Thursday, February 25, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Some systems are more critical than others. The failure of some key systems might almost immediately cause chaos, death or disease. Other systems are less critical, but provide important support to the overall structure. Some could probably be replaced by more local, low-energy, distributed systems. And some, while causing severe inconvenience and a need for work-arounds, can be done without.
Things break. Water lines crack, electric lines snap, and potholes appear magically overnight. Infrastructure is especially vulnerable in severe weather and during natural disasters, but also from lack of regular maintenance and from accidents, and of course from willful malfeasance. We currently have the capacity to come in after a disaster, clean up, and repair the damage. Will we be able to do so when everything costs twice as much and when state, municipal and corporate revenues have been cut in half? Will we be able to when we discover that the factories that manufacture the key gadget that connects point A to point B are bankrupt?
World geography is filled with artifacts of civilizations and empires that collapsed or could no longer maintain their structures. Some, like the Roman aquaducts, still exist today. Others are occasionally unearthed by enthusiastic archeologists beneath layers of dirt and history.
Unfortunately, we may already be close to a crisis, at least according to the American Society for Civil Engineers, which in 2009 gave our national infrastructure (composed of 15 systems) a grade of "D." According to them, we have a maintenance deficit of $2.2 trillion dollars over the next five years. Even in the best of times, we failed to maintain our infrastructure, instead choosing to pursue expansion and growth. Where will we come up with this money as governments go into a tailspin and they can no longer issue bonds for infrastructure projects?
At first, problems with our infrastructure might appear as delays or isolated problems. Broken water mains will stay broken, sewage backups will stay backed up. Power outages after ice storms will stretch from days to weeks to...months? Roads in certain areas will decay as potholes grow larger and deeper. Bridges in rural areas may be closed indefinitely, and traffic rerouted via another bridge, two hours away. Some schools may be abandoned as they become increasingly unsafe for habitation or when gas is too expensive to fuel their buses. These types of issues may not be recognized by the general public as the beginning of infrastructural collapse.
Later, as budgets contract further, poorer, rural and outlying areas may no longer get services. Certain areas, even entire towns, may never recover power after a major disaster like a hurricane or earthquake. As the price of asphalt and concrete escalates, roads may not get repaired after floods wash away roads, and overpasses crash to the ground. Some smaller, isolated cities may be virtually cut off from the rest of the world.
Certain areas will be better off than others:
- Systems that have been built with resilience in mind, with fewer critical points-of-failure, that have been well-maintained, and built with high-quality, long-lasting materials, should last longer.
- Systems with lower maintenance costs and that use parts and/or fuel that can be sourced locally or cheaply should be easier to perpetuate.
- Systems that are able to operate manually, with distributed skills and knowledge, in the face of power blackouts or communication problems, should provide more continuous service.
- Systems that are flexible, which can be altered or reconfigured to adapt to changing conditions, should be able to function longer.
-And systems in areas that are able to bear the costs of rising prices (toll roads, taxes, fees, utility bills), may be able to stay in operation longer as well.
But delayed maintenance and lack of repairs may finally bring infrastructure in many areas to it's knees. This might be only an inconvenience for some people, and for others it may require an exodus to the bigger, well-funded cities or smaller, yet resilient, towns. But eventually, unless we take corrective action, we will start seeing larger scale disasters as infrastructural systems reach their tipping (or cracking) points.
What large-scale disasters might we see and what would their consequences be? The collapse of key bridges or canals could effectively cut off traffic to certain areas. Dam failures could affect a whole range of systems from the elimination of hydroelectric power, flooding of large areas, or even problems with nuclear power plants that rely on constant water supplies. And if maintenance on nuclear power plants or energy refineries is delayed beyond repair, we could see horrible repercussions. We need to avoid these negative consequences as much as possible, even if making the necessary adjustments in our investments and economic psychology are uncomfortable (to say the least).
Some of these predictions may not happen until far off in the future, after budgets have become so constrained that cities cannot recover after disasters, and federal aid is no longer so readily available. Some well-built systems will take forever to crumble. Others are only a tipping point away.
This is reality. With a future of decreasing energy supplies, we will have less and less available to maintain the systems that support our globalized, high-energy, consumer lifestyle, on top of the resources we need to meet our daily needs. We will need to decide where to spend our money, our materials, our energy, and our manpower. How will we prioritize? Will it be haphazardly, fixing whatever is broken, patching things together until the point that resources are no longer available? Will we only maintain systems in the places of the rich and powerful?
I would suggest that as part of our powering-down and transition projects, we include the following activities:
- Acknowledge and quantify the amounts of energy, materials, and knowledge that we need to maintain our current infrastructural systems,
- Identify key points of weakness, and system dependencies,
- Create realistic projections for maintenance costs and available budget, taking into account reductions of key inputs such as energy, oil, water, etc;
- Prioritize systems in order of necessity (health and safety) as well as potential for disaster,
- Re-design maintenance of key systems to reduce expense and ecological impact, while increasing longevity and flexibility,
- Find ways to re-organize as many systems as possible in cheaper, and more sustainable, resilient, and localized ways, and
- Find ways to mothball or power down systems that will no longer be cost and material-efficient to maintain and/or which could create harm if left to disintegrate on their own - if left to reach the point(s) of no return while still in operation.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
It was simple to redeem the bond - I went to the bank with my ID and my marriage license (since the bond was in my maiden name), and walked up to the teller. Easy as that.
Friday, February 5, 2010
His advice to us:
Those of my readers who haven’t already been beggared by the unraveling of
what’s left of the economy, and have some hope of keeping a roof over their
heads for the foreseeable future, might be well advised to stock their pantries,
clear their debts, and get to know their neighbors, if they haven’t taken these
sensible steps already. Those of my readers who haven’t taken the time already
to learn a practical skill or two, well enough that others might be willing to
pay or barter for the results, had better get a move on. Those of my readers who
want to see some part of the heritage of the present saved for the future,
finally, may want to do something practical about that, and soon.
Currently, the extent of the collapse depends on where you live, your employment and financial situation, and luck. But as municipal and state governments succumb to the fiscal malaise, and unemployment continues to spread, the middle class dream will go into a coma and people will begin to hang on just for dear life (those who aren't already).
So my question to you is: what can you do now that you've been putting off? Maybe we should all "pretend" that the quality of our lives depend on the decisions we are making now, and figure out our top three priorities for the next seven - thirty days. Maybe we could "pretend" that we might face situations that, at one time, seemed wildly impossible (like a 40% decline in the stock market, or 15% unemployment, or California/Michigan/Nevada going bankrupt and stopping critical social services), and prepare accordingly.
1. Make sure you have everything ready for your garden, including seeds, tools, and fertilizers. I've already read at least one article about potential seed shortages this year.
2. As so many peak oil bloggers have pointed out, stock your pantry, and don't forget to include water storage!
3. How can you protect your health and the health of your loved ones in a critical and stressful time period? Check Your Health is Your Wealth for ideas.
4. If you are pregnant, consider seriously preparing to do a natural childbirth. I'm not saying you should or shouldn't go natural (unmedicated) - but if you are prepared, it will go much easier on you if for some reason an epidural isn't available / affordable. Note: I know several women personally whose epidurals never "took" or that faded halfway through their labor.
5. If you are expecting a baby, consider stocking up on formula. I am a staunch advocate of breastfeeding, but for the same reasons you stock up on food - you should consider stocking up on formula. (This is actually a suggestion from Sharon Astyk).
6. Prepare to undergo a radical cash-ectomy, as so many people have already in the last two years. What costs/expenses could you cut to save more now? What would you do without a steady income? What would you do if you had to take in relatives who've lost their jobs / homes? Are there any steps you could take now to soften the blow? Are there ways you could live lighter now that might also save you money?
7. Are there any critical purchases you've been putting off - not because you can't afford them, but just because you haven't had the time to get around to them? Such as, perhaps, a way to cook off the grid, a cord of wood, a book with critical information, some sturdy shoes, CFL bulbs, or your spring seeds?
8. If market volatility, debt, and financial issues are a concern, what steps can you take now to protect yourself, your savings, and your investments?
9. Do you or someone you love depend on aid or income from a city/state/federal government agency that appears to be rapidly drowning? What will you, or they, do without it? Is there something you can do now to prepare?
10. What skill could you learn, or begin to learn, this month? Many people start with gardening, baking and cooking, or food preservation. Health - related (low-energy) skills are always valuable to a community. What else?
11. Have you been putting off that delicate talk - you know, the one where you break the unwelcome news about energy descent and financial decline to your family? Think about some ways you could let them know they might want to put off or reconsider that UAL stock investment /Hummer purchase /$200,000 of college debt / McMansion in the exurbs.
If you were "pretending" you NEEDED to get something done in the next 7-30 days, what would it be?
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
One small sheep for part-time work at lovely, quiet, semi-urban homestead. Hours are one day per week, April - September. Must be able to eat urban lawn (not treated with herbicides, pesticides, or pre-emergent). Lawn includes multiple varieties of plant including, but not limited to: clover, dandelion, purslane, wild strawberries, bermuda grass, crabgrass, and henbit.
Successful candidates will demonstrate enthusiasm and skill for lawn management. Must be able to avoid eating hanging laundry, tomato plants, roses, low-hanging apple tree limbs, and toddlers, no matter how tempting. Must demonstrate ability to stay out of (light) traffic. Potty training a plus, but not essential.
Pay: negotiable. Will provide lawn in return for lawn care and poop. Will consider barter arrangement and travel / relocation reimbursement upon request.
No resume required. Apply in person.
Note: Sorry, goats. I have been informed that sheep are superior forage animals.
Monday, February 1, 2010
To make an entire meal easily storeable for many months, storeable without electricity (no generator required), yet available from the grocery store (no specialty freeze-dried items required), I eliminated meat, dairy, eggs, and fresh fruits and vegetables. I also chose meals that could be prepared with little cooking experience (no need to bake bread, tortillas or scones) , in a short amount of time (and thus low fuel use) or which could be cooked in a Sun Oven. If you have a garden, root cellar, and chickens, or you have a spot to store garlic/onions/sweet potatoes/butternut squash in your house, you'll have many more options. If you know how to make yogurt and cheese from dry milk that can be stored, you'll have even more options.
Over the long term, I encourage everyone to buy food from the Farmer's Market, Co-ops and CSA's, local ranchers, and from their own garden, but not everyone is already used to that life - and you shouldn't wait to store food until you are! Many of you are already transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle, which to many people means growing and preserving your own food, which you can then store. But you can start food storage even before you get that far.
So here's a short starter list for people who want to lay in a month or two or three of food that can be eaten and rotated regularly without too much effort. Three caveats: first, since this is a mostly vegetarian list of meals, this diet may be lacking in vitamin B12 - so consider getting some vitamins to meet that need. Second, these meals are heavy on the canned foods, which means you may be getting some more sodium than you normally do. Three, because of the dependency on beans for your protein/calories, this diet may be higher on fiber than you are used to. If so, you probably need to drink extra water to help the fiber pass through.
Meal 1: Pasta and pasta sauce with green beans
What could be easier? Pasta and pasta sauce are easily available, reasonably cheap, and fairly healthy. The tomatoes in pasta sauce contain both vitamin C and A, and pasta sauce comes in many different types to provide a flavor variety. Pasta is quick-cooking, and this meal can also be cooked as a one-pot meal in the Sun Oven. Canned green beans provide a little green in the diet.
Meal 2: Beans, rice and salsa
Hmmm, this sounds a little like a naked burrito. Beans and rice combine to provide a complete protein, beans offer many nutrients, and almost no one is allergic to rice. Rice will also provide a break for your body from eating all the grains that contain gluten. Salsa adds flavor, color, and vegetables (onions, tomatoes, peppers). White rice has a very long shelf life (you can also use brown rice, but it has a shorter shelf life), and canned beans have a shelf life of several years. Dried beans can be bought in bulk, and take less space, but require much more cooking time.
Meal 3: Vegetarian chili with corn
Combine two cans of different beans, a can of corn, a can of tomatoes, some water, whatever herbs and spices are available, and voila! Crowd pleaser comfort food with little cooking time. The combination of beans and corn provides protein, and the tomatoes provide vitamin C and A. I like to add barbeque sauce for the smoky sweet rich flavor. This is a great meal to cook in the Sun Oven, and is another non-gluten meal.
Meal 4: Oatmeal with raisins/dried fruit, honey, and cinammon
More comfort food. Oatmeal (not the instant kind) has a shelf life of several years and comes in conveniently storeable packages; and is full of fiber and protein (for a grain). The dried fruit can add various vitamins depending on which ones you pick. People often yearn for sweets during stress, so this meal will provide some sweet taste. This combination can be eaten for breakfast for weeks with no complaints (in my case, anyway). It also cooks pretty quickly.
Meal 5: Peanut butter and honey or jam
OK, this might not be strictly a meal without bread. But peanut butter is a good source of fat that stores well - the storeably hydrogenated stuff anyway; and honey lasts forever (although it may need to be heated to de-crystallize it). This is a tasty snack that will comfort people who are bored, yearning for sweets, or getting cranky. PLUS, it requires no cooking, and is very portable.
Meal 6: Bean and pasta salads
Personally, I like the combination of pasta, garbanzo beans, sundried tomatoes, canned artichokes and olives, with a sauce of olive oil and vinegar and herbs. I also like garbanzo beans, kidney beans, and corn with olive oil, red vinegar and herbs. There are many combinations to experiment with, and you might store several to keep the variety up. This "meal" may not seem like a meal to a carnivore, but it does provide a lot of nutrients, fiber, and flavor.
Meal 7: Pasta and tuna salad with peas
Canned tuna will provide some "meat" for people who are used to eating it. The cans and packets aren't really cheap, so this could be a special treat of a meal. Frozen peas are superior to canned, but hey, cans will stay stored with no electricity - and the peas provide some green color and nutrition. Add some olive oil and cracked pepper, and it's pretty tasty.
So, to summarize, the above seven meals are a "starter" list that provides calories, protein, fiber, nutrition, some variety, and flavor. They aren't gourmet, but they do offer the basics that you can get from your local grocery store in an easily cookable format. And once you get these items stored, you can mix and match for more variety. Disclaimer: Keep in mind, these are just examples to get you started thinking - you should store what your family will eat and what will meet your family's dietary needs. Obviously, this won't meet the needs of a two month old infant (for example) or someone who is allergic to gluten.
To make these meals, you will need to store, date and rotate:
- Canned beans (several varieties: kidney, black, pinto, garbanzo)
- Pasta sauce
- Canned diced tomatoes
- Canned corn
- Canned green beans and peas
- Peanut butter
- Tuna (canned or packets)
- Assorted variety extras: canned olives, sundried tomatoes, jarred red peppers, canned artichokes (as desired)
- Dried fruit (raisins, craisins, apricots, prunes, etc.)
- Olive oil
- Salt /pepper
- Chili powder/cumin/oregano
And, of course, water, a NON-electric can-opener, and some combination of ways to cook without electricity: woodstove or fireplace insert, rocket stove, Sun Oven, Kelly Kettle, haybox cooker, etc. These meals can also easily be supplemented with snacks: Tang, dried fruit, canned fruit, sauerkraut, pickles, applesauce, lollipops, lemonade mix, hot chocolate mix, etc. Don't forget to store tea and coffee if you're a caf-aholic!
For more resources see: Apocalypse Chow, The Crisis Preparedness Handbook, and Sharon Astyk's online Food Storage series (LOTS more links there).