March 11, 2009

24th Book Excerpts

Another Day on the Farm:

One day it snows, the next it shines...typical March weather in Alberta. The cows, sheep and my pet goat are all nearing the end of their winters' pregnancies. Some of the cows bellies are so large that they had trouble squeezing through the cattle chutes when we tagged them the other day. My nanny goat looks like she will at least have twins. This is her second pregnancy...she is from triplets. It would be nice to have a few weeks of good weather now to get the new arrivals off to a good start.

Looking forward to getting the motorcycles all shined up and serviced for another season of riding.

Current Rant:

My friend Beth recently sent me a thought provoking article questioning whether or not President Obama is a socialist. Although the article concluded that he is not, it left the impression that we would be better off if he was.

The problem with ideological group labels is that they don't precisely define the beliefs of every advocate. Few, if any, so called Conservatives are conservative on every subject or issue. The same reasoning applies to Liberals, Republicans or Democrats. It also applies to Socialists, Nationalists, Capitalist and every other "ists" I can think of...including Pessimists, Optimists and even Baptists.

Political, religious, social, cultural and other sects are divisive by their very nature. Cliques of any kind tend to be restrictive and stifling. Few of us fit fully and precisely under any specific ideological label. We often have socialistic attitudes in some areas (health and education issues for example) and capitalistic attitudes in others (private ownership and free enterprise as examples). Similarly, we seldom fit precisely into any religious, social or cultural organization.

In my view we would be better off without political labels and parties. If all elected officials were "Independents" and free to vote according to their individual conscience on every issue, rather than along party lines, it might result in more efficient governance and wiser legislation.

24th Excerpt from “Farmageddon”
(My latest unfinished book)


When one starts thinking about what to stock up on in the way of consumable supplies there are several things to consider. One of the most obvious is how well it stores…what is its shelf life. Another important thing is the amount of storage capacity that is available. A third thing is whether or not it is something that its something that you only need to stockpile until you are able to find a substitute for it. Of course there are lots of other things to consider but this short checklist will do for a start.

Take kerosene for instance. Kerosene lamps and lanterns are an age-old answer to the lighting problem when electricity is not available. But unless the supply of kerosene can be replaced when the initial supply runs out, it’s just a stopgap solution to the lighting problem. On the other hand, if one is ultraconservative a barrel of kerosene could last for years. It’s relatively safe to store, not very volatile, and if used with due caution it safe to use. The amount of light produced by a kerosene lamp or lantern, while far short of the incandescent lighting we are used to, its far better than candles…or no artificial light at all.

We are opting for kerosene for a couple of reasons. We already have some antique lamps and kerosene lanterns are still available. We reason that it is better to start out with the best lighting system that is available even if may be unsustainable indefinitely. By the time our kerosene barrel goes dry we expect to have a good supply of bees wax accumulated from which candles can be made. So, in addition to kerosene we will stock up on a supply of lamp wicks as well as candle wicking.

This brings up the problem of lighting fires. Two things: matches and magnifying lens. A case of wooden matches will last a long time, especially since there will be a fire going in the kitchen stove twenty-four-seven for a good part of the year. In the unlikely event that we run out of matches a magnifying lens will get a fire started outside on a sunny day. Once a fire is started outside a person has the option of camping around the fire or bringing some coals in to the cook stove. Chances are we will choose the second option.

While we’re on the subject of fire, there’s a couple more fuels to consider…wood and coal. Our living quarters will be heated with a wood range. Besides heating the house the range will also cook our food and heat our water. So, wood is a very basic requirement. Fortunately we have an almost unlimited supply of wood. Unfortunately most of it is too long to fit into the stove. So, it will have to be shortened.

We’ve been heating our farm shop and one of our houses with wood for years. We fall the trees and cut them into stove-wood lengths with chainsaws. Chainsaws are not of much use without gasoline…rubbing them back and forth like a handsaw is very inefficient. We could, and will, cut a huge pile of logs in preparation for hard times, but they wont last for ever. So, back to the ways of my grandfather…crosscut saws and axes. It’s hard to find anything good to say about that system but, as the saying goes, “You get twice the heat from the wood that way…once when you cut it and again when it’s burned.”

Coal, the last fuel on my list, is plentiful and cheap here in Alberta. Not cheap enough to be considered as our main heating fuel but cheap enough to have a few tons stockpiled for blacksmith forge work. Without electricity to power our welders we will have to rely on forges for some of the repair work and construction projects that are necessary to keep a farm running. About the only requirement for storing coal is a dry place…which there will no shortage of when the barns are emptied of cattle.

We always keep a supply of various sizes of steel on hand for our day-to-day repair and maintenance need on the farm. But, in preparation for long term needs when replacement supplies of steel may not be available, we will stockpile extra amounts of the most useful sizes of steel bars and rods, leaning more toward those sizes that will be handy for blacksmith work.

Like most farms, we try to keep a good assortment of nuts and bolts on hand. The bolt bins will receive more attention from now on as will our supply of nails, screw, staples and other fasteners. The same goes for other hardware items such as hinges, etc.

Lumber is another thing that may be hard to come by. Although we have our own portable sawmill it is powered by a gas engine and would be of much use in a gasless economy so we plan to saw a good supply of various sizes of lumber and store it in one of the barns.

One of the most asinine suggestions common to many of the citified survival schemes is the idea of storing plenty of water and canned goods. This may be good advice in cases where survival is defined as a week or so without electrical power but it’s pretty useless, if not bad, advice for purposes of long term survival. The reason I say it’s bad advice is because it gives a false security to anyone naive enough to think that way. Any plans which depend on stored provisions or non-renewable supplies are for short term emergencies only . The only thing that will work in the long term is complete independence from external assistance. This is why the vast majority of the worlds population will likely be S.O.L. in a world where only the self-sufficient can survive. As horrible as that concept is to contemplate, I'm convinced that it is within the realm of possibly. Denial wont make it go away.

Rather than giving up and doing nothing it makes more sense to make sure that the most vital resources are independently renewable, stock up on the ones that are not and make an effort to salvage something while there is still time. There is nothing to be lost in trying, when faced with a seemingly hopeless situation, no matter how slim the odds.

I'm also convinced that, after a period of global chaos and disaster, things will eventually return to some form of an sustainable "normal" lifestyle that resembles our grandparents. It will likely take a long time to evolve but, providing we do not exterminate the whole human race in the chaos to come, and there is a nucleus of human beings remaining, it seems inevitable that having learned our lesson the hard way, civilization will continue.

With that off my chest, let's get back to the question of the kinds of supplies that should be stockpiled in our storeroom.

Water, as always, is at the top of the list. But, as mentioned before, it is ridiculous to plan on storing enough water to last indefinitely. The only thing that makes sense is to have storage capacity for enough water to last for a couple weeks or so. Having a short-term supply of water for stored conveniently inside is highly recommended. But, to be sustainable, there must be a reliable source of water from which to periodically replenish the inside supply. The best outside source would be a well from which water could be drawn manually. Other possible sources would be springs (that weren't too distant and didn't freeze up in the winter), underground cisterns, and as a last resort, dugouts that collected surface runoff. The ideal situation would be to have a well directly under the storage room, but this possibility would be extremely rare.

In addition to water, supplies of foods must be on hand. The very basic ones would include a bin of wheat, vegetables and meat. Perishable foods obviously would have to be preserved in some manner. Potatoes and other root crops can be stored raw in cool temperatures. Meat can be stored uncooked if it is dried or smoked. Grains, including rice, beans, peas and other garden produce can be stored for long periods in the dried stage. Flour, salt and sugar store well also, if they are available. Lard stores well under cool conditions. Honey stores very well either in a cool or room-temperature environment. These foods are representative of the kinds of foodstuffs that one should plan to become self-sufficient in.

Aside from a supply of first-aid bandage material it seems foolish, if not impossible, to stock up on medications. The reality is that if one gets injured or ill there isn't much that can be done for them. At best they will recover on their own with a little TLC. The worst case scenario may not looks so bad under pioneering conditions.

There are other non-food supplies that should be stockpiled and stored under cover. Such things as warm durable clothing, boots, gloves and mitts, and shoes would be important. Hardware items such as nails, screws, staples and rivets would be wise. Hand tools of all sorts are essential items. Gardening tools should also be stored inside. (In later chapters I will make more detailed lists some essential and advisable tools and supplies to have on hand.)

To be continued next time…

24th Excerpt from “Defying the Odds”
(Available from

The Final Trip…

The whole family was excited when I got home. I had told them so much about the farm and they were very anxious to see it. Betty must have had her hands full coping with their questions and eagerness while I was gone for so long. That night she told me that she was pregnant.

There were many loose ends to tie before we would be ready to leave. The most serious problem was that our property had not yet been sold. I told the Realtor that we had no option but to leave immediately and gave dad power of attorney to complete the deal for me.

Finally everything was packed and loaded. The truck and trailer were again badly overloaded, with all the heavy household appliances and furniture. We were forced to leave many things behind simply because there was not room. My brother, Cliff, had volunteered to drive our station wagon on this final trip. Betty and the kids would ride with him, along with most of our bedding and clothing.

We were in the final stages of loading when Lois stopped in. We talked as we finished loading the vehicles Neither of us dreamed that we would never see each other again as we said our tearful goodbyes. Then we departed for our new home in Canada.

This third and final trip was very tiring for everyone. We stopped only long enough to refuel and buy something to eat at grocery stores. We could not afford to spend money for motels. But, other than the tedium, the trip was uneventful until we were well into Canada.

Uncle Bill and Aunt Georgina had invited us to stay at their place to rest up before going on to the farm. After driving all day and well into the night, we hoped to arrive at their place around midnight. Then, about 10pm, a tire blew out on the truck. Thankfully I had two spare wheels with mounted tires tied to the front bumper and my tool box and jack were handy on the front seat of the truck.

After removing the wheel with the flat tire, I discovered that the rim had split wide open. The truck was so badly overloaded that it had been necessary to over-inflate the tires and the rims were not designed for that kind of punishment. I was a bit concerned because the tire that had blown was brand new…the spares were not.

It was about midnight when we stopped at a service station to call Uncle Bill. I told him what had happened and that it would take at least two more hours to get to his place. We were planning on going straight on to the farm since it was so late, but they insisted that we stay with them overnight. It didn't take much persuasion because we were all pretty beat.

We pulled in at Uncle Bill's around two in the morning. They were both still up and waiting for us. They even had a hot meal prepared for us. After eating, we went to bed and died. The next morning, after a big breakfast, we started the last leg of our journey.

To be continued next time…

24th Excerpt from “But…What About Tomorrow?
(Available from


The topics of overpopulation and family planning may seem a little out of place in a book such as this, but all God's children need to be fed, and farmers, along with their fishermen brothers, are the ones that will have to provide the food. Having considered the numerous ways in which humanity is destroying its inheritance, it might be interesting to take a look at the concept of overpopulation as it relates to the overall problems we have created.

Overpopulation is generally thought of simply as crowding … too many people in a given area … too high a population density. But, according to this concept, if all the people of China and India lived in the continental U.S. we would still have a smaller population density than England, Holland, or Belgium.

Density per square mile, or the population divided by the area in square miles … which can be easily found in most any encyclopedia or world atlas … is not the most important thing to consider in questions of overpopulation. If density alone was the gauge, it would appear that Africa is under populated, because it has only fifty five people per square mile, while Europe, excluding the former USSR, has two hundred and sixty one and Japan eight hundred and fifty seven.

A more meaningful measure would take into account the amount of Africa which is not desert or impenetrable forest. The inhabited portion of Africa is just a little over half the continent's total area, giving an effective population density of a hundred and seventeen per square mile, or only about a fifth of that in the United Kingdom. Taking this line of reasoning a step further, even by 2020 Africa's effective density is expected to grow to only about that of France today, two hundred and sixty six, which does not seem excessively crowded or overpopulated.

Even the most densely populated places, like the Netherlands with its one thousand-plus people per square mile and Taiwan with sixteen hundred or Hong Kong with over fourteen thousand per square mile, aren't necessarily over populated. After all, they are thriving … even booming … economies. If density is used as the standard of overpopulation, few nations, for that matter the Earth itself, would be considered overpopulated now or in the near future.

Overpopulation has little to do with population density. Overpopulation occurs when the numbers of people in an area exceeds its carrying capacity. The population is too large relative to its resources and the capacity of the environment to sustain human activities. An area is overpopulated when its population can't be maintained without rapidly depleting nonrenewable resources. In other words, if the demands on the resources of an area is unsustainable over the long term, than that area is overpopulated.

By this measure, the entire planet and virtually every nation is already overpopulated. Africa is overpopulated because its soils and forests are rapidly being depleted and therefore its carrying capacity for human beings will be lower in the future than it is now. The United States is overpopulated because we are depleting our soil and water resources and contributing seriously to the destruction of global environmental systems. European countries, Japan and other rich nations are overpopulated for the same reasons.

The crime of the rich nations is that they are not only spending their own resource capital with no thought for the future, they are also using up resources from around the world. We, the people of the richest nations, are sacrificing the resources of the poor countries to sustain our own contemptible wasteful consumerism ... spending as a basis of a sound economy.

We North Americans, although the most wasteful nation on earth, are not the only ones who are exploiting the resources of the poor countries. The Netherlands, for instance, in 1984-86, imported almost 4 million tons of cereals, 130,000 tons of oils, and 480,000 tons of pulse crops, such as peas, beans and lentils. Not only did they import vast quantities for their own consumption, they took some of the relatively inexpensive imports and used them to boost their production of expensive exports, such as millions of tons of milk and meat.

I don't want to offend the Dutch in any way, but their economy does serve as a good example of one country's dependency upon outside resources. In addition to the imports cited above, the Netherlands is also a major importer of minerals. Most of its fresh water is imported from neighboring countries via the Rhine River. They built their wealth using imported energy.

Then, with the discovery of a large gas field in the northern part of the nation, they were temporarily able to export as gas roughly the equivalent in energy to the petroleum it continued to import. But when the gas fields are exhausted, in about twenty years, Holland will once again depend heavily on the rest of the world for fossil fuels or uranium.

So, saying that the Netherlands is thriving with a density of a thousand-plus people per square mile simply ignores the fact that density per square mile vastly exceeds the carrying capacity of that square mile. This carrying-capacity definition of overpopulation is the one I use in this book. By that definition, for now and the foreseeable future, both Africa and the United States are presently overpopulated and will probably become even more so.

Rich country's concerns about population problems generally focus on the rapid population growth in the poor nations. But the impact of humanity on Earth's life support systems is not just determined by the number of people on the planet, it also depends on how those people behave. When this is considered, an entirely different picture emerges: the main population problem is in wealthy countries. There are, in fact, too many rich people. The relatively small population of rich people accounts for roughly two-thirds of global environmental destruction, as measured by energy use. From this perspective, the most important population problem is overpopulation in the industrialized nations.

The amount of resources each person consumes, and the damage done by the technologies used to supply them, needs to be taken into account as much as the size of the population. In theory, those three factors should be multiplied together to obtain an accurate measurement of the impact on the planet. Unhappily, governments do not keep statistics that allow the consumption and technology factors to be readily measured—so scientists substitute per capita energy consumption to give a measure of the effect each person has on the environment.

In the traditional societies of the past—which were more or less in balance with their environments—the damage they caused was largely self-repairing. Wood, which was cut for fires or structures, re-grew and again took up its job of soaking up the carbon dioxide produced when it was burned or harvested. The small amounts of water which was extracted from streams was replaced by rainfall. Soils of the fields were regenerated with the help of crop residues and animal manures. Wastes were broken down and reconverted into nutrients by the decomposition organisms of natural ecosystems.

At the other end of the spectrum we have the modern world which is totally out of balance with environments capability of sustaining and repairing. Paving over fields and forests with concrete and asphalt; mining coal and iron for the production of steel with its associated land degradation; and building and operating automobiles, trains and aircraft that spew pollutants into the atmosphere, are all energy-intensive processes. So are drilling for and transporting oil and gas, producing plastics, manufacturing chemicals (from DDT and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers to chlorofluorocarbons and laundry detergents) and building power plants and dams.

Industrialized agriculture also uses enormous amounts of energy for plowing, planting, fertilizing and pest control as well as for harvesting, processing, shipping, packing, storing and selling foods. So does industrialized forestry for timber and paper production.

The United States poses the most serious threat of all nations to human life support systems. It has a gigantic population, the third largest on earth, more than a quarter of a billion people. Americans are super-consumers, and use inefficient technologies to feed their appetites. Each, on average, uses 11 kW of energy, twice as much as the average Japanese, more than three times as much as the average Spaniard, and over 100 times as much as an average Bangladeshi.

Clearly, achieving an average family size of 1.5 children in the United States (which would still be larger than the 1.3 child average in Spain) would benefit the world much more than a similar success in Bangladesh.

A great change in our stewardship of the earth, and the life on it, is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably damaged. A new ethic is required—a new attitude toward our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize the earth's limited capacity to provide for us as well as its fragility.

There is less fertile cropland per person in 2004 than in 1994 because some of Earth's best farmland is being paved over. There is less agricultural soil per person in 2004 than in 1994 because about a quarter of the world's topsoil has been lost since World War II. There is less rice and wheat grown per person in 2004 than in 1994 and rice and wheat are the two most important grain crops consumed by people.

As to population growth control, we tend to pontificate about the need for the third world countries to take responsibility for their actions. "They must learn to control their lust and stop breeding like rabbits."

Every year nearly eighty million unintended pregnancies occur worldwide, and more than half of these pregnancies end in abortion. An estimated 150 million women in developing countries say they would prefer to plan their families but are not using contraception, and another 350 million women lack access to effective family planning methods.

Worldwide, female sterilization is the most common contraceptive method, with nineteen percent of couples of reproductive age using it. The next most often used methods are the intrauterine device, used by 13 percent of couples; the contraceptive pill, eight percent; and traditional methods, eight percent. Vasectomy and condoms are the only modern male methods currently available and are the least used, at just four percent each worldwide

In many parts of the world, marriage grants the men the right of unconditional sexual access to their wives and the power to enforce this access by force if necessary. Women are often powerless to refuse unwanted sex or to use contraception and thus are at high risk of unwanted pregnancies.

Many women are afraid to raise the issue of contraception for fear that their partners might respond violently. In some cultures husbands may react negatively because they think that protection against pregnancy would encourage their wives to be unfaithful. In countries where having many children is a sign of virility, a husband may interpret his wife's desire to use family planning as an affront to his masculinity.

If every family were dependent only on its own resources and if the children of careless parents starved to death and excessive breeding caused its own correction then there would be no public concern about controlling excessive family breeding. But since our society is concerned about public welfare and morality it is therefore confronted with another aspect of the tragedy of the commons.

Appealing to the conscience of individuals to control their breeding urges will never work. As a matter of fact, it is likely to have unwanted repercussions. Those that respond will produce fewer children. Those who don't will continue to over produce and will consequently end up being a larger and larger percentage of the population, thereby exacerbating the problem.
Freedom to breed may ultimately bring ruin to all. But regulation by law is highly unpopular and difficult to enforce. The world can not support an infinite population. It's a conundrum to say the least because we have already passed the estimated long-term carrying capacity of the earth, which has been optimistically estimated at two billion people.

To be continued next time…

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Thank you…Have a warm day…


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