Harry Lerwill

The 1st Diner Convocation IV

Off the keyboard of Haniel

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on March 26, 2014

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“I don’t want to live in a mushroom, mum!”

My first attempt to broach the subject of a Monolithic dome with the family did not go down as I expected.  A few months of studying the safety, energy saving features, and long-term value of domes seemed to be in danger of falling at the first hurdle – family buy-in.

Growing up in the UK, I have not taken to stick and mud housing nearly as well as those born on this side of the pond.  To me, they don’t seem to be built to last.  I lived in homes that had seen multiple generations before Columbus set sail, with walls of stone two feet thick, so I there’s something I find impermanent about wood.  Quarrying seems expensive and unreinforced masonry a death trap in an earthquake area, so ferroconcrete domes seemed a good middle ground.

The wife jokingly promised that she’d make me dress up as a garden gnome and make me sit on top of it to entertain the kids, and the subject was dropped from family discussion, but the dream never died.

Fast forward a decade and my continuing interest in resource depletion and mitigating strategies, as well as a desire to have more control over my food supply, harkening back to the days of growing our own food as I grew up, lead me to the Doomstead Diner.  There I found a lively discussion on community owned doomsteads, with a level of attention to detail that I found rare in the “peak oil” community.  My first encounter with the topic was though the LATOC website, and I quickly read up the limited available literature, joining the forums and becoming familiar with both the facts, and the mythologies of the movement.

After a few weeks the topic of Domes came up in a discussion with another diner, Eddie.  Like him, I saw the value in embedding energy into a structure now, which would serve as shelter for centuries and centuries to come.

Storm Shelter Survives EF-5 TornadoAt the same time, the news that summer from the mid west was not good, as yet again they suffered a “record” tornado season.  Records only last a year or two these days.  A few images did stand out to me and the wife: a few news reports of domes surviving when all around them was reduced to toothpicks.

Having never worked in construction, I find the idea of building a dome home daunting and not the sort of project I want to take on by myself.  My first thought was my brother-in-law, who is a certified concrete inspector in California, and certainly had the foreknowledge to be a valuable asset to such an endeavor.  Sadly, he’s content being a stay-at-home dad and not looking to reenter the workforce, so declined my offer to take him along.

As luck would have it, another friend who is also interested in resource depletion and developing resilient responses to the challenges also expressed an interest.  While he does not have the concrete experience, he has significant family resources in the polyurethane foam industry, sufficient for him to attend with us armed with the questions that will get us the most value out of the course.

For quite a few months talk had centered on holding convocation, where members of the community could meet in real life, get to know the people behind the online personas; some of us are open books, others have a lower online presence than people in the witness protection program.  With a couple of us attending the course, and a proposal on the table for a SUN dome building business as a way of kickstarting a community owned venture, the pieces fell into place and now we have five attending the course, plus others attending the convocation.

Will this convocation give birth to a viable dome-building business?  Only time will tell.  I already have interest in a couple of “grow dome” projects here in California, but the bulk of the potential clients lie in the Midwest, where tornado season will be starting up soon.  Many eyes are watching the extreme weather, hoping and praying that 97% of climate scientists are wrong, that this year will not be the logical progression of the last decade.

If those climate scientists are right, we’re in for a very rough ride these next few decades.  Some think it’s game over for humanity, but I don’t subscribe to that point of view.   I’m of the opinion that we’ll lose 50% or more of the planet’s overpopulation in my remaining lifetime, with similar reduction during the next couple of generations.  I plan for me and those I call family to be among the survivors, and a resilient living arrangement is part of that plan.

They say an Englishman’s home is his castle, but I’m Welsh, not English.  The English built their castles, for the most part, to keep us out.  A dome home is the modern incarnation of the castle.  That’s a much more appealing image than a mushroom.  The kids like the idea this time around. 

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/80/North_Wales_Caernarfon_Castle.jpg

 

Yellow Pages and Doom – an Odd Combination?

Off the keyboard of Harry Lerwill

Published on the Doomstead Diner on July 11, 2013

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Peak oil and local search may seem a strange combination but it is one that is very much on my mind as an individual working in the Yellow Pages industry, in what may be the twilight of the industrial age.

Everyone knows what Yellow Pages are, that large book that is dropped on the doorstep once or more a year.  A lot of people do not realize that there are many Yellow Pages, the epoch of lumbering dinosaurs owned by the telephone company are well in the past.  The market now dominated by the leaner, more nimble and responsive independent publishers; competition bringing costs down and greater choices for everyone.

What many do not realize is how sustainable the Yellow Pages industry has become in the twenty first century. More trees were cut down to support the infrastructure needed to allow me to write this post than went into the seven billion pages of advertising we printed last year.  In fact, we print the Yellow Pages on paper that is made entirely from recycled materials and waste from the lumber industry.

In a sector that is moving from the relatively low energy modality of print, to one that requires the modern infrastructure of internet and mobile, how will businesses change if the energy available to society significantly changes?  How will buying patterns change when oil prices spike again?  What will $5.00 a gallon gas do to the way people shop?

Of course, it’s possible that humanity may find a solution to the increasing scarcity of oil.  It won’t be biofuels, tar sands, solar or wind power; in fact there is no fuel source we currently know of that can compete with oil and its products.  But who knows, humanity has overcome many challenges in the past and maybe we can keep going onward and upward forever.  I’m not betting on it, though, while the myth of infinite progress may be one of the most prevalent beliefs today, we should remember that the citizens of Rome never believed Rome would fall anytime before the second coming.

So what would local search look like after a century of technological progress?  Perhaps we’ll all have our own personal electronic assistant who knows our tastes and will select the vendors, products and services for us.  Perhaps she will also handle introductions and take care of the mundane details.

On the other hand, if society declines and the cost of energy increases to the point where people are choosing carefully what they use it for, systems will revert to lower energy models.  In such a scenario, the printed book could once again become a dominant player in the marketplace.  Local search will really become local if the cost to ship goods from across the continent becomes excessive. People will be buying local not out of loyalty to the community they live and work in, but out of practicality.

Which way will society go?  As much as I’d like to believe that it is up to us, we may well have passed the threshold beyond which all we can do is hope we have a relatively soft landing.  We’ve climbed a long way in a short number of centuries; I hope we have a long descent rather than a fast crash so that we have time to adjust to a world that would be familiar to our great, great grandparents.

Until then, I enjoy working in the Yellow Pages industry.  If a fast crash happens, I know how valuable the product will be to the community.  With no Google, Bing or NSA archives to go to to get your products shipped from China, the Yellow Pages will be an excellent source of where to go locally for the things you forgot to put into your preps.  I’m sure it won’t be the first time in the hundred years since the first book landed on a doorstep that it becomes a guide for finding the best places to loot.

 

My first short story, “Caravan of hopes” is available in this anthology edited By John Michael Greer.

[amazon asin=B00A323CPU&template=image&chan=default]

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