Thursday, December 27, 2007

TO BE OR NOT TO BE TECHNOGICAL, Or maybe there is no fix.

By Murph with some help from Freeacre

Oh dear, I am now being looked at as a Luddite? Freeacre suggests that is it more a matter of eternal pessimism than picking on the Luddites. Just to let you know. I have been into technology for most of my life. Hell, I have degrees in technology. I really get off on technology, although I think a lot of the gadgets developed to make a buck are plain ass stupid, and of little actual benefit to anyone, despite their popularity.

A subject has been brought up in our comment section that is important to me. I suspect that it will vary in importance between individuals, and I think some people will get a bit testy over it. This subject deals with the role technology has played in the development of western civilization and our society in particular. What are the consequences, planned and unplanned , of technology, and its advantages.

I have expressed at times more or less emphatically, that I was reasonably comfortable with the older technologies, and many of the new stuff, gizmos and thingies, in my view have very questionable benefits personally and socially.

The first question I want to deal with is that I have been asked how far back in technology am I willing to go? Well, my answer is as far back as it is sustainable, that is, that the use of energy and or raw materials to do a task is replenished at least at the rate it is used. That is what sustainable means. We can get into a discussion about energy ratios and replenishment rates for all kinds of stuff. In the end analysis, what is to be done when many of our raw materials are just flat out gone because their replenishment rate is in 10’s of thousands of years, or longer? For instance, at our present rate of human usage, how long before there is no more copper to be mined and refined at a cost that is bearable? So, for a lot of raw material, for which we have no measure of how much is actually there for us to exploit, it would be a matter of how long can we have it available before there is no more available? We are experiencing this right now in our use of oil. Other materials are becoming much more difficult to get to and use also, or becoming prohibitively expensive due to scarcity. Let’s face it, the easy stuff has mostly been used up. And this doesn’t even begin to look at the environmental damage to whole expanses of ecology from what mining and refining that has already been done. Look at the area around the Alberta tar sands. It is now a wasteland, the natural gas usage to do the extraction is huge and none of the incredible environmental damage has been figured in as part of the cost. All this so we can drive to the grocery store that is 5 blocks away? Give me a break!!

For me, it is interesting to look at the problem of why environmental concerns have never been a big player in decision making, at any level of government or industry. And, don’t come back at me with how much the environmentalists have accomplished. They haven’t accomplished shit. They have saved a few trees, stopped some water exploitation and gotten some animals on the endangered specie list for which the federal authorities mostly ignore anyway and industry sure as hell does. Forests are still being clear cut, the oceans are still being killed, the fresh water fishing is still being poisoned, the farmland is still being poisoned and made sterile, the spawning fish are being driven into extinction and the latest published results of mans activities indicate that nearly 100 species per day are driven extinct by our actions. I can’t confirm or repudiate the number, but I am reasonably sure that we are killing off a lot of critters by our actions.

So, my question to you is, how many generations are you planning to try and support by your energy usage or lack of it? Just yours, and then it is all gone? Or 7 generations in the future, or what?

I wrote in a comment on the last post about doing some research on how to control the gypsy moth. One suggested comment back to me is also typical of quick fixes that ultimately turn out really bad. You cannot play favoritism games with natural process in the long term and not get most severely bit on the ass. Introducing one specie to control another has only been very short term benefits and always turns out to be damaging in the long term. In fact, if you have an example, I would like an example of one instance where another specie was imported or heavily supported and bred by humans to cure a problem that in the long run didn’t turn out to be a disaster. I can’t think of a single one that hasn’t caused other severe problems that had to be dealt with. Besides, the gypsy moth problem is a 4 year cycle problem, that is, it happens only once in at the minimum every 4 years and then is gone for at least another 4 years.

In the research I did and presented to the lake association I found that there were three solutions to the problem. The first two involved the use of commercially made solutions and were, relative to the third, inexpensive. The consequences of using the first two I mentioned in my comments on the subject. What it came down to; after they sprayed their high tech solution to control gypsy moths, there no longer was any grasshoppers, crickets, any other Lepidoptera, dragon flies or butterflies, but still lots of mosquitoes. In fact, they increased, after all, the spraying seemed to drive out the bats and birds also. In the two more years after the spraying, we noticed a definite decrease in songbirds around the area and the wild turkeys stopped coming around to beg a handout.

The third solution was the most expensive but also very low tech and had no negative impact on the rest of the environment, only the gypsy moth suffered death and destruction. It is also a very old and well known solution. You take a whole bunch of bodies of the pest you want to fight with, chop them up fine, (like in a blender) mix with water till you get a slurry and spray where the pest is located. Works every time, involves no chemicals and is very specie specific

So, my question is; just what price are you willing to pay in the use of technology that will affect other species, including us? The thing I want to emphasize here is that every technological development is at the expense of the environment. So sad, but true. And, an even more difficult question to answer; just what in hell gives us the right to affect other species in such a wholesale manner at all? The claim of manifest destiny and divine right given by God in the Old Testament simply doesn’t impress me. Just where do we get off in our human arrogance to claim that our lives are anymore important than any other critters on this planet? It gets down to this; the world and all that is in it can get along very well without us, but we cannot live at all without all that is in the world, including the bacteria and viruses. So who needs who and what value do we place on that which we have to have to live and I sure don’t recall anything in our exalted Christian religion that has God implying that killing off every other piece of life is ok by him. We have been in the industrial revolution since the late 1800’s. Since that time the exploitation, vast manipulation, and out right savagery that has followed technological innovations is truly a work of art. In the name of development, we have enslaved whole countries, taken their resources for pennies on the dollar, often contributed to or hired the guns to enforce the slavery and are responsible for generations of mass killings. All to support our thirst for technology and the benefits we believe we get from it. And you would ask if I am anti technology? Hmmmm.

The question has been raised concerning people of my persuasion that are stocking up for the coming bad times, and what this contributes in energy usage. On this I claim guilty as hell. Wish I had the money to do it better than I now can. Realizing that driving the car is environmentally unsound, there would then have to be an alternative to driving to Bend and stocking up on survival food.

When we recognize this is the case, do we take the poison or blow our brains out? As we see it anyway, there is a most high probability that our survival, and for most people, is going to depend on this kind of preparation. You notice that I indicated survival, not grand living. If we were 20 years younger, we could do with a bunch less. But, since we aren’t, we have to prepare as we see fit. As for the future, a much lowered technology and standard of living (as is presently measured) is not going to be an option, but rather is going to be the norm. I’m not sure about feudal times, since that is a political statement, but we are going to be forced to live a whole bunch more simply in regards to energy usage. The means to support the present usage is going to be going away quite soon, and to the best of my investigations, not a damned thing we can do about it. There is a whole bunch of ideas and doo-dads out there that supposedly is going to save the day and we will sacrifice little of what we have to keep doing things the way we are. As I see it, this is pie in the sky wistful thinking, very similar to the rapture, to salvation and just outright theology, having not much to do with reality.

So, my question is; with the realization that it is impossible to live in a sustainable fashion in contemporary society, what do you suggest we do? Use up everything available till there is no more? Poison off more and more of the environment to keep going another generation? Invent a few more gadgets to prolong the decline? Or what? We are trying to decrease our footprint, not because it will make a damned bit of difference to the world, but instead to practice for what is coming. Plus, on an ethical level, it seems to be more real, at least to us. Yup, for our whole lives, we have become so used to life style entitlements, regardless of the cost, that we cannot envision being without it. Enough humans become nitrate fertilizer for the plants and what ever I do will be even more insignificant.

When I did my trip with very primitive living, one thing I found out was that for anyone doing that, voluntarily or not, there was at least one thing you find you simply cannot do without. For me it was a hot shower. I did it in the most low tech means available that I could find at the time since all the nice high tech means I couldn’t pay for at the time anyway. We did without running water, central heat, in fact we heated one room of a barn and it sure as hell wasn’t the bedroom, for a year no electricity, we carried every drop of water we used and we walked a lot. I suspect that most of us might just experience this decision making in the not too distant future.

Now dig this. This Christmas, we had dinner with some good friends, neighbors, who had a few relatives over for a really great meal. The man who prepared almost the whole meal is a waiter at a nice restaurant and is also a pretty damned good basic cook. Our host had just gotten an elk during hunting season and had a roast to prepare for the dinner. The brother, waiter cook, did the preparation. He has never eaten or tasted or cooked wild game. The roast was superb. He wasn’t going to eat any of it and one of the other relatives wouldn’t touch it either. Freeacre got to talking about some of the hoi paloi restaurants in Tahoe that once a year as a treat, served an expensive meal of elk. All of a sudden, she had his attention. Expensive restaurants serving wild game? Hmmm. He tried it and loved it. This guy seems like a really interesting and nice person. He has lived in a city all his life. His attitude is not unusual I find. I have run into it over an over. What you have no experience with you tend to discount. How does this apply to technology? If you haven’t lived without it, you discount the possibility.

Ok, so we are back at the beginning of the discussion. Do we reject new technology for any reason? I say; often times yes. I don’t think we need more gadgets of questionable benefit, and ignoring the true cost of making it. We need less people using up a lot less resources. Our attitude about technology has been beat into our heads since birth. We really truly believe that technology can save our ass from our stupidities. We believe deep down in our hearts that technology is like magic, we can do anything. We truly believe that there is no problem that doesn’t have a solution. We believe in our hearts that a short term fix is equivalent to a long term fix and we can just keep doing our gig forever, or at least till we up and die. As a civilization and most especially the American society simply cannot bear to look at the consequences of what we have done and what is going to happen to us.

A technological fix? My question is; for all new technologies, or at least gadgets of technology, from the beginnings of inception, until they can be fully utilized by any segment of society, is how long? I think upon investigation you will find it is about 12 years, give or take some. Do we have that long? Are the benefits really going to accomplish that much? What is the true cost of implementing this development? It has been suggested that there is the technology for individual home power generation that is virtually free. Now let’s get this straight. There is no damned such thing as a free lunch in any part of the universe that I am familiar with. Capturing and using electrical energy on an individual household is like talking about a refrigerator in every house. How many years did it take to do that? How many people could afford it? How effective is it? Remember the early refrigerators? They were literally ice boxes, then they went to a kerosene cooling system. Both were of questionable dependability. It was 15 years later that we finally got a compressor electric motor run cooling system that was reasonably dependable for the home. How long did it take from the conception of TV until they could be put into a persons home? Same with radio. Same with VCR, same with CD and DVD and what about computers. Personally, I don’t think we have time to make any general use of new gadgets to produce home electricity. Without food or water it would make no difference for 90% of the people in this country anyway. For the rest of us, electricity is only part of what we will be lacking.

I enjoy looking at and learning some about new technologies and the resultant gadgets. There are some that insist that we haven’t had any really new technologies for 50 years now. All we have is some engineering changes to the old stuff. Whatever. I’m not sure how many people have been in a new house that is high tech. The environmental impact of all that stuff is tremendous. Like I said, a lot of the older stuff is just fine with me. How many people you know that have an antenna for the TV and FM radio? Lol.

Let’s consult Richard Heinberg from is book, “Powerdown.”

….” In principle, however, we have already run the “free energy” experiment, on a smaller scale, several times in human history, and other species have run it as well. Every time we humans have found a way to harvest a dramatically increased amount of food or fuel from the environment, we have been presented with a quantity of energy that is, if not entirely free, at least cheap and abundant relative to what we had previously. Each time, we have responded by increasing our population, and correspondingly, the load on the environmental systems that sustain us. Each time, we have ended up degrading the environment and creating the conditions for a crash.” He goes on to site specific examples of migrating from Africa, then eating all the mastodons, mammoths, giant sloth’s, etc. (This is often referred to as the Pleostein Overkill and there is a lot of dissension about it’s validity), through the invention of agriculture in one civilization after another where they built densely populated cities, then collapsed after exhausting the soil and cutting too many trees…and on to increasing the population from 800 million to 6.4 billion in 3 centuries after the Industrial Revolution.

He goes on, “So, if some new free-energy device were to become available tomorrow, how would people respond? We really don’t need to speculate much. Absent a self-limiting, culturally reinforced, Powerdown program, we can be virtually 100 percent sure that the response would be to continue population growth, and to increase the harvesting of other resources, from the environment until Liebig’s Law got us in one way or another. Liebig’s Law, also known as the Law of the Minimum, states that the carrying capacity for any given species is set by the necessity of least supply. Eventually one crucial thing would be missing from the balance and life as we know it would be over. Everything depends on the weakest link,

For Heinberg the upshot is that there can be no more Business as Usual. “The way out of the dilemma requires no technological breakthrough; indeed, purely technical “solutions” may only distract us from addressing the underlying problem. The way out is to restrict per-capita resource usage and to reduce the human population.” Pretty much nobody want to hear that, so Heinberg gets a bit glum from time to time.

He is Bozo the Clown, though, in comparison to Derrick Jensen. Actually, the space constraints in this post probably require that Jensen be dealt with in a separate post.

Saturday, December 22, 2007



I thought maybe we’d change the conversation a little bit to reflect the season from now until Christmas or the New Year. There’s also the Winter Solstice, Hanukah, Kwanza, and I think Pluto is aligning with the galactic center, or some such thing - lots of reasons to celebrate. God knows, we could use a break.

Holiday is short for “holy day,” is it not? Well, holy or not, this season marks the end of 2007 and ushers in the New Year, which, by most accounts is going to be a monster. But right now, we are invited to extend peace and goodwill and joy to ourselves and to others. In the long run, those qualities may be just as important as canned goods to see us through the hard times.

My son and his girlfriend just let us know that they will be coming here for Christmas. So, we’ve got some things to do in terms of carving out some space for them and making extra goodies and things. I’m sure many of us are more or less in the same boat, in terms of time constraints.

So, this post is going to be a short one.

Murph and I want to express our heartfelt gratitude to you for picking up and moving to this site by the stream. We’ve managed to gather together before the first snows flew through the skies, hopefully without losing anybody. I know Cyclone still checks in on us, and with any luck, will contact us soon.

Winter is the time for wisdom and reflection, a time to live on the stores from the harvest and reflect on what worked and what didn’t work so well. Time to say one more farewell to those who have passed on this year. Time to make some plans for next year. Time to make merry with friends and family and tribe. I think the Montana contingent got a head start on us with their dancing in the snow. Our hearts join theirs.

Let us pause somewhere along the line and allow a sense of peace and purpose and plenty to prevail. Love and joy may then join in. All this will lend itself to the strength that we will need in the coming year to deal with the challenges and the surprises that will face us.

We might like to share lists: “Top Ten Atrocities Committed by the Bush Administration this year”;” Most Annoying Television Messages of 2007”; “ Best and Worst Scenarios for 2008.” Or we might try Helpful Tips – what to say to a Mitt Romney supporter, organize back-up mistresses for Rudy Giuliani, or how to tar and feather a hedgefund manager.

Anyway, despite the hectic schedules, let’s attempt to keep in touch. We will continue to share our thoughts and feelings, ideas, rumors, fears, hopes and dreams. Who would have thunk it that Russell Means would come up with the Lakota Nation? I find myself daydreaming of new holidays to celebrate in the new free country. Russell Means Day could replace Columbus Day, for instance. Or how about Trout Clan Tribe Day?

It’s like the Universe holds its hand out to us and says, “Hey, ya wanna take a ride?”

Have a happy holiday, everybody.

Murph says;

I reckon I need to add my 2 cents onto this post also.

As I have expressed, I think that next year is going to be the manifestation of all the crap that has been brewing for so long, and all the bad decisions made in our names. So, I think that it is a good idea to sit back and take a look at what has been happening in the last year, and take stock of where we are ourselves, what we have accomplished, where we fell short. Also time to review and maybe modify plans for the future.

It is also a time that I like to reflect on relationships I have. We have been together on Cy’s original site and this site for about two years now. I would assume that everyone sticks around the campfire because it fulfills a need in companionship and sharing of our lives. A potential debate on authenticness I will leave for those with more cynical inclinations. I know that this camp fire has a closeness and companionable interaction that often surprises me but is always enjoyable. As long as the internet is viable, I will be hanging around the fire.

I do hope you all have an enjoyable, healthy and loving holiday season, refreshing the spirit for what lies ahead.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Recipes for the Collapse – part 3: Food Supply

By freeacre

Just in the news this evening: 410,000 people are out of power in the mid-west due to ice storms. I wonder how many of them are going hungry tonight. Short term power outages due to unforeseen circumstances such as storms or floods, fires, and accidents can jam you up real quickly if you don’t have backups for cooking and some food on hand. At the very least you should be able to haul out a camp stove or a BBQ grill to cook on. That means you need to have charcoal or propane ready to fuel the stoves as well. Even simpler would be a cast iron pot with a wood stove or camp fire. However, cooking over a camp fire during an ice storm sounds pretty miserable to me. You may have to forego cooking and just break out the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and share a bag of M&M’s or something for dessert. Just about everybody has enough in the cupboard to tide them over for a couple of days. Heck, when I was working in a newspaper office, we probably could have fed us all for about three days just with the snacks stashed in the drawers of our desks.

Short-term emergencies require quick alternatives for food, heat, and water. Keep peanut butter, trail mix, jerky, tuna, crackers, nuts, cereal, dried fruits, etc. on hand that are easy to prepare with little or no cooking. Save your energy for keeping warm, a roof over your head and your water pipes from freezing. Highways may be washed away, and trucks may not be running for awhile. The average town has about 3 days worth of food on hand in the stores. But you might not even be able to get to a store. So, have lamps, batteries, candles, flashlights, a battery or crank powered radio, and an emergency first aid kit handy. This is just what everyone should do from the minute they first live on their own. If you don’t have most of this stuff already collected for a 3 day emergency, you better reduce your medication and start dealing with reality.

Forgive me, that wasn’t very charitable. I am just being churlish for no good reason. Probably every person looking in on this site is exceptionally well prepared and not only thinking about providing for themselves, but their neighbors as well. I just get cranky contemplating those who are completely clueless.

The longer emergency is the one that I mostly worry about. The one that could happen as a result of the investment class panicking when they snap out of their coma and notice that the stock market is a big fat ponzi scheme. Or, the one that could happen if the value of the dollar drops by forty (or ninety) percent all of a sudden. Or, maybe a virus disrupts whole regional areas for months at a time. Or, a war breaks out and there is devastation and death on our own soil like the kind we have been exporting for so long to other countries. Those situations would be known collectively as the Hard Crash. For that type of scenario, it would probably be a good idea to have some hard-core survivalist supplies. LATOC has good links, as does Survival Acres, SurvivalBlog, After Armageddon, and other survivalist, military surplus, and camping sites for supplies that are light, portable, and durable for the long term. These are bomb shelter type of supplies. You might not need them for years. But, when you do need them, they will be there. And, if you have to run, you can take them with you. They are light, dehydrated, or nitrogen-packed. Pricey, though.

The Soft Crash would be the foreseeable future increasingly squeezed by inflation and scarcity: higher and higher gasoline, food and utility prices, more and more people losing their homes and jobs, crumbling infra-structure. Resources like crude oil, top-soil, fresh water, fish and meat become acutely scarce or prohibitively expensive. Climate change leads to famine, natural disasters, and cookbooks with ingredients like rabbit and squirrel. Governments become unable to keep up with services, more wars break out over natural resources, and things just continue to get more and more grim…

But, wait a minute! “This might all be good,” the New Age part of my brain informs me. Let’s look on the bright side! When the policies of the global corporate death culture prove themselves to be the most hideous invention that our flawed species has yet come up with, we may just invent a new way to live that will be reasonable and harmonious with the planet. There might be a substantial number of other species that will thrive after the human die-off culls the majority of us from the planet. Creative minds might come up with excellent inventions that will enable us to live comfortably without ruining what is left. Warehouses full of reversed engineered alien technology might be waiting to be deployed. We might be on the cusp of a great transformation that will have us evolving into something better than we have ever imagined. Butterflies might start blooming in our footsteps…

… Or not. The bad guys might win. Our children and most of the rest of the living beings on this planet might suffer under a one world totalitarian state that leaves most of us dead or starving and the rest serving the overlords and speaking Chinese. Who the hell knows? Not me, for sure.

Whatever. So, we’ve just been stocking up on food and supplies with the rationale that inflation is happening now and doesn’t look as if it’s going to get better anytime soon. In our experience, things never have gotten either as good or as bad as we have imagined they would. So how much do we need? Well, ideally, it would be good to have enough to get you through until you could cultivate or produce food to either eat, sell, or barter for more. Bread flour, corn meal, rice, dried beans, flax seeds, wheat germ, oat bran, sugar, oil, yeast, baking soda, baking powder, and salt are all staples that can be combined to make meals that are diverse, filling, and nutritious. Figure out how many loaves of bread you need per week. Two pounds of flour per loaf, say, two loaves per week. That’s four pounds per week. Add another pound for making pasta, pizza, or whatever. So, say five pounds of flour per week. Fifty-two weeks times five pounds is 260 pounds of flour to feed two people for a year. Probably at least a hundred pounds of sugar. Figure generously, because you know that you are going to have friends or relatives at your table as well.

Of course, you can’t live on bread, but it’s a start. You are going to want to round things out with canned vegetables (until you can grow and put up your own), mushrooms, canned tomatoes and soups for sauces, spices, maybe cake mixes, pasta, soup bases, evaporated milk for cooking, and protein such as tuna, canned beef, chicken, salmon or sardines. Legumes and grains provide protein as well. So do nuts. Dried or canned fruits are important too, and lend themselves to making comfort foods, like pie. Who wants a transformation without pie? Gotta have pie.

Keep in mind that scarcity and lack are normal for many of the beings on this planet right now and for most of our collective history. So what’s been keeping them coming home all this time?

Peasant food is comfort food – always has been. Warm bread right out of the oven. Corn bread, spaghetti, tortillas and beans, chicken soup, pancakes, chicken and dumplings, stir-fried noodles, BBQ ribs and sweet potato pie. Good old homemade food made from scratch from every conceivable country and ethnic group or tribe there is. Stock up for now, but begin to learn to grow vegetables in gardens, maybe raise chickens, rabbits, goats, or sheep. Learn permaculture so that the land will provide edible fruits, nuts, grasses, roots, etc. that will thrive with little human intervention for you and for your animals to feed on.

It’s going to take teamwork and time to learn how to cook and bake and preserve the old fashioned way. Our kids will need to put down the soccer ball and the iPod for awhile and learn how to make jam or plant peas. It’s going to require a sense of purpose. It is a challenge. As you get it done, you will begin to feel more secure and confident. Now that Murph and I are in the stage of having a pretty productive greenhouse and garden, we found we had to purchase a freezer for storing veggies. The chickens provide a steady supply of eggs that we gift to people and they gift back when they have extra wild game or rhubarb, or whatever. We dug a hole and mostly buried a garbage can to store squash and garlic and onions in a make shift root cellar. Little by little it builds to a comforting level of cushion against the tide of lack and fear. Now we get to learn what real abundance is about. One thing that is clear to me: abundance should be centered in the home, not in the mall.