spanning structures like the grid and will be one of the causes of its demise, along with the faults built into capitalism. But a gradual bumpy collapse does give people a chance to wake up to what is going on.

Long before there is a massive die-off due to supply chain failure, there will be a period (perhaps it has already started) when things are going badly wrong in enough places that anyone who is paying attention will start to get pretty concerned. We saw this happen during and for the years before and after the Global Financial Crisis (approximately 2006 to 2012)—the idea of collapse gained quite a bit of credibility. But then things settled down and interest in collapse waned. I am now seeing interest starting to grow again and I expect this will continue. So finding people to work with on preparations may well become much easier than it is now.

During that period the resources of BAU will still be more or less available and those wise enough to do so will be able to set up some local structures which can step in to replace BAU when the need arises—community gardens and farms, food storage co-ops, energy co-ops and so forth.

I encourage you to pick a town with farmland, ground water and standing timber in good supply. It would also be useful if there are one or more good hydro power resources nearby. There is falling water in abundance here in southern Ontario. Many small towns were once mill towns and still have the remains of a dam and an abandoned mill or generating station which could be refurbished with much less effort than starting from scratch.

I am convinced that there is no need for collapse to take us all the way back to the stone age or even the middle ages. But I am also sure that material consumption and energy use must fall to a sustainable level that can be supported with local, renewable resources.

To stop a fall all the way back to the stone age, we will need to take advantage of some of the legacies of BAU.

BAU's Legacies

One hears a great deal about the negative legacies that BAU is leaving for future generations—climate change, resource depletion, environmental and social disruption—the list goes on. I don't disagree with any of that, but I'd like to point out that there will also be some positive legacies that many people who are thinking about collapse aren't taking into account.

  • The first of these, in my estimation, is the knowledge that mankind has accumulated up to this point, including the scientific method and the change in attitudes that came with the Enlightenment. Immersed as we are in that knowledge, it is hard to appreciate how difficult it was for people in the past to make the discoveries and developments they did, without knowing in advance what was even possible or how to accomplish it. We have an immense advantage over them, in that we know a great deal about the world around us and how things work.
  • Second, there are alive today many skilled and ingenious people, tradesmen and hobbyists, even engineers, who, after industrial civilization grinds to a halt, will be able to do a great deal with its remnants.
  • Thirdly there will be all those remnants, including:
    • durable equipment and tools that will continue working for years or decades after the factories of BAU have gone dark
    • large scale infrastructure such as roads, bridges, tunnels, dams, communications, power, water and sewage systems, factories, housing and other buildings
    • true, many of these will be left in pretty rough shape, but what can't be used as is will still have a great deal of value for the materials that can be salvaged from it
    • initially there will even be some fossil fuels left in local storage, plus materials and spare parts sitting on shelves ready for us to use

It is to be hoped that some of those skilled people will have set up off-grid power systems and things like tool libraries and workshops (maker spaces as they are called these days). We should encourage and support such efforts in every way we can, since they will be of great importance in facilitating the transition to long term, sustainable systems that can be operated, maintained and replaced when necessary with "village technology", local materials and local sources of energy.

Local energy sources

I think it's worth taking a look at what kinds of energy may be available locally and how can they be harnessed.

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels will no longer be readily available except in the few areas where there are functional oil/gas wells or coal mines. Sure, thinking of climate change, it would be better to keep that carbon in the ground rather that returning more of it to the atmosphere. Still, I wouldn't discourage anyone from making use of such an energy source if it is close at hand, and you can get it out of the ground and convert it into usable forms. The amount of CO2 involved would be tiny compared to what's going into the atmosphere today.

Nuclear Energy

I live only a few miles from a nuclear plant, and I used to work in the switchyards there. The importance of a reliable tie to the grid was firmly impressed on me—without it, nuclear stations cannot operate safely. So nuclear plants will have to be shut down as the grid becomes unreliable. The employees of those plants, who live nearby, have a large incentive to see them shut down and mothballed safely. They will take this into their own hands, regardless of what company executives might want. And I am sure the employees will have the backing of the local community.

It is important to get that shutdown underway as quickly as possible while we still have the resources to do it. I expect spent fuel will be stored locally in dry flasks, which is considerably safer than leaving it in spent fuel ponds.

This leaves us with renewable energy sources—solar, wind, hydro, tidal, and biomas.

Solar Power

Converting solar energy into electricity takes some pretty high tech equipment. Photovoltaics (solar cells) will almost certainly be beyond our ability to produce locally. It is possible to use solar energy to create steam and drive turbines which power electrical generators. But this is really only slightly lower tech than semiconductor solar panels. And because solar energy is intermittent, we'd need some way of storing it, probably batteries. In the quantity needed, batteries are likely beyond village technology.

That leaves us to use heat from the sun directly for water or space heating, cooking, drying crops, or for process heat in cottage industry situations. And to find a way of doing this where the intermittency is not a problem. Glass is needed to make efficient solar collectors, and all but the simplest passive solar installations need electric motors and fans or pumps to move collected solar energy (hot air or water) to where you need it.

Wind Power

Wind power is also intermittent, and largely unpredictable as well, so either you need some way of storing the power or you need to use it in ways that can manage with an intermittent power source. Pumping water into storage containers at a higher level is one traditional example. Wind power has been used for grinding grain as well.

The towers, blades and gearing required as likely to be within the reach of village technology.

Hydro Power

Hydro power is slightly intermittent, but only on a seasonal basis and it is reasonably predictable. It can even be stored in head ponds to smooth out variations in load. It is doable with nineteenth century technology, and even simpler equipment if you use the mechanical power directly rather than generating electricity.

Tidal Power

There are a few location in the world where high tides can, with clever arrangements of dams, be used to drive water wheels or turbines. Tides are also intermittent, but quite predictable.


Where I live, this would consist mainly of firewood, which can also be converted into wood gas or charcoal. It is useful for space heating, water heating, process heat, and can be both produced and used with very simple equipment. Of all these energy sources, biomass is the easiest to harness at the individual and family level, without setting up more complex community projects.

Wood gas can fuel internal combustion engines and firewood can fuel steam engines, both of which can power electrical generators. But this is only practical if there is wood left after vital uses like cooking and heating have been taken care of.

It is also vital to keep in mind that biomass is only a renewable resource if we use it at a rate slower than the rate at which it grows. Fortunately, forestry is a well established science and it can guide us in which trees to cut, how many of them, and how many and what type of new trees to plant.


This is methane produced during anaerobic composting of manure and other organic materials. It can be useful in many ways, just like natural gas. But a lot of manure is needed to make useful quantities of biogas.

Muscle Power

For most of our history (and prehistory) energy mainly came from human or animal muscles. This has largely gone out of fashion in the industrial world, but I suspect that as collapse progresses, it will once again become the default where mechanical power is needed and nothing else is available.

Harnessing Local Energy Sources

There is a lot that can be done at the individual/family level to conserve energy, to make use of what's available locally, and to get by without electricity. But once you've decided to harness most of the energy sources above, a community effort will be required, especially if they are going to be used to generate electricity.

When talking about harnessing such energy resources, we must always consider whether the energy gathered will justify the energy and manhours used to build the equipment needed to gather it. Without the legacies I described above, I suspect the answer would more often than not be no, but with them, I think there is much that can be done. Remember that during the initial crisis of adapting to grid and supply chain break down in your area there will likely be some off-grid power systems to draw on.

At any rate, there is always the option of using these energy sources directly as heat or mechanical energy when we don't have electrical generating systems set up yet, or when they have failed beyond our capacity to repair. This also saves the inefficiencies involved in converting energy from one form to another, and the trouble of setting up distribution systems. Flour mills and saw mills are excellent examples.

Yes, at the start, the overpowering need will be for food, water and firewood, and a well organized community would divert available manpower to supplying those needs. But electrical equipment can actually make those tasks easier, replacing manhours with kilowatt hours, and doing some things, like lighting and refrigeration that no amount of manpower can do.

When the initial crisis has been overcome, there will be some spare manhours than can be spent on setting up a sustainable power system. I am terribly tempted to go into some specifics of what might be done, but it would have to get pretty technical and would make this post much longer than it should be.

Using Energy Wisely

In parts 11 and 12 of this series I included a list of important uses for electricity and alternatives to use during outages. But this time we're considering the permanent loss of the grid, and instead of coping temporarily with grid outages, we're talking about adapting to that permanent loss, either by generating our own power, by replacing it with other energy alternatives or practicing conservation—using less energy. We should be aware in advance that this will require some changes in the way we live.


Conservation is pretty simple here—we can do without lights at night, and set up workshops with windows to let in sunlight. But at higher latitudes, winter nights are long and much could be accomplished during them if we had artificial light.

Without electricity, you burn something to make light. Candle wax, kerosene, naphtha and propane are all based on fossil fuels and will not be available for long. Vegetable oil, animal fat, and alcohol will be locally available, but the source in each case is something that could also be used as food. If food is in short supply, lighting will have to suffer. This is one area where biogas could be quite useful.

My beloved mantle lamps will be hard to produce, as those mantles use salts of various elements that are not likely to be available locally to produce that bright white light.

If electricity is available, converting it to light is a bit of a challenge. We are in a sense spoiled by today's LED lights, which are highly efficient and long lasting. I've been reading recently that when they fail it is usually not the actual diode that fails, so I suspect ways will be found to refurbish them and keep them going for a long time. But the day will come when we have to go back to various sorts of arc lights and carbon filament incandescent bulbs.


Here is Southern Ontario there is no shortage of good ground water, so I suspect wells with hand or wind driven pumps will be the thing. Friends in Australia and Hawaii tell me about their large outdoor water storage tanks. This looked odd to me and at first I wondered why we don't use such things here, but then I realized that they would freeze solid in the winter. In cold countries indoor cisterns are more practical and can be filled using rainwater, or well water pumped when the wind is blowing.

Electrically driven pumps will no doubt be used where power is available—they save a lot of hand pumping and are easy to control.


There are many low tech ways of safely handling sewage. But we'll need to recover and use the plant nutrients and organic matter it contains, so I would think composting toilets will be very popular. I can recommend two books on the subject of composting human waste: The Humanure Handbook, by Joe Jenkins, and The Scoop on Poop, by Dan Chiras.


Food is going to stop arriving regularly at the local supermarkets. To me, it seems that the necessary response would be to switch over to using locally grown food and growing much of it yourself, and to have enough food stored to last you through to the next harvest. There is a lot to say about this subject, but since it's not directly connected to electricity, I leave it for another post.


Cooking is largely a matter of heating food, so we'll do it by burning biomass. Preferably in a nice indoor wood burning cookstove. I suspect the demand for those will go through the roof when it becomes more clear how things are going. Fortunately there are alternative that can be made by hand from local materials—mud/brick ovens, rocket stoves, etc. Google will lead you to all kinds of information on these.


Where winter is sufficiently cold, the obvious solution is to use ice, harvested from frozen bodies of water, and to set up a well insulated icehouse to store that ice through the summer.

Ammonia based refrigeration uses heat as its power input, and should be within the reach of village level technology.

The kind of refrigeration we are all used to uses some variation of freon as its working fluid and electric motors to pump that fluid. I expect that once existing refrigeration equipment has worn out, freon will be too big a challenge to make locally and we will abandon the technology.


For space heating woodstoves are the obvious solution. As with cookstoves, I think at some point there will be a huge demand for heating stoves. Getting set up to heat with wood before you are forced to do so would be a good idea. If electricity is available, fans can be used to move air around the house and heat it more evenly.

Heating your house with wood takes a lot more wood than cooking. It you don't own a wood lot, you should find someone reliable who specializes in cutting, splitting and delivering firewood.

If you do own a woodlot, you'll likely be doing that for yourself. At some point gasoline won't be available to power chainsaws and you'll have to fall back on more traditional methods. Here is a series of posts on this subject by Category 5, another Canadian kollapsnik and blogger.

C5 Gets Wood:


I covered this in some detail in part 12 of this series, here.


A small community which is generating its own electricity should be able to get its landline telephone system working again. Setting up a local broadcast radio station also sounds like a good project to foster community solidarity. And ham radio may be one of the few ways of finding out what is going on in the world. When modern solid state equipment wears out, vacuum tubes should be doable with village technology.


Fossil fuel powered vehicles will no doubt be used until supplies of those fuels run out. It would be good to ration those fuels and see that they get used for the most critical purposes for as long as possible. It may be possible to convert some internal combustion engines to using wood gas to extend their usefulness.

Bikes are actually pretty high tech, and will eventually wear out beyond local repair, especially those rubber tires.

Horses and other draught animals will become extremely valuable, and we should do what we can in advance to encourage and support horse breeders.

Water transportation, using lakes, rivers, canals and powered by sail or muscles will grow in importance.

But walking will probably be the default mode of transporation, especially within the local area. And most of us will try to avoid having to make long trips.

Cottage Industry

I'm adding a new category here, because without the factories that now make all the goods we use, we will have to return to making them for ourselves. With modern knowledge, tools, equipment and electrical power, there is a great deal than can be done using local and salvaged materials. Acquiring the skills needed is something all of us should be working at. Pick an area that interests you and learn everything you can about it.

I bake bread and know a fair bit about growing grain and milling it. I make cheese and I know how to milk a cow. I weave wicker baskets and harvest willow that grows locally. As well as being an electrician, I am fairly good at carpentry, plumbing and drywall. These skills and a great many others will be needed and can be learned with some effort, if necessary from books and the internet while it lasts, but ideal from people who already know them.

Many years ago I started working on a degree in electrical engineering, but soon dropped out and apprenticed as an electrician instead. So the electrical parts of what I've been talking about here seem fairly straight forward to me. But I've been thinking recently that a degree in chemical engineering would be damn handy, or at least the equivalent knowledge, with a focus on low tech, small scale applications.

In Conclusion

Back in Part 10 of this series I said, "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." I think we've finally reached the end of the discussion on electrical power. Next time I'll talk about diesel fuel and the supply chains that rely on it.

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


RobM said...

Good job Irv. Hope you are well.

Irv Mills said...

@ RobM

It's been a while, Rob. Nice to hear from you. I'm doing OK for an old guy, I guess. Hope you are doing well too. How are things on the west coast?

Dick McManus said...

Ivt Mills (IM) wrote: Ivy In any area where farming is feasible, there are likely to be property taxes and building codes. So you can't completely withdraw from the money based economy if you are going to pay your taxes, and it may be difficult to build the way you'd like to without running afoul of the building code.

My reply: RM: There is also the issue of the property or wealth someone brings with them to an intentional community at a small town away from the big cities.

IM wrote: We can quietly prepare for the day...

RM: What do you mean by "quietly" preparing? Don't we all have a duty as citizens to speak truth to power? Yes, we do. That means being connected to a political party, I think and/or special interest group that stands for some action our government should or should not do.

China made a law about one child per couple. I think this idea is required in the whole world and the USA.

Puget Sound Survival Community (for brain storming only)

One Child Per Family facebook page at

comment me at dick.mcmanus@yahoo.com

Irv Mills said...

@ Dick McManus

Hi, I see you have been leaving a storm of comments between here and Facebook. I really haven't in reading them for the most part, so you haven't gotten a rise out of me yet. I assume you're doing this as an opportunity to grind your axe in front of my audience. As long as you aren't too rude or too full of nonsense that's abhorrent to me, I can live with that.

"Dissenus" is a word that hasn't made its way into most dictionaries yet. What I mean by it is the opposite of consensus--agreeing to disagree, letting other people try out their own ideas even if they are different from yours, wishing them well, maybe even helping them out, as long as they aren't too pushy with their ideas. None us has a clear idea of what lies ahead, or of the best plan for getting through it. If different communities try different things, may a few of us may be successful. Trying to make everybody do the same thing if a pretty sure way to fail.

So let us agree to establish a dissensus between us. You're clearly from the US, I am Canadian. I have a daughter-in-law who came here from he US a few years ago to marry my oldest son. I am kinda proud that she is new a Canadian citizen and thinking about renouncing her US citizenship. She says Canada is like a different planet--as an American you wouldn't believe it until you've lived here a while. This probably explains why I have some ideas that seem bizarre to many American "kollapsniks", I know many of their ideas seem bizarre to me.

There are a few ideas I need to get written down anyway, so I'll run them by you.

I feel no duty to speak truth to power, or to be involved in the political process beyond voting. Or to support special interest groups. All the political parties, regardless of what they call themselves, are just neo-liberals. Their program is growth for business and jobs for the people. And jobs can be sacrificed if necessary for the good of business. They may have conservative or progressive social ideas, but they are largely windows dressing for the benefit of voters. It takes money to get elected and money comes from wealthy and powerful people who expect something in return.

Growth is the problem, exponential growth in a finite container. You can't be a successful politician if you speak the truth about growth, as I suspect you will find out soon enough. And "sustainable development" is just nonsense. But that is the path we are headed down.

Blogger place a 4096 character limit on comments, so I'll continue this in a moment...

Irv Mills said...

@ Richard McManus, continued

I seen three places this may take us.

1) BAU (business as usual) continues along, gradually falling apart as it has been doing for the last 50 years or so. In the process a great many non-renewable natural resources get used up, the environment get damaged even more, economic inequality increases and so does social injustice.

At some point BAU ceases to be able to provide the necessities of life to the majority of people and 80 to 90 percent of the population dies. Most of my writing on this blog has been to suggest how a few people might survive this collapse.

2) There is a violent revolution, from the right, the left or both. Because neither end of the political spectrum has any more idea of what's going "collapse-wise" than the mainstream political parties, this won't go well, and a great many people will die, ending us up in the same situation as in scenario 1. If it happens soon, it may stop BAU from doing quite as much damage as I expect it will in scenario 1.

3) By some miracle, and that's what it would take, people like you do manage to effect political change and bring BAU to a controlled halt. Understand, we will still have to live sustainably, consuming material resources and energy in much smaller quantities than we do now. I think of this as a "deliberate descent", others call it "degrowth". Most of us would end up a lot poorer than we are now, and it would really help if there were quite a lot fewer people, although in this scenario the dieoff would not be so drastic as in 1 and 2. Talk to most people about this and they will tell you they'd rather die than change their lifestyle, so I don't think it's going to happen.

Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, without a drastic reduction in consumption isn't going to work, I my opinion. I go into a bit more detail about that in part 10 of my current series of blog posts.

But there is more than just politics to my recommendation to prepare quietly. In my experience, and I have had some, the sort of people who are currently eager to become involved in this sort of thing at the community level are what I would call "crunchy". People who believe in a lot of "woo" (pseudoscience) and don't base their ideology on reality or the scientific consensus. They are, in my experience, very impractical and doomed to fail at just about anything they try. So when I am advising people to build up a network of friends and acquaintances, I mean to be picky and avoid those folks. But, of course, not too picky or you end up avoiding everyone.

And there is no point in going to the town council in most of the small towns I am advising people to move too. All they are interested in is growth and jobs, and they simply won't understand what you are taking about. As I was saying in the post this comment is appended to, as things get worse many people will catch on to what is happening, and then you can be a little more open in talking about collapse. But local politicians are mostly hopeless--they'll still be trying to attract business to the area when BAU is a smoking ruins.

Joe Clarkson said...

Very good post and very insightful. I do have a few random critiques however.

I can't imagine the degree of co-ordination it would take to make this (collapse) happen fast and hard, all at once across the whole world.

An economic collapse won’t happen at all in a lot of places, but the rich world is at risk for a “fast and hard” collapse simply because the rich world has created a very complex way of distributing resources. There are exponentially more interconnected dependencies in that complexity, of which a large number could collapse the whole system of rich world supply chains.

The “unevenness” of the collapse will be expressed on a global scale, with poor places, like sub-Saharan Africa not affected very much, and rich places, like the US and Canada very much at risk for a sudden collapse.

But a lot of manure is needed to make useful quantities of biogas.

For any place with woody biomass, manure will be far more valuable as a soil amendment than as a source of heat from bio-gas. All the excretions of animals and people will need to be cycled back to the soil to enhance fertility.

In cold countries indoor cisterns are more practical and can be filled using rainwater

Only in places where earthquakes are not an issue. Water is very heavy. An indoor cistern can destroy a building if the water in it escapes the cistern during an earthquake. A compromise might be an outside underground cistern, where earth sheltering would keep most of the contents liquid, even in very cold weather. I used one here in Hawai‘i for 20 years until 2006. I wasn’t worried about freezing, but it was very cheap and easy to build.

Ammonia based refrigeration uses heat as its power input, and should be within the reach of village level technology.

I am skeptical of ammonia being available. Anhydrous ammonia is hard to handle without pressure vessels and an assortment of pressure hoses and valves. Building an ammonia refrigerator is way more complicated than using ice. Refrigeration will be a luxury and is not really necessary in places where food is scarce.

Bev said...

All good, as usual, Irv. I see food, water and fuelwood as the 3 most important needs to address. After that much depends on where you are. For instance, in Canada, you will want to provide warmth in winter. Here in Australia, I don't need to think about that, instead providing cool places in summer might be an issue here....and so on. A huge variety of skills in all manner of things won't go astray either. I like your measured way of looking at collapse. It's easy to be a Seneca Cliff person like most collapsniks, but unless we get hit with all-out nuclear war, it's going to be variable, as you say.

Category5 said...

Thanks, big guy, for throwing your support behind me. It will always be remembered and reciprocated.

It brought in 14 views. In a country of millions, a world of billions... thats too depressing to face.

A few of us KNOW what has to be done. Fewer teach it.

I dont know how much longer I can keep it up. Strong winds are blowing tonight.

I'll keep teaching survival/adapter skills till the world breaks me... or no one listens.

Irv Mills said...

@ Joe Clarkson

Blogger limits the size of comments, so I'll response to one issue at a time.

You inspired me to read up a bit on biogas, for which I must thank you.

The Wikipedia article is quite informative and it seems I inaccurately downplayed the potential importance of biogas. There are some advantages to first using manure to make biogas (anerobic digestion) and then using the leftover sludge for fertilizer.

"High levels of methane are produced when manure is stored under anaerobic conditions. During storage and when manure has been applied to the land, nitrous oxide is also produced as a byproduct of the denitrification process. Nitrous oxide is 320 times more aggressive as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide[22] and methane 25 times more than carbon dioxide. By converting cow manure into methane biogas via anaerobic digestion, the millions of cattle in the United States would be able to produce 100 billion kiloWatt hours of electricity, enough to power millions of homes across the United States. In fact, one cow can produce enough manure in one day to generate 3 kiloWatt hours of electricity; only 2.4 kiloWatt hours of electricity are needed to power a single 100-Watt light bulb for one day.[24] Furthermore, by converting cattle manure into methane biogas instead of letting it decompose, global warming gases could be reduced by 99 million metric tons or 4%."

It took me a bit of hunting to find out much about the. Here is an excerpt from one article:

Making Organic
Fertilizer Using Sludge from Biogas Production

"The by-product of biogas plant that looks like mud, known as sludge, contains many nutrients. It can be used as fertilizer for plants. The quality of residual sludge from biogasproduction process is better than the manure obtained directly from the cattle cage. It is because anaerobic digestion of organic material occurs in the fermentation process in the digester. It results in the increasing concentration of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. This condition makes the sludge ready to be used as organic fertilizer and it can be separated into the solid and the liquid one"

Irv Mills said...

@ Joe Clarkson

The cisterns I was thinking of were actually in use when I was a kid, one in the basement of my grandfather's farmhouse, and one each in the barns of my father and uncle. They were typical of many older farms here in Ontario at the time. We do get earthquakes here, but rarely and not usually very strong ones. These cisterns were constructed of poured concrete and sat on the ground, placing no stress on the structure of the building. I can't remember hearing of one failing and letting the water leak out. Freezing wasn't an issue since granddad's house was heated and the barns were full of warm cattle in the winter.

Granddad's pantry was above the cistern and there was a hand pump at the sink which lifted water from the cistern. In the barns the stock watering trough was next to the cistern and there was a float operated valve that kept the trough full as long as the water in the cistern was above the level of the trough.

These cisterns were filled from the well on the farm, traditionally using a windmill to pump the water. Controls were dead simple (on and off) and someone had to watch not to overfill the cistern and cause a flood. The cistern provided a store of water above ground level for use when the wind wasn't blowing. There was also a hand pump at the well which you could use if necessary.

The area where I lived as a kid was hooked up to the grid in the late 1940s, and eventually most of the windmills were replaced with electric pumps.

Irv Mills said...

@ Joe Clarkson

You may well be right about refrigeration--I am certainly not an expert on ammonia refrigeration. But it does seem likely that ammonia would be easier to make than freon.

Joe Clarkson said...

@ Irv,

The quality of residual sludge from biogas production process is better than the manure obtained directly from the cattle cage.

Well, I stand corrected. I had no idea that the residual sludge from biogas production would be better as fertilizer than the original manure. One of the few times when carbon is taken away from a soil amendment and doing so makes it better for the soil.

Here's how you make ammonia: https://www.chemguide.co.uk/physical/equilibria/haber.html

Irv Mills said...

@ Cat5
you're welcome Cat5, but I would attribute those paltry 14 views to the small number of people reading my blog, rather than anything else.
As my dear grandmother always used to say, take heart, the worst is yet to come...

Irv Mills said...

@ Joe Clarkson
I have a reply in the works about slow vs fast collapse, but what's worth doing is worth doing right, so it's going to take another day or two.
I'm busy today making cheese.

Irv Mills said...

@ Bev
Thanks for your understanding. So many people are writing with assumption of fast and world girdling collapse that it is hard to think otherwise. But I've always been one to hold contrary opinions.

John D. Wheeler said...

Bicycles are high tech, but probably not in the way most people think. You can (and people do) carve working bicycles out of wood. But, with the exception of mountain bikes, which are irreducibly high tech, you need smooth roads to safely ride a bicycle. Road conditions will rapidly deteriorate once fossil fuels are gone. Chinese wheelbarrow are a good solution for rough, narrow roads.

Anonymous said...

Is this the same Cat-5 that's wrote that disturbing post about killing "nazi's"?

Reading widely it seems that "nazi" now just means White Person which is pretty darn scary to be honest. What worries me the most is that if someone as switched on as Green Mountain Man is running around slaying Nazi's then sheesh, I really am living in interesting times.

The most disturbing part is I didn't see it coming.

Irv Mills said...

@ John D. Wheeler

You losing me a little there, John. I don't get that mountain bikes are particularly higher tech than any others. And wooden bicycles may be possible, but surely not sturdy enough to be of much use.

But various sorts of handcarts, of which the Chineese wheelbarrow is just one, can certainly be built of wood using hand tools, and will stand up fairly well on rough roads and be easily repairable when they do break down.

Irv Mills said...

@ Anonymus

Yes, it seems that that is the same Cat5.

On the subject of "nazis" or more properly fascists, I recommend you have a look at a few of the articles linked to in my monthly list of What I've Been Reading. Here is a quote from on of those articles:

"For the fascist, allegiance to a society is replaced by allegiance not just to tribe or even to 'homeland' — or even to a single figure, the demagogue. For the fascist, allegiance to anything or anyone is replaced by allegiance to a simple, ugly, grotesque set of ideas. First, that the strong are those who are pure of blood. Second, that the job of the strong is to dominate — abuse, enslave, annihilate — the weak. Third, so that the 'homeland' is cleansed and pure, too. Fourth, so that the fascists’s sons of violence and daughters of chastity inherit it."

I would have thought that we'd have learned our lesson about fascism in the 2oth century, but it seems we're going to have to start from scratch all over again...

Irv Mills said...

@ Joe Clarkson

I have left the issue of fast vs. slow collapse until last. It's not lack of ideas on the subject that's holding me back, but the challenge of arranging them into a cogent argument. What follows is a first attempt at this...

Part 1

In the "collapshere" today it seems that the majority of voices are predicting a hard fast collapse and one that is due any day now. That has hardly changed in the last 20 years, and some people, notably KMO of the C-Realm podcast, has thrown up his hands in disgust with the standard Peal Oil narrative.

Of those making strong arguments for a fast collapse, David Korowicz, Ugo Bardi and Gail Tverberg come to mind.

David Korowicz, in his famous essay, talks about a financial crash leading to a supply chain/commercial crash as banks fail and can no longer supply credit. Towards the end of the same essay he acknowledges that there would be different degrees of crash in different countries.

Ugo Bardi talks about the Seneca cliff--how things that take a long time to build fall apart quickly. Fair enough, but the developed world took hundreds of years (from the Renaissance to the present) to build, so a few decades to fall apart seems pretty reasonable to me.

Gail Tverberg talks about the world being so closely networked together, that if one piece quits working, it all will. But she never looks in detail at how this might work, at the real details of how those networks operate.

On the other side of the argument, I favour people like John Michael Greer and Dmitri Orlov. Greer offers the idea that the people who are in power definitely don't want a collapse and have much they can do to prevent or slow down a collapse. Orlov talks about five levels of collapse--financial, commercial, political, social and cultural. And points out that collapse may stop at any of those levels, there being in many cases nothing to force it all the way to the bottom.


Irv Mills said...

@ Joe Clarkson

Fast vs Slow collapse, Part 2

My argument combines both those of Greer and Orlov and adds another element. It isn't just the people in power who don't want a collapse, it's most of the rest of us as well. You might assume that the rest of us have little say in the matter, but I don't believe this is so.

There are a great many people (in infrastructure and supply chain industries, for instance) in positions where they can do something about collapse. Especially if they realize that it is happening and refuse to just let it proceed unimpeded. Much of collapse consists of things that quit working because confidence has been lost in the system.

In many cases they could be kept working if those involved chose to do so. Or failing that, alternatives could be found if people chose to co-operate in doing so.

The availability of credit is a prime example. Currently businesses rely on banks to provide guarantees when they (the businesses) are dealing with people they don't know. But there is no fundamental reason why we rely on the existing banks, and no reason businesses couldn't set up alternative arrangement in order to keep functioning.

The thing is to realize what is happening and what can be done to stop it. A lot of people think that managers make things work and working class people are no more than cogs in the machine, but in fact anything a manager "accomplishes" actually gets done by a worker who knows a lot more about what has to be done than his boss.

The other thing is that we are not going into this completely blind. Already there have been financial crashes, large scale grid failures and so forth. I think in the near future we will see partial and temporary supply chain breakdowns and many breakdowns at the retail level of our commercial systems. But people at every level in the system will get wise to these events and skilled at containing the damage and patching things back together again.

Of course the system will get shakier as this goes on and parts of it will be abandoned when they are deemed to be beyond repair. This will lead to areas being cut off from vital supplies and in large population centres there will be no possibility of relying on local supplies. This is as close to a hard fast collapse as I expect to see. But it will still localized and early in the process there will still be places for those affected to seek refuge and resources to mount relief efforts.

I have already written at length on how this might play out in small towns with the local resources to feed themselves and at a sufficient remove from large centres so as not to be overwhelmed by refugees.

Joe Clarkson said...

We shall see.

I once worked at a combined-cycle power plant. It had been built with redundancy everywhere, but there were still many instances of a single point of failure. Too much water in the fuel, a modest earthquake that would trip turbines on high vibes, a too rapid load rejection from a tree falling on a transmission line and many others. Every few months we would encounter something and the whole plant would trip off line. We started right back up, of course, because we had a black-start diesel to get the plant running without grid connection. We were ready to go when the grid came back or when our power was called for.

Modern civilization also has multiple single points of failure:

1. The Korowicz failure of supply chains due to lack of credit confidence. Anything that shuts down international trade is going to cause rapid collapse.
2. Accidental or deliberate nuclear war.
3. Carrington event.
3. Communication failure (internet failure) due to malware or cyber attack. If anyone thinks that we can compensate for the lack of the internet, just follow the amount of money that is transferred electronically every day.
4. Worldwide pandemic. Try and run a civilization when everyone has to stay isolated at home for a few weeks and that's not counting the work the dead would have done.

I admit that every one of these failure modes will be fought against with everything all governmental units can muster. I would like to think that there are detailed plans on the shelf somewhere to organize compensation for a lack of trade, commercial communication or grid/internet failure, etc., but I doubt that there are.

Greer likes to point to the many centuries that it took for the Roman Empire to fall apart, but that was a much simpler time, when the vast majority of people were peasants and mostly self sufficient. The developed world today is far more complicated and far more fragile because of it. I still say it is better to be ten or twenty years too early becoming prepared for collapse than one day too late.

Irv Mills said...

@ Joe clarkson

I think you're right, in the last analysis, "We shall see" is the right response.

If you look at the Baltic Dry index (which tracks international shipping) international shipping did pretty much shut down during the Global Financial Crash. It recovered before most people even noticed, although it did take months.

I don't know if you've read my series on Evaluating Existential Threats. There are a number of them, including the ones you mention. Some of them would constitute a hard fast crash, and they are likely enough to scare me. A good reason for doing some preparation now.

Irv Mills said...

@ Joe Clarkson

What you said about the power plant you worked at--yes, that's basically what I am talking about. And I suspect it will take on political overtones as as various parts of our infrastructure are told to do stupid things that would hurt the public they serve or even outright abandoned. The workers and local management may take things into their own hands and stave off what might otherwise be disasters.

At some point, when I finished the current series of post (just two more left, I hope), I may write some fictional posts to illustrate what I've been talking about.

Joe Clarkson said...

@ Irv,

I checked out your series on existential threats and found it very well done. I deliberately left ultra-low probability events off my list, like asteroid strike and nearby supernovae, but you also failed to cover the prospect of a man-made pandemic, either deliberate or from an accidental release of synthetic germ warfare materials. I also didn't include the effects of climate change. If BAU continues until it is halted by the effects of climate change, it will be far to late to avoid extreme change, like the hothouse earth scenario.

As to the issue of international trade being affected by the 2008 financial crisis; The Baltic Dry Index is a measure of the cost of shipping, not shipping tonnage. Shipping tonnage declined only slightly during the financial crisis and exceeded pre-crisis levels by 2010.

The Baltic Dry Index did collapse during the crisis and has never really recovered to the very high pre-crisis levels. The crisis was the cause of the BDI crash, but shipping costs never recovered due to the huge build of new shipping tonnage in 2000-2008, when rates went through the roof.

The Baltic Dry Index can be very volatile, since it is basically the marginal cost of a new shipment by cargo ship. A slight oversupply of ships can dramatically lower shipping costs, just as a slight undersupply can dramatically raise them.

Irv Mills said...

@ Joe Clarkson

Leaving out pandemics is no doubt an oversight on my part, and one I would correct if I were to rewrite that blog post.

I think we are not too far from climate change having some pretty serious effects on agriculture, which would lead to BAU being unable to feed a significant part of the population. I don't know if I've ever stated it as such, but to my way of thinking when BAU ceases to be able to provide the necessities of life then collapse hasn't just started--it is essentially over. All but waiting for the dust to settle. With the proviso, of course, that this will happen unevenly in the geographical sense.

Thanks for clarifying my understanding of the Baltic Dry Index. Evidently the author I read who was panicking about the fall of the BDI during the Global Financial Crisis didn't know what he was talking about. Makes sense that even a small drop in the demand for shipping would result in a larger reduction in the cost of shipping, especially when there was a glut of new tonnage available to do that shipping.