February 9, 2008

10th Book Excerpts

Another Day on the Farm:

Minus 32C again but not much wind. The wood piles are going down faster than I had hoped and I’ve had to dig under the drifted snow to find some of it. Thinking about getting a twenty foot Shipping Container to use as a woodshed for next winter. They’re kind of unsightly things but if it’s hidden behind the garage it shouldn’t be to noticeable. Ugly in the summer can be beauty in the winter. Sure like the idea of good dry wood that’s not frozen together under snow.

Forty Foot Container

Current Rant:

What is a waste of time? Depends on one’s age and circumstances I guess. As a boy climbing trees, playing baseball, riding bikes, fishing for creek trout was about the best use of time imaginable. In school, however, daydreaming about such things during class time was deemed a waste of time. As a young man earning a living and raising a family properly occupies most of one’s time.

But, as an old man there is very little that one can do that is really a waste of time. Just the fact that you are doing something is time well spent. To a certain limit even sleeping is a good use of time, but only to the extent necessary … anything beyond necessary rest is time wasted. The key thing is to have a reason for getting out of bed.

An old person cannot have too many hobbies or interests. Anything that stimulates the mind and body is time well spent. Reading, just about anything, in a comfortable chair by the fireplace is time well spent. Surfing the internet is time well spent, especially if done to expand one’s knowledge and stimulate the mind. Taking a walk or any other activity that gets the blood circulating is time well spent.

The worst waste of time is wishing and bemoaning. Wishing accomplishes nothing. Bemoaning the past is just as useless. What is done is done and no amount of wishing or bemoaning can change it. The best that can be gained from such idleness is determining to not waste the time you still have left on such uselessness.

Get off your butt and do something!

Tenth Excerpt from “Farmageddon”:
(My latest unfinished book)

Economic collapse

North America’s prosperity is built on the principal of exhausting the world's resources as quickly as possible, with little concern for our neighbours, other life forms, or even our children’s future.

Although indications are that there will be a radical economic adjustment sometime in the near future, it can yet be mitigated by timely political action. I would like to believe that our leaders will wake up in time to prevent a total economic collapse and dampen the effects of oil shortages, but, considering their record to date on ecology issues, it would seem prudent for each of us to get our own houses in order in the meantime.

An economic system can drag on for quite some time after it becomes untenable. The notion that it is possible to perpetually borrow more and more money from abroad, to pay for more and more energy imports, while the price of these imports continues to double every few years, is clearly unsound. It cannot continue much longer.

In North America, relatively few people own their homes free and clear. In the event of an economic collapse, many people therefore face homelessness, due to the loss of their income and the inability to make mortgage payments. Add to that the car-dependent nature of most suburbanites, which could lead to mass migrations of homeless people toward city centers.

North Americans are unquestionably car-dependent. Consequently, we are extremely dependent upon imported oil and the infrastructure that keeps our cars rolling. We also rely on continuous public investment in road construction and repair. Our cars are not designed to last very long and depend on a steady stream of imported parts, from both domestic and foreign sources. If these intra-dependent systems stop functioning, much of the population will likely find itself afoot or on bicycles.

The people of the Soviet Union were actually better prepared for their economic collapse than we are, even though their agricultural sector was notoriously inefficient. Many Russian people grew their own food, even in relatively prosperous times. There were food warehouses in many cities, stocked according to government regulations, although shopping for their daily needs was very time-consuming and wearisome. There were relatively few restaurants, so most families cooked and ate at home. Because of their existing conditions, it was much easier for them to adjust to an economic collapse that it will be for us.

In North America most of us get our food from a supermarket which is supplied from distant places via refrigerated diesel fueled trucks. Many others don't even bother to shop for food, preferring to eat at restaurants. When people do cook, they often just heat up prepared foods in their microwave ovens, rarely cooking from scratch.

The U.S. economy is a kind of pyramid contrivance, based on faith in its growth potential, and can only survive by continual expansion. Ours is a consumption-based economy that thrives on excessive and wasteful use of natural resources, particularly energy. Peak Oil is not a problem in itself. The real problem is the notion that infinite economic growth on a finite resource base is possible. Collapse can be triggered by the exhaustion of any one of several resources; drinkable water, breathable air, arable land, and so on. So the limits imposed by diminishing oil resources is only one of many physical limits to continuous growth.

The collapse of our economy will likely be incremental rather than sudden. I suspect it will effect one person, one family, one community at a time. The first effects may only be psychological — dreams will evaporate as hope for the future starts looking glum and ever more uncertain. As people are confronted with ever greater indignities and privations, some will become despondent and feel that they are personally at fault. No doubt some will end it all by resorting to suicide. But I expect the majority of us will eventually accept the fact that times have changed and we must learn to make the best of it.

One way to get a taste of what it may be like, for you personally, would be to try giving up driving; not cut down on driving but selling your car and refusing to ride in one on a regular basis. If this would force you to relocate, or to change jobs or careers, you might think about doing so now. You may have to do so later on when everyone else is facing the same situation.

Of course that’s a radical idea that only an extremist would take seriously, but, if nothing else, it got your attention for a moment and it might make what follows seem a bit more reasonable by comparison.

Assume that every supermarket and big-box store is out of business, having been driven bankrupt by the high cost and shortage of diesel fuel, electricity, and natural gas. As a consequence, assume that shopping is limited to local farmer's markets, small neighbourhood grocers, thrift stores and the like. Under such circumstances you may not have need for a car and there might be a tendency to buy only the essentials that can easily be carried by hand. There might also be an incentive to salvage from previously discarded items in waste dumps and repair things instead of replacing them. Learning to grow, or gather, some of your food would be another option for some.

If your present home mortgage requires that you have a full-time job, or two, in order to afford it, you might think about finding ways to change that situation so you will still have a house when you are unemployed. If you can cash out your equity in your present home and buy a place that is smaller, but will be owned free and clear, maybe you should think about it.

In shopping for an affordable home, you should pay particular attention to how difficult it will be to heat. It would be a mistake to assume that heating oil, natural gas, or firewood will always be available or affordable.

Ironically the so called third world countries will have some decided advantages over the developed countries, if and when the crunch comes. Though we may not often think about it, the vast majority of the world’s population is not nearly as dependent on petroleum products as we North Americans. It is we, in the developed countries, that will have to radically adjust our lifestyles.

To be continued next time…

Tenth Excerpt from “Defying the Odds”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)

High School…

At odd times when my mind was not on girls, I did manage to learn a thing or two in school. Actually, I did pretty well, all things considered. In fact, with a bit more effort and a few less distractions, I'm sure I could have graduated near the top of my class.

One of the biggest distractions was the fact that I, like a lot of my friends, worked night shift while going to school. On my sixteenth birthday, I started working swing shift at the Kaiser Shipyards in Vancouver, Washington. This was during the war when there was a shortage of men and jobs were easy to find. You had to be at least sixteen years old to work at the shipyards. I started as a machinists helper in the Machine Shop and later became the crane operator.

We would catch the shipyard bus in Washougal, right after school, ride the bus to Vancouver, work an eight hour shift, get off work at midnight, ride the bus back to Washougal and be home around two o'clock in the morning. It was a rather tough grind, but the pay was good. I was taking home about forty dollars a week.

King Of The Road...

Not only did I start working at the ship yards on my sixteenth birthday, I also got my drivers license the same day. I had been driving since I was thirteen but not on the highways. During the war years there was considerable leniency in certain areas of law enforcement. There was such a shortage of civilian men, and such a demand for workers, that teen aged boys were often looked upon more as men than kids. I'm not sure this had anything to do with my driver license exam, but it may have.

It was about twenty five miles from home to the Washington State Patrol office in Vancouver, where driving examinations were given. I had been looking forward to getting my license on my sixteenth birthday. But as it turned out, none of my family or friends who had drivers licenses were able to go with me on that day, so I simply borrowed dad's car and drove to Vancouver by myself. It was the first time I had driven alone on highways or through towns.

Everything went smoothly. I drove boldly up to the State Patrol office, parked between two patrol cars and walked into the examiners office. After completing the application forms, answering a few verbal questions and having my eyes checked, the examining officer took me outside for my driving test. When he saw that there was nobody waiting in the car, he asked how I got there. I said, "I drove". He said, "But you don't have....", then he took of his hat and rubbed his head and said, "Oh hell...get in, let's see if you can drive."

I got behind the steering wheel and he in the passenger seat…looking half mad and half amused. I started the engine, put the shift lever in reverse, eased the clutch out, backed away from the curb a few feet and he said, "Okay, looks like you know what you're doing...pull up to the curb again."

That was all there was to it. We went back into the office and he told the clerk to issue my license. Then he looked at me, shook his head, laid his hand on my shoulder and walked away. I suspect he might have had a son in the armed forces that he was thinking about at that moment.

I had skipped my morning school classes to get my license, so I drove back to school and attended classes for the remainder of the day, then started working at the shipyard that evening. Life can be beautiful!

To be continued next time…

Tenth Excerpt from “But…What About Tomorrow?”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)

Sustainable Energy…

I've pointed out why we can't wait much longer to start converting to a sustainable system of agriculture, but it's even more important that we find a new source of energy to replace gas and oil before our reserves run out. Agriculture is absolutely dependent on petroleum fuels to power its tractors, combines, trucks, etc. Without fuel for these machines, agriculture would grind to a halt in a matter of hours ... literally. There are very few operations on today's farms that do not involve the use of gasoline or diesel powered machinery.

Farm machinery can be classified into two main categories; self-propelled (having engines) and drawn (pulled by machines with engines). Of the two categories, the self-propelled generally accounts for the major part of a farmer's machinery investment. Machinery wears out and/or becomes obsolete. A properly managed farm must allocate a certain portion of its annual expense budget for machinery replacement so that the machines are gradually replaced over a period of years rather than all at once … well duh!

In order to replace these machines in an orderly and affordable manner, the cost must be spread over a number of years. So if a farmer wishes to have no self-powered machinery more than ten years old, for example, he obviously has to annually replace at least one-tenth of this category of machines. Using this over-simplified example, it will take him at least ten years to replace all of his self-propelled machinery. Converting from a gas/diesel-fueled engine to some new kind of fuel will most likely necessitate the replacement of the entire machine rather than just its engine. In view of the tremendous costs that would entail, it seems logical that the conversion period would have to be spread over a period of a decade or more.

But the conversion obviously can't begin until the new fuel burning engines are available. See the problem? So if there is just fifty years of petroleum left in the ground and it may take a decade or more to develop and convert to a new fuel supply … go figure.

Of course, in the real world, it's not the farmer's machinery needs that will get the first attention. Ninety eight percent of us are not farmers, but most of us have cars. The automotive industry therefore will be the driving force that will develop the new technology, and that's just fine. The important thing is that it gets done, not how.

It seems to me that hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, would have been the logical source of fuel here on earth had not wood, coal and petroleum been cheaper and much easier to develop. Ironically, the relatively small hydrogen deposits thought to exist on the moon are viewed as a priceless potential source of fuel for space exploration, yet the surface of our planet is seventy percent water and we fail to develop it.

It seems safe to assume that hydrogen will be the future fuel of choice for most self propelled conveyances that have to carry their own fuel supply. Trains are good candidates for electric power and ships might go nuclear but cars, trucks, buses and farm machinery will most likely be hydrogen powered—at least that would be my bet.

Sure, there are some little problems to solve before hydrogen can take the place of gasoline and diesel fuel, but there were some little problems that had to be worked out before Mrs. Armstrong's little boy bounced around on the moon and we managed that. There were some little details to work out before the internet took over our lives and it has. There were some little infrastructure technicalities that had to be taken care of before Mr. Ford's invention became the indispensable apparatus we believe it to be. The list goes on and on, but the point is obvious.

The reason that very little has yet been done with regard to replacing hydrocarbons with hydrogen is also obvious. For one thing, the oil companies have a vested interest in holding on to their monopoly as long as possible. For another, just about every land, sea and air vehicle runs on gasoline or diesel and until there are some that burn hydrogen, there really isn't much point in producing hydrogen on a very large scale. It's a bit of a Catch 22.

If and when the move to hydrogen gets started, it seems to me that the oil companies are the logical ones to head it up. They certainly have the funds to do the research and development. They have the distribution infrastructure in place to get the product to the public and there is the added incentive that they're going to be out of work when the oil is gone. I would think there would actually be a mad scramble to get in on the ground floor.

Since I'm too old to lead the way, and my pension check falls a little short of funding the project, about all I can do is share my wisdom with you industrial giants out there ... are you listening Mr. Exxon?

First of all, the raw materials aren’t hard to find … they're not buried ten thousand feet in the ground or beneath the ocean. The ocean are it … for Pete's sake! Now that that little secret is out, what about the energy required to convert the raw material into hydrogen? Look up ... see that big yellow thing? Solar energy is free and there is even more of it than there is raw material for hydrogen production. The only drawback is it will be a real challenge for you industrial tycoons to corner the supply.

So, your raw materials and energy problems are solved … what next? You get yourself a big sparkplug thingy and hook it up to your solar panel and stick it into the water. By the way, you'll need a couple containers for the oxygen and hydrogen.

"What kind of containers?", you say. I was hoping you'd figure that one out for yourself, but, for starters, you might try using oxygen tanks for the oxygen and hydrogen tanks for … see where I'm going? By the way, you might give some thought to using fiberglass rather than steel for those tanks.

Ok, now that you've got the oxygen and hydrogen separated and all bottled up, all that's left is to sell it through your existing service stations. A system modeled on the way you dispense propane should work just fine. Oh yeah, you should have gotten together with Mr. G. Motors some time ago to arrange to have some cars ready to burn this stuff.

To be continued next time…

I would like to hear from you! You may send your comments by clicking either the Comments or the Letter icon below. Thank you…

Have a warm day…


No comments: