Infrastructure

Responding to Collapse, Part 10: the future of the power grid

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Published on The Easiest Person to Fool on July 17, 2019

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In this series of posts I've been advising my readers that moving to a small town remote from large population centres, in an area that can supply the basic necessities of water, food and firewood, is a prudent way of coping with the ongoing collapse of BAU (Business as Usual). With the caveat that some advance preparation will be needed to ensure successful use of those resources.

 

 

In the next few posts in this series, we'll look at some of the details of how BAU will collapse and how you can prepare to weather that collapse. In the immediate future infrastructure breakdowns will get more frequent and longer until finally it's no longer practical to rely on BAU for the necessities of life. It seems to me that supplies of electrical power, diesel fuel and money will be at the heart of many of the troubles that lie ahead, so I'll concentrate on those areas.

And while I'll mainly be talking about infrastructure breakdowns we should remember that interruptions of service can occur for a couple of other reasons.

The first has to do with the way our economy is organized and how we choose to provide vital services such as power, water, sewers, housing, food, communications, transportation, education, health care and so forth.

Today most of the world's nations are capitalistic, with a distinct neo-liberal flavour. Under such conditions, companies are operated to make a profit and other goals, such as the public good, are strictly secondary. So when a "for profit" company finds its business becoming less profitable they must find ways to increase their charges or to supply less for the same fees or to quit supplying customers in less profitable areas altogether. And if they don't do those things they will either be bought out by companies that will, or they'll suffer bankruptcy. If there doesn't appear to be much chance that another company could make a good profit in the same business then it will never be reestablished. And if the public was relying on that company to provide vital services, then we are just out of luck.

Of course there are other ways of organizing an economy, and in particular other ways of setting up companies to provide infrastructure services. But the argument is often made that for profit companies operating in a free market are more efficient. I would question if there has ever been any such thing as a free market, and whether it would function as predicted in any case. Efficiency in this case is defined as the amount of return on share holders' investments, and has nothing to do with providing a high quality and reliable service to your customers.

But perhaps we should set all that aside in order to focus on the really critical thing, which is the difference between the way such companies work in growing economies versus contracting economies. In a growing economy it is relatively easy to make a profit and do so while supplying a service for the public good. But when the economy begins to contract that becomes more and more difficult for "for profit" companies.

Governments can set up non-profit organizations whose primary goal is to provide services for the public good and they are likely to last longer in a contracting economy. In my experience, contrary to typical capitalist propaganda, they can also be quite efficient. But as the economy contracts so will tax revenues and eventually governments will have to cut back on the services they provide. With good planning though, they can do this in a controlled manner with lots of advanced warning, and give people time to adapt to the situation.

As the economy gets even weaker, co-operatives organized by the people who need the services hold considerable promise. I'll have more to say about this over the next few posts.

The second thing is that if you rely on BAU to make a living, you will find that your own economic circumstances are declining. When you can no longer afford the services you have come to rely on, you'll have find ways to provide them for yourself, and in the process learn how to get by with less, like it or not.

I can consume along with the best of them, and there are certainly all kinds of things that it would be useful to have as we try to become more self reliant. But don't worry too much if you can't afford some of the shiny toys I'll be mentioning in future posts. As well trained consumers we may feel that buying things must be the solution to the problems that face us, but it isn't. Actually, there is no solution to the fix the world is in at the moment, and the best we can do is adapt to the changing conditions. Part of that is learning to get by while consuming less. This is hard for me and I'll bet it's hard for you too. That's why I talked first about preparing by become part of your new community (in posts 7 and 8 of this series), rather that the less important preparations that involve accumulating "stuff".

Back 2012, when I started this blog, the authorities recommended that you be prepared to weather emergencies lasting for as long as three days (72 hours). They were basically saying, "don't rely on us to be there immediately—it may take as long as 72 hours before help arrives." In the meantime, this has been changed to two weeks in some areas. Is emergency response capability declining, or are they expecting more lengthy and severe emergencies? I suspect both. Of course serious "preppers" are laughing at this—they'd recommend that you have supplies on hand for a year or two. I don't disagree, but you have to start somewhere. And as collapse deepens those longer intervals to prepare for will come to seem more reasonable.


Power Outages

Power outages will probably be the most frequent infrastructure failure you'll have to cope with. Short outages have relatively minor impacts, but because electricity is at the heart of so much that goes on in modern civilization, as outages stretch out they start to effect more and more things.

Eventually, it seems very likely that the power grid in many, if not most, areas will cease to function. I encounter two different responses to this idea. Many people cannot conceive that their 24 hour a day, essentially infinite supply of power could every come to an end. Others are fixated on the idea of a sudden and hard crash which will bring the whole of industrial civilization to an end, including the power grid.

I'm somewhere in between, holding what I think is a more detailed and nuanced opinion. Most of the rest of this post is going to be spent talking about how the slow decline of the power grid will go, leaving the responses I would recommend for the next post.

Power outages can be as simple as a utility pole getting knocked over during a traffic accident, to as complex as the grid failures that happened in northeastern North America in 1965 and 2003. And to take it even further, EMPs (electromagnetic pulses) from nuclear weapons or coronal mass ejections (solar flares) can do huge damage to electrical girds which may be very hard to recover from. But I think some of the most common and serious problems with the grid will come from three specific areas:

  • The first is equipment failure due to age and/or lack of maintenance, aggravated by overloads such as air conditioning load during summer heat waves. As the economy continues to contract power companies are going to find themselves short of capital and less able to invest in their own systems, leaving those systems more susceptible to failure. /li>
  • The second will be damage due to storms that are growing more frequent and more intense due to climate change—things like high winds, tornados and ice storms in particular. Lengthy outages will happen when there are widespread weather related problems combined with shortages of spare parts and limited manpower to install them. Those latter two problems will come mainly from cash strapped utilities trying to save money.
  • The third is sabotage. The grid is very exposed to a saboteur who knows what he is doing, and because of its geographically diffuse nature, very hard to secure. As collapse intensifies, there will be increased civil unrest—more angry people looking for easy targets that symbolize the establishment. The grid is certainly one such target.

Of course, these concerns apply to the grid as it exists today, using conventional generation. It seems there is going to be a serious attempt to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, primarily solar and wind. Those who are pushing for a "Green New Deal" are telling people that we can use wind and solar to replace fossil fuels, and that in the process more jobs will be created and we'll actually end up more prosperous. This is a very unrealistic dream and just off the top of my head I can think of four serious problems with it:

  1. What solar and wind produce is electricity. But electricity supplies only 18 to 20% of our current energy use. Most of the rest comes directly from coal, oil and natural gas, and those fuels are used in ways that will be difficult, if not outright impossible, to replace with electricity.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The main issue is that a battery is not nearly as effective a way to store energy as a tank of diesel fuel. And there are definite physical limitations on how much better batteries can get— we can probably improve them by a factor of two, but that's about it. Despite what we keep hearing in the news, it simply isn't practical to use batteries to power airplanes or long distance heavy transport by road, rail or sea. The quantity of batteries needed, and the size and weight of those batteries, is the problem.

    There are many industrial processes that use coal or natural gas for heat. Replacing those fuels with electricity may be theoretically possible but we haven't, for the most part, even started to develop ways to do so, much less begun to implement them.

  2. Phasing out fossil fuels would require using renewables to supply much larger quantities of electricity than we are currently using. But there are fundamental problems with using renewables to produce even part of the comparatively small amount of electricity we use now.

    One aspect of running a power grid that the general public is largely unaware of is that generation must be matched exactly to the load. Since load is something the grid operator cannot control to any great extent, generation that is "dispatchable"—that can be turned on and off on demand and ramped up and down as required—is very important. Conventional generation is dispatchable to varying degrees but renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are intermittent and for the most part not under the control of the grid operator—the very opposite of dispatchable. As such, renewables only exacerbate the problems of running a grid, especially given the lack of feasible large scale storage technologies. Yes, I know there are a number of storage technologies available but none of them are economical to use on the scale that would be required for use in a power grid with intermittent renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

    The concept of a "smart grid" which gives greater control of both generation and load offers hope of addressing these problems to some minor degree, but only at the price of adding complexity to the system. And adding complexity never increases reliability.

  3. The immediate reason for switching away from fossil fuels is to reduce the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere in order to combat climate change. But no one seems to be thinking of the carbon footprint of switching away from carbon. The switchover to renewables would be a massive undertaking powered mainly by fossil fuels, and the amount of CO2 being released would greatly increase during that effort.

    Much of this construction effort would also require large quantities of steel and concrete. Making steel and concrete involves the release of CO2, regardless of where the energy comes from—it's inherent to the chemistry of the processes involved.

    So it is by no means obvious that we can get off fossil fuels and onto renewables without creating an even worse climate crisis that the one we are currently facing.

  4. Renewables have a very low EROEI (energy returned on energy invested). A high EROEI is essential to the functioning of a modern industrial economy–money is just accounting, energy is really what makes the economy go. Any country which adds a large quantity of renewables to its energy mix will lower its overall average EROEI, making it more difficult to support a growing economy and a high tech industrial society. So even if we could somehow manage to switch over entirely to renewables, we'd have trouble sustaining a high enough level of technology to maintain and repair solar and wind generation facilities. And replacing them when they wear out would be a real stretch. Switching to renewables is something we might be able to do once, but then we'd be in big trouble.

 

All this is of course based on not having to change our lifestyles, not having to accept a lower level of prosperity and consumption. Indeed one frequently hears people talking about increasing economic growth in order to bring the poor parts of the world up to our level of consumption. It is clear to me that this is not going to happen and that what we really need to do is reduce our levels of consumption down to what can be supported without fossil fuels, using local, sustainable, low tech renewables. It is also clear to me that we will not do this voluntarily, that the majority of our efforts will go into maintaining business as usual regardless of the consequences.

Give all these factors time to work and it will become difficult to continue running the power grid as a whole. Some parts of the gird will simply quit working. Others that have proved unreliable, which place the grid as a whole at risk, will eventually have to be excluded from the grid. These islands will grow until the grid as we know it falls apart.

There will be a few areas where generating equipment will continue to function for a long time and will be able to supply local load. Again, the matching generation and load will be a problem since most such generation comes in large chunks and is a long way from large amounts of load. The most hopeful situations are small hydro (water) powered generators, which can be run at less than full capacity and adjust quickly to match varying loads.

Anyway, it seems clear that we can indeed expect more frequent and longer power outages. But what are the effects of these outages, and what can we do to mitigate them?


The effects of power outages

When the power goes out, you lose the lights, heat, cooling, cooking equipment, refrigeration and so forth in your own home. Even most oil, gas and wood heating systems rely on electricity for control, ignition and circulating fans. Then there are all the services that comes to you from outside your home, that you rely on to just work, but which need electricity to do that.

In general, the most critical services run off batteries which are kept fully charged as long as the power is on. When the power goes out, these services keep right on running as if nothing had happened, at least until the batteries are discharged. The batteries for the controls in power stations are rated for eight hours. The batteries in cell phone towers are rated for two to four hours.

Everything I'm finding on the internet says that the central switching stations for land line telephone service should keep working even during long power outages, which implies both batteries and backup generators. I have some doubts about this, and I'll be keeping an eye out for more detailed information.

Many slightly less critical services have generators that start automatically with only a brief interruption when the power goes out and run as long as there is fuel (usually diesel fuel) in the tank. If arrangements have been made to refill that tank, then this can go on for quite a long time.

Even less critical services than these can have a portable generator hooked up to them if need be. This would include facilities operating on battery power, if the power is off so long that the batteries need to be recharged.

Most service stations don't have backup power so you likely won't be able to get fuel (gasoline, diesel, propane) while the power is off. During long outages the many supply chains that are powered by gasoline and/or diesel fuel will be in trouble.

Natural gas pipelines have to be pressurized to keep to gas flowing through them. Some of the pumps used to do this are powered by natural gas, some by electricity. And I suspect that at least some of the controls for the gas powered pumps are electrical. So your natural gas supply, at least in some areas, will be compromised during electrical outages.

The pumps in municipal water and sewage systems need electrical power too. Some may have backup generators, but not all. If you live on a farm or in a very small town, your toilet is likely gravity feed into a septic system and weeping bed, and will work as long as you have water to flush them. Or perhaps you have already set up a composting toilet which requires no power at all. Your water supply is probably from you own well, with a pump driven by an electric motor that uses 240V AC (if you are in North America). Even if you have a generator, you may need an electrician to help you hook it up to that motor.

Refrigeration of food in grocery stores and pharmaceuticals in pharmacies and hospitals will be jeopardized. Fortunately our local hospital does have a backup generator.

Radio and TV can be important sources of information during emergencies. But you will likely find that only a very few of your local stations are set up to keep broadcasting during power outages.

It would also be great if internet service could continue during power outages. I understand it some areas it does, but we get our internet through the local cable TV company, and even short outages to their facilities knock out our internet connection and our cable TV service, even if the power is still on at our place. Your situation may be different—I hope so.

Oddly, or so it seems to me, most traffic lights aren't backed up in any way and stop working when the power is off.

ATMs won't be working, nor the systems that allows us to pay for things by credit and debit cards. Even if you do have cash in hand, you may find many retail outlets are unable to sell you anything when their cash registers and product code scanners aren't working. Many of them may just lock their doors for the duration of the outage.

Not all of them, though—I was quite impressed during a recent outage when I saw the guy behind the counter at a nearby convenience store beavering away with a cash box, battery operated calculator and a notebook to record sales in. It can be done, but one hopes the prices are marked clearly on items rather than encoded in UPCs. This is an example of an individual (or maybe his manager) taking the situation in hand and keeping things working rather than sitting back and letting them fall apart.

No doubt I am missing many of the potential effects of long power outages, but I think this gives you the flavour of what you'll be facing. Next time I'll talk about how you can mitigate the effects of power outages, both short and long, and what your community can do to cope when it finally finds itself permanently isolated from the grid.


Links to the rest of this series of posts, Preparing for (Responding to) Collapse:

 

This Month in Doom May, 2019

That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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               Anthony Freda             

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on May 27, 2019

 “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

-Joseph Goebbels


It's been a while. So shoot me. Since I posted the last "This Week in Doom" article, I have semi-retired, meaning that I live off "Mailbox money" but answer the phone for assignments. I've discovered the joy of completing long-delayed house projects, and savored the delight of the mid-afternoon nap. Yet sometimes articles bust forth unbidden, with the explosive force of a germinating seed. So here we are, after an unseemly delay.

American Tantrum

May 2019 has been a month in which those of us who have feared that, in Yeats' words, "the center cannot hold" have had their worst fears confirmed. This week, a White House meeting supposed to herald Infrastructure Week became Tantrum Day when President Pud blew up a meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, to announce that there would be no legislation until all these damned investigations went away.

President Trump abruptly ended a meeting with Democratic leaders on Wednesday, saying he was unable to work with them on legislation following comments by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that he was “engaged in a coverup.”…

“Instead of walking in happily to a meeting, I walk in to look at people who said I was doing a coverup,” Trump said, adding that he can’t work on infrastructure “under these circumstances.”

A strategy of open, contempt-filled confrontation with Congressional Democrats seems to be the re-election plan for 2020, as the tantrum shows. Thus the Obstructor-in-Chief sought ratification of all crimes past and future, all aided and abetted by a soft, fluffy and pliant Attorney General in William Barr. Trump reportedly told confidants he "finally" has "my attorney general."

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent makes the case:

Trump’s administration appears to be breaking the law to prevent the release of his tax returns, which every other president in the past 50 years has released. He is successfully leaning on his former White House counsel, Donald McGahn, to defy a congressional subpoena, even though McGahn witnessed alleged extensive obstruction of justice by the president that likely rose to criminality.

The attorney general appointed by this “most transparent president” is refusing to release the full, unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence to Congress, even though that report is to a great extent about that foreign attack on our political system.

Related to that, the White House is claiming that Democrats have no legitimate legislative purpose in seeking those Mueller materials, even though Democrats have clearly articulated just such a purpose: to further safeguard our elections against outside attack.

For their part, congressional Dems are making worried finger-steeples and frowny faces as they dither and fail to reach consensus. Some urge impeachment, while others worry that this will be playing into Pud's hands, since he fully intends to run against the Russian collusion narrative and investigations which he has successfully reframed as "partisan." The Big Lie, repeated enough via serial tweets, amplified by Russian bots and the raging opinion-heads of State TV, may have already reached a tipping point in popular opinion. 

Meanwhile, in flyover country, Trump's base of droolers and miscreants shrieks in delight with every insult offered to non-cult members. "Drain the Swamp," one of the easily-remembered three word chants, obscures the fact that what is getting drained is wallets. A tariff is a tax, and it is US consumers and firms, not China, who are paying it. Trump's tariffs will cost Merikans $500 per household, or $62 billion.  But as long as the wrong people are offended, all's good out here in the land of funnel cakes and neck tattoos.

Trump's ability to brazen his way past law and public opinion is fruit from the poison tree planted by Antonin Scalia, David Arrington and John Yoo. During the Cheney days, this unholy trio articulated the case for the "unitary executive."  Meaning, in effect, "that if the President does it, it can't be illegal." (That sound you hear is Richard Nixon spinning in his grave.) A concept Trump is clearly riding hard. That, coupled with the Roy Cohn approach: "Tell them to go to hell," and "Who's Gonna Stop Me?"

So now we have a serial obstructor of justice claiming executive privilege for every toilet he's squatted on in order to rage-tweet, and claiming the divine right of kings.

So who's gonna stop him?


The world is doomed, according to Paul Ehrlich

No surprise that in a joint called "Doomstead Diner," you'd learn the world is doomed. It seems like yesterday, but it was in 1968 thst Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich and his wife Anne co-wrote The Population Bomb, predicting massive starvation and civilization collapse as a result of over-population. The book, which sold more than 2 million copies and went through 20 reprints by 1971, revisited Malthus' arguments and predicted that “geometric” population growth would overwhelm the "green revolution," leading to wars, famines and societal collapse. 

The “culture wars” of the 1970s subsumed and reconfigured population issues. The Roe decision set ablaze a "pro-life" movement that thought any talk of population reduction anathema. China’s one-child policy, launched around 1980, led to human rights abuses that allowed anti–family planning conservatives to paint all population programs as the work of Satan.The politics of “morning in America” in the 1980s successfully marginalized Erhlich's message.

But his central points remain, even of the time frame was not. Global population has increased at an observably steady clip since 1968, and the United Nations projects that it will reach 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. Scientists continue to extend the warnings that Ehrlich advanced, that efforts to feed a rapidly increasing population via pesticide-intensive monoculture may backfire. We are already seeing soil depletion and the burdens of industrial pesticides on topsoil.

In an recent interview with Inddependent Australia, Ehrlich was asked how he would describe the current state of affairs:

We’re not doing anything significant to divert ourselves from the coming collapse and second not thinking hard about what the consequences of that collapse are going to be for people in rich countries. To say nothing of people in poorer countries who are already suffering. A lot of people are dying in Africa right now because of climate change.

There’s been much literature recently on the disappearance of insects. Butterflies that Anne and I worked on for years are becoming rarer and rarer.The Monarch butterfly is disappearing, lots of the birds are gone.  Some people believe we’ve lost almost half of the wildlife on the planet in the last 40 years and the rest of its going to go very fast.

Ehrlich continued:

 Climate change is going to make for a worsening migration situation raising ethical issues about how many people should be allowed to migrate from where to where and under what circumstances. 

Many scientists think we are well past the tipping point considering our accommodation of the political situation and how much carbon dioxide and methane are in the in atmosphere. 

What is so poignant in reading these discussions is the fact that everything that currently afflicts us has been made clear and abundantly known for the last 50 years. We have known, and voted for clowns who would blunt scientific evidence, change the subject, and offer cheapjack nostrums, Then, as now, the problem is the Gospel of Growth:

Growth mania is the greatest danger. It’s the hardest thing to exterminate because the so-called educated people who meet in Davos at the World Destroyers' meeting every year are absolutely dedicated to growth and more consumerism.

Let's go build another strip mall. Read the complete interview here.


Start planning for catastrophes, new EPA document says

In a story that might resonate if you found yourself in the midwest this week, or California last fall, the government says you're on your own. Earlier this month, The EPA published a 150-page document with a stark message for coping with the fallout from natural disasters across the country: start planning for the fact that climate change is going to make these catastrophes worse.

This language on how to address debris left in the wake of floods, hurricanes and wildfires is at odds with the position of Andrew Wheeler, the EPA’s current leader and a past lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry. Wheeler said in an interview with CBS last month that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”

How such a document emerged from the Trump EPA is truly remarkable, given tis well known hostility toward anything that asserts the climate is changing.

The group has said that of the more than 130 peer-reviewed studies published as part of the annual reviews, about 65 percent have identified the fingerprints of climate change in extreme weather events, while about 35 percent found no clear connection.

“The science has really developed in the last decade, in particular, around the influence of global warming on extreme events,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor and senior fellow at Stanford University who studies the climate system.

For starters, he said, researchers are constantly gathering more data and studying more weather events, so that the observational record has grown over time. Computing power and modeling capabilities have improved. And there also has been an “explosion of research” on the topic, as scientists have developed frameworks for better evaluating the role of climate change in specific events.

The result, he said, is a growing body of research that details how human-caused climate change is contributing to record heat, more-intense storms, more-severe flooding and other events.

The takeaway here is to be prepared, and realize disaster might come to us, and sooner than we think. And remember that when trouble hits, you're on your own.


Short Takes

Here's what happens to 'biodegradable' bags after 3 years in the sea or soil

After 3 years of being buried and submerged, 'biodegradable' and 'compostable' single-use plastic bags could still hold a full load of groceries. Single-use plastic is an oxymoron that is proving disastrous– a material that is used just once, but lasts forever, or close to it.


The US white majority will soon disappear forever

Snapping the Spine of Uncle Cracker: the white share of the U.S. population has been dropping, from a little under 90% in 1950 to 60% in 2018. It will likely drop below 50% in another 25 years. White nationalists want America to be white again. But this will never happen. America is on its way to becoming predominantly nonwhite.

Demography is destiny: births, deaths and immigration. White women have an average of 1.7 children over their lifetimes, while Latina women average 2.2. The total fertility rates of blacks, Asians and American Indians are in between. So whites have fewer births than all nonwhite groups. 

This sheds all the light necessary to display the root causes of the furious opposition to immigration and the well-funded efforts to suppress the vote. There are lies, damned lies, and those who tell you that voting doesn't matter. If you are one of those people, who endlessly compalain about the "k'rupt duopoly," take a richly deserved bow. Non-voters made Trump happen. Remember that politics is almost always the art of half a loaf, and elections aren't Christmas. Grow the fuck up.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere. He lives a quiet domestic existence in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary. Descended from a long line of people to whom one could never tell anything, all opinions are his and his alone, because he paid full retail for everything he has managed to learn.

Responding to Collapse, Part 4: getting out of the city

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Responding to Collapse, Part 4: getting out of the city

 
A cold and windy day on Lake Huron

In my last post I talked about the economic contraction that is being caused by declining surplus energy and the collapse which that contraction, combined with the effects of climate change (covered in the post before that), is likely to cause.

My conclusion was that we will have a good bit of adapting to do and it will be much easier to do in rural areas than in the cities. So I advised that, if you currently live in a city, you should be considering a move to the country. But I didn't go into much detail about this moving and adapting and now I intend to remedy that. I should give credit in advance to my friend Don Hayward for sharing with me his thoughts on the subject, and taking part in many good conversations that have allowed me to clarify my own thoughts. Similar credit is due to "Joe", from the comments section of this blog.

It will no doubt be obvious to my readers that I am figuring this out as I go along. Whether I've got it right is, of course, open to discussion. I also reserve the right to change my mind as I learn more.

In a post some months ago I expressed the opinion that the reduction in our impact on the planet following a major financial crash would be mainly a matter of drastically reduced levels of consumption, particularly in the developed world, and that there would not be a major reduction in population at that point. After considerable reflection, I have to say that especially in large cities, the combination of climate change and supply chain interruption following a global financial crash will lead to greater loss of life than I had previously thought. Of course it is hard to predict, but I think this will lead to an actual reduction in population, perhaps by a few billion people.

I still believe that planetary resources will still be sufficient to fuel some sort of recovery as we rebuild the virtual organizational systems lost in the financial crash on a smaller, more local scale. But if we don't learn to live sustainably, that recovery will see us plowing through the remaining resources and there will be another crash, an agricultural one, mainly effecting the more populous areas and reducing the population to a few hundred million. One thing I am pretty sure of is that the predictions of a world population of 9 to 10 billion later this century are not going to pan out.

I am still expecting a slow and irregular collapse. Even without the localized catastrophes that will no doubt happen, the contracting economy will lead to a slow crumbling of industrial civilization.

But now let's return to our scheduled programming, so to speak. The question for today is what sort of adapting am I talking about and why do I think it will be easier in well chosen rural areas?

For most people the hardest thing about collapse is facing up to the end of progress. Adapting to this big change in how we think about the world, and our lives in it, is challenging. But it can be done, and most of the effort takes place inside your head. So it doesn't much matter where you are for that part of the process. It does help if you have a supportive family and community around you, though of course that is true of anything you try to do.

But once you've decided that life is still worth living, you're faced with the many practical issues of staying alive in a collapsing world.

For most of us, staying alive means taking part in the economy—having a job or collecting a pension or the proceeds of investments, so as to have the money needed to procure the necessities of life. Since the economy is contracting fewer jobs are available and many people are unemployed, or "under employed" at best. Pension and investments are under some stress but not doing so badly, though a financial crash would certainly change that.

At the same time, in many locales, housing is getting more expensive and the ranks of the homeless are swelling with the unemployed and even the working poor, many of whom are living out of their vehicles.

That contracting economy also means that less money is being spent on maintaining infrastructure, which is gradually decaying as time passes. And in an effort to keep the economy growing, regulations intended to protect the environment are being repealed and efforts to cut back on the release of greenhouse gases and reduce climate change are being abandoned.

This means that what were once minor inconveniences will grow into catastrophes. Here is a brief and probably not complete list of such events:

  • The degradation of the natural environment due the load placed on it by the human race, mainly manifesting as climate change, ocean acidification and various other pollution related problems, as well as degradation of the environment due to resource use and habitat destruction.
  • Failures of the physical built human environment, mainly infrastructure— water supplies, the power grid, and transportation and communication infrastructure.
  • Failures of the virtual built human environment—economic contraction, financial crashes, failure of the credit systems which make commercial enterprises possible and have largely replaced cash for individuals, breakdown of governments as economic contraction starves them of financial resources, degradation of the fabric of our communities, social unrest, and war.
  • In some sense food is at the intersection of our natural, built and virtual environments, and as such, we can expect there to be problems in production, processing and distribution of food. These will lead to famines in many cases.
  • It also seems likely that there will be an increase in severe epidemics. I am not as well informed as I'd like to be about this, but it seems that hunger, poor sanitation and crowding in slums and refugee camps will be contributing factors.

So, we are going to find ourselves poorer and adapting to getting by with less. Less energy, less stuff and less stimulation, to borrow a phrase from John Michael Greer. This will mean a significant reduction in our level of comfort and convenience but given the high level of consumption in the developed world, there is quite a bit of room for this sort of adaptation. I think there is good reason to believe that many of us will survive, find a livelihood and maintain a sense of self worth even with drastically reduced consumption of energy and material goods.

When it comes right down to it, the bare necessities are energy, food and water. All three are going to be in short supply as collapse progresses over the next few decades, and those shortages will frequently lead to crises. The term "necessities" implies you can't adapt to such shortages, at least not in the long term. All you can do is try to be where they are less severe.

Cities rely on supplies shipped in from other locations. Before fossil fuels, the largest cities had populations of one million or a little more, and that only in ideal circumstances where water transportation made it possible to bring food in from a large enough surrounding area to feed that many people. Cities today rely on complex infrastructure powered by fossil fuels to supply their inhabitants. They will be in deep trouble as collapse progresses.

On the other hand there are many rural locations where:

  • adequate energy can be had locally in the form of firewood, which can be cut by hand if necessary
  • potable water can be accessed from already existing wells that can be converted to hand or wind driven pumps, or surface water that can be used with fairly simple filtration or treatment
  • sufficient food for the local population can be grown on existing farmland within walking distance of town, without fossil fuel powered machinery
  • the population is small enough that organizing such alternate arrangements will not be impossibly difficult to do when it becomes necessary.

This is the essence of why I think we will have a better time adapting to collapse in rural areas. Yes, it will require some degree of advance preparation and a willingness to accept a less affluent lifestyle, but it is all quite doable. As always, what I am recommending here as a viable response to collapse will only work if relatively few people follow my advice. But somehow, I don't think that will be a problem.

The standard trope in discussions of collapse and in collapse fiction is that the most extreme sort of catastrophe happens very quickly, widely and early in the process of collapse. Things break down pretty much completely over a period of days, and people are left thirsty, hungry and freezing in the dark. The sort of perfect storm it would require to have all this happen at once all across even one city, much less a whole country or continent is pretty unlikely in my opinion, though it does make for exciting stories.

After this fast and drastic collapse it is assumed that there will be roving hordes of hungry people leaving the cities to engage in looting and other violence in the countryside, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. But we should bear in mind that, even in the unlikely event of such a collapse, people can't walk far on empty stomachs, especially when they aren't used to walking much at all. Thirst and hunger are debilitating and in a fast collapse most people, caught unawares and unprepared, would not think to head out until they were already in pretty desperate shape. If this really were to happen, what you would end up with is piles of corpses along the sides of the roads, gradually thinning out as you get farther out of the city.

But of course, that is not the way I see it happening at all. Long before things have broken down completely, economic contraction will leave fewer and fewer people with jobs to keep them in the city. At the same time, infrastructure and supply chain failures will become more frequent and more lengthy, providing the nudge that people need to get them moving. First there will first be a trickle of people leaving the cities, mainly those who left the country to find jobs in the city in the recent past. Later on, there will be a wave of refugees leaving the cities following each new disaster.

While governments still have the wherewithall to do so, many of these people will end up in refugee camps. But as economic contraction eventually starves governments to the point where they simply don't have resources to do much of anything, those camps will stop being serviced and people will be left to their own devices, both in the cities and in the camps. And by the time things have broken down completely, there will only be a few people left in the cities.

The actual facts about how people respond to disasters paints a very different picture from what most people expect. There is a deep human need to come together in crises to take care of each other. And contrary to the horrific picture of typical reactions painted by the "disaster mythology" (especially points 2, 3 and 4 in that article), in fact communities often do come together to help themselves in the most extraordinarily positive ways. This works best in communities where people already know each other and where things haven't broken down to the point where there are hostile factions that are basically at war. And of course, it requires at least a minimum of the resources needed to keep people alive (energy, food, water). These resources are far more likely to be available outside the cities.

It has also been suggested, that when the financial sector crashes, the commercial sector must fall apart too for lack of working credit arrangements, and with catastrophic results. I don't agree—even a worldwide financial collapse will hit some areas harder than others and will proceed, as I have said before, unevenly, unsteadily and unequally.p>

From personal experience in agriculture and the power industry I would predict that the people at the workface in critical industries will simply refuse to set down their tools when the results would be disastrous, just because banks are no longer doing their part. Alternate credit arrangements will be set up, involving handshakes, records kept on paper and promises to straighten it all out after the dust settles, rather than let people freeze and starve in the dark if there is any alternative at all.

Make no mistake, I don't mean to suggest that "Business as Usual" can continue on after a major financial collapse using jerry rigged credit arrangements. But there is a vast distance between BAU in all its glory and complete collapse where everything quits working. There is a lot of inertia in the systems which we most need to keep working: the power grid, industrial agriculture, the various systems by which fuels, especially diesel fuel, are distributed, and transportation and communication. This sort of thing will mitigate to a degree situations that would otherwise be thoroughly catastrophic.

So, anyway, you're going to move to the country, to position yourself where surviving collapse is the more doable.

The first thing to decide is when you should make this move. Many people, who live in sheltered circumstances, don't realize that collapse has already been happening for quite a while and that parts of many cities are already nicely along their way in the process of collapse. And it appears that we are in for another financial crash that will make things much worse. You want to leave well before your personal resources have become so depleted that you can't make the move successfully.

So this is more urgent than you might think. Still, I'm not suggesting you leave in a panic today. But do start preparing right away, and leave as soon as you can do so in an orderly fashion with a workable destination already arranged. You don't want to end up in one of those camps. Nor do you want to end up as one of a large wave of refugees arriving in a rural community, especially if that community is unprepared for you arrival, as will likely be the case.

This is more than just a matter of getting out of the cities before things get really miserable there. It's going to take some time to get set up where you are going and to become integrated into your new community. At the moment, people are still leaving small rural towns to find work in the city, but the day will come when that flow reverses. You want to be seen as a relatively old hand in your small town when that happens.

One of the challenges of the slow and uneven collapse that I am predicting, and which has indeed been going on for several decades now, is that there is never going to be a day when you can say at bedtime, "yep, industrial civilization collapsed today." Looking back years later it will be more obvious that collapse has been happening, but still hard to pin down a specific date for when it happened, even in any one location.

If you are at ground zero for one of those catastrophes I listed, there will usually be somewhere else where things are better and you can go as a refugee. But waiting to be a refugee, or worse yet a victim of catastrophe, is exactly what I recommend you don't do. As I have said before, the only real choice you have is to be part of the influx of refugees or to be among of those who are welcoming that influx. I would say that the latter role is very much preferable. A timely move, before things get serious, can put you on the right side of things.

But where to go? In the second post in this series I identified a number of criteria for selecting a new location, based on avoiding the worst effects of climate change:

  • well above sea level
  • not at the top of a bluff overlooking the sea that is being gradually eroded away
  • not situated so as to take the full brunt of tropical storms
  • not in the floodplain of a river
  • not in a desert or semi-desert that relies on water from fossil aquifers that are being depleted faster than they are replenished or rivers fed by melt water from disappearing glaciers
  • not subject to hot season temperatures or heat waves that are not survivable if the power goes out or you can't afford air conditioning
  • receiving enough rain to allow for agriculture largely without irrigation
  • with a growing season and soil that will support agriculture

Now based on the need to get out of the city and find a location where adapting to post-industrial collapse conditions will be easier, we can add a few more criteria:

  • far enough from the city to avoid the worst of what's going to happen there and so that the waves of refugees will be largely spent and small in number when they arrive at your location, and to be isolated from epidemics as well
  • in a small town (a few hundred to a few thousand people) or on a farm near such a town
  • where the surrounding agricultural area can support the local population using low tech, sustainable agricultural methods
  • where there is still some standing timber, mainly for firewood, but also for all the many other things that can be done with wood
  • where the ground water or surface water is potable or can be made that way with simple filtration
  • where you have connections in the community, or where you can make those connections with some work hard
  • where you can initially earn a living or set up to live off your savings/investments/pension

There are a few things that such a community needs to be prepared to do and you should work toward being in a position to encourage that preparation. At some point the trucks are going to stop running. You'll need to get by on local resources.

  • Many small towns have a water treatment plant that relies on chemicals that are shipped in on a "just in time" basis. A stockpile of those chemicals and/or a plan for moving to an alternate source of potable water will be critical.
  • You will need a plan to feed the populace when the grocery store shelves are empty, using local farm products, so that people don't panic and start helping themselves to, and in the process destroying, the stock and crops on local farms.
  • It will only be a matter of time until your connection to the power grid fails. Firewood, wood burning stoves, lanterns and so forth will be in short supply and you'll want to be prepared.
  • While perhaps not quite so urgent, some thought should be given to how welcome refugees. This is on humanitarian grounds, if nothing else. A community that is willing to drive refugees away at gun point, will eventually be willing to treat its own member just as harshly. Your remote location should ensure you won't be overrun, that a manageable number of refugees show up. Your aim should be to treat these folks as well as you treat yourselves and, without abusing them, to turn them into a resource rather than a burden. You will be switching over to a lifestyle where people are needed to replace automation, so that shouldn't be too hard.

It would be excellent if the existing authorities were aware of what's coming and had plans to deal with it, but I should think that is pretty unlikely in most small towns. Better to get to know some of the locals, particularly farmers, well enough to be able to get together with them and organize what's needed when the time comes. If you set a good enough example, others will follow.

More on that, and other practical considerations, next time.

 

Dead Nation Walking

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Brosnan to narrate Thomas the Tank Engine
 
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation May 18, 2015
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Many people seem to think that America has lost its sense of purpose. They overlook the obvious: that we are striving to become the Bulgaria of the western hemisphere. At least we already have enough vampires to qualify.

You don’t have to seek further than the USA’s sub-soviet-quality passenger railroad system, which produced the spectacular Philadelphia derailment last week that killed eight people and injured dozens more. Six days later, we’re still waiting for some explanation as to why the train was going 100 miles-per-hour on a historically dangerous curve within the city limits.

The otherwise excellent David Stockman posted a misguided blog last week that contained all the boilerplate arguments denouncing passenger rail: that it’s addicted to government subsidies and that a “free market” would put it out of its misery because Americans prefer to drive and fly from one place to another.

One reason Americans prefer to drive — say, from Albany, NY, to Boston — is that there is only one train a day, it never leaves on time or arrives on time, and it takes twice as long as a car trip for no reason that makes any sense. Of course, this is exactly the kind of journey ( slightly less than 200 miles) that doesn’t make sense to fly, either, given all the dreary business of getting to-and-from the airports, not to mention the expense of a short-hop plane ticket.

I take the popular (and gorgeous!) Hudson River Amtrak train between Albany and New York several times a year because bringing a car into Manhattan is an enormous pain in the ass. This train may have the highest ridership in the country, but it’s still a Third World experience. The heat or the AC is often out of whack, you can’t buy so much as a bottle of water on the train, the windows are gunked-over, and the seats are often broken. They put wifi on trains a couple of years ago but it cuts out every ten minutes.

Anyway, even if Americans seem to prefer for the present moment to drive or fly, it may not always be the case that they will be able to. Several surprising forces are gathering to take down the Happy Motoring matrix. Peak oil is actually not playing out in the form of too-high gasoline prices, but rather a race between a bankrupt middle class unable to pay the total costs of motoring and an oil industry that can’t make a profit drilling for hard-to-get oil. That scenario is plain to see in the rapid rise and now fall of shale oil.

Nowhere on earth is there passenger rail that pays for itself. But, of course, you don’t hear anyone complain about the public subsidies for driving or air travel. Who do you think pays for the interstate highway system? What major airport is privately owned and operated?

Some of the decisions made over our rail system are so dumb you wonder how the executives on board ever got their jobs. For instance the train between New York City and Chicago never runs on time for the simple reason that Amtrak sold the right-of-way to the CSX freight line. CSX then tore up the second track because there was an antiquated state real estate tax on railroad tracks. As a result, freight trains have priority on the single track and the passenger trains have to pull over on sidings every time a freight needs to go by. Earth calling the New York state legislature. Rescind the stupid tax.

America is going to need trains more than it thinks right now, despite what the “free market” says. The condition of our trains is symptomatic of the shape of the nation. The really sad part is we missed the window of opportunity to build a high-speed system. Capital will soon be too scarce for that. But we still have a conventional network that not so many decades ago was the envy of the world, and we know exactly how to fix it. We just don’t want to. No will left. Apparently we’d rather just turn into the walking dead.

 

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Bomb Iran? Not now: bomb Yemen

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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People walk past a car damaged by an airstrike in Sanaa April 8, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

People walk past a car damaged by an airstrike in Sanaa April 8, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Originally published in RT on April 9, 2015


‘Operation Decisive Storm’ – the Pentagon-style House of Saud glorifying of its ghastly ‘Bomb Yemen’ show – could be summed up in a single paragraph.

The wealthiest Arab nation – the House of Saud petro-hacienda – supported by other GCC petro-rackets and also the wealthy “West”, has launched an – illegal – bombing/war/kinetic operation against the poorest Arab nation in the name of “democracy.”

And this absurdity is just the beginning.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, the innocuous as a stale cannoli Federica Mogherini, seems to be mildly alarmed. She remarked that Saudi bombing of hospitals and “deliberate targeting and destruction of private homes, education facilities and basic infrastructure cannot be tolerated.”

Well, the EU tolerates exactly the same thing in Donbass perpetrated by Kiev’s goons – so nothing will come out La Mogherini’s feigned outrage.

The Red Cross and the Russian Federation, for their part, at least are demanding a temporary ceasefire to allow for humanitarian relief. Humanitarian relief is incompatible with the House of Saud’s bloodline. So after two weeks of Saudi ‘Shock and Awe’, the current toll of at least 560 Yemeni civilians dead (and counting), and 1700 wounded – dozens of them children – is bound to increase.

Bab-el-Mandeb me, baby

Bomb Iran? Not now; the new normal is bomb Yemen. But still bomb Iran might be back in a flash. Pentagon supremo Ash Carter confirmed last week “all options are on the table” even if an Iran-P5+1 nuclear deal is finally reached in June. So, for the record, the Pentagon is affirming nuclear negotiations are just white noise unable to deter the tantalizing prospect of yet another nice little Middle East war.

Needless to add, the so civilized ‘West’ didn’t even flinch when “our bastards” the House of Saud invaded and started shockin’ an’awin’ dirt-poor Yemen. No UN Security Council resolution. Not even a mandate from the totally discredited Arab League. Who cares? After all the ‘Empire of Chaos’ has done the same over and over again with total impunity.

Much hysteria has been raging on whether the Houthis are about to take control of the Bab-el-Mandeb – one of the key strategic global energy chokepoints along with the Straits of Hormuz, and as crucial as the Suez Canal. Nonsense. Whatever the House of Saud does, the not so hidden ‘Empire of Chaos’ agenda is never to lose control of the Bab-el-Mandeb, the Gulf of Aden, and the Socotra Islands.

A man reacts as he inspects the damage of a building caused by an air strike in Sanaa April 8, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

A man reacts as he inspects the damage of a building caused by an air strike in Sanaa April 8, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

This is part of what we could dub ‘Chokepointistan’; wars taking place near or around energy bottlenecks, and always narrated in Global War on Terror (GWOT) deceitful terminology. US Think Tankland is more straightforward, carefully following US naval deployments. That’s what this is all about; an Orwellian “freedom of navigation” masquerading a hardcore strategy of shutting out the geopolitical enemy – be it Iran, Russia, China or all of the above.

‘Chokepointistan’ is all over the place: just watch the war or pre-positioning action in the Bab-el-Mandeb (with spillover effects from Yemen to Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti); the Straits of Hormuz (all about Iran); but also the strait of Malacca (all about China), Panama (about Venezuela), the coming Nicaragua canal (about China), the Korean Strait, the Taiwan Strait, the Kuril Islands, and last but not least the Baltic Sea.

A Grand Armada Run Amok

Saudi intel knows the Houthis can’t possibly control the Bab-el-Mandeb – not to mention Washington would never allow it. What freaks the Saudis out is that the Houthi rebellion in Yemen – supported by Tehran – may encourage bright rebellion ideas among the Shi’ite majority in the eastern provinces in Saudi Arabia, where most of the oil is.

And this where the Saudi excuse for war interfaces with the empire’s paranoia of preventing Iran, Russia and/or China from establishing a possible strategic presence in Yemen, at the Bab-el-Mandeb, overlooking the Gulf of Aden.

So we have once again Pentagon supremo Carter insisting, “The United States supports Arab plans to create a unified military force to counter growing security threats in the Middle East, and the Pentagon will cooperate with it where US and Arab interests coincide.” Translation: we gave the green light for our bastards to maintain “stability” in the Middle East.

Yet there’s a spanner in the works; the possible Washington-Tehran rapprochement, assuming a nuclear deal is reached. For the self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” Obama administration, the nuclear deal will be their only foreign policy success. Moreover, without Tehran there’s no meaningful fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in “Syraq”.

None of this mollifies the cosmically paranoid Saudis, who assembled in a flash a Grand Armada Run Amok (GARA) – 100 jet fighters, 150,000 soldiers – respectfully described by US Think Tankland as a “coalition” of 10 countries. Without even blinking at UN norms, the Saudis instantly declared the whole of Yemen as a no-fly zone.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif addresses during a joint statement with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (L) in Lausanne April 2, 2015. (Reuters/Ruben Sprich)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif addresses during a joint statement with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (L) in Lausanne April 2, 2015. (Reuters/Ruben Sprich)

And along with routine bombing of residential complexes, the al-Mazraq camp for the internally displaced in Hajjah, a dairy factory near Hodeida, and other instances, came, what else, hardcore internal Saudi repression, via a crackdown with tanks and indiscriminate shooting in Awamiyah, in the eastern provinces; Shi’ites there can’t even think of organizing protests against the bloodbath in Yemen.

In a nutshell, this is the immensely wealthy, corrupt, medieval Saudi regime busy at war against their own people. The usual hard-line Wahhabi imams are busy working up anti-Shi’ite and anti-Iranian fever everywhere; these are all “apostates” under the takfir doctrine, and Iranians are lowly “Safawis” – a quite pejorative reference to the 16th century Safavid dynasty. It’s crucial to remember that Islamic State treats Shi’tes and Iranians the exact same way. But forget about any of this being reported by Western corporate media.

The General and the Sheikh

The House of Saud insists it wants to reinstall the government-in-exile of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. Or, as Saudi Ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir glowingly put it, “protect the legitimate government of the country.”

Royally paid Saudi lobby hagiographers are once again frantically spinning the Sunni versus Shi’ite sectarian narrative – which totally ignores the mind-boggling tribal/class complexity of Yemeni society. In a nutshell, this laughable Saudi defense of democracy is paving the way for a ground war; a long, bloody and horribly expensive ground war.

And it gets, as expected, even more absurd. Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was recently asked during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing whether he knew of “any major Arab ally that embraces ISIL.” His response: “I know major Arab allies who fund them.”

Translation: the US government not only does not sanction or punish these “allies” (the real fun is to sanction Russia) but showers with logistical and “non-lethal” support the “coalition” that is arguably fighting the same Islamic State they are funding. No one is making this up; this is how the endless war on terra remains the gift that keeps on giving.

It gets even curioser and curioser when we have Dempsey on the same page of Hezbollah’s Sheikh Nasrallah. In this crucial speech, Sheikh Nasrallah offers the most extensive and precise account of the origins and ideology of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. And here he expands on Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

So what we have is the ‘Empire of Chaos’ ‘leading from behind’ in the war on Yemen and also de facto ‘leading from behind’ in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh; the ones doing the heavy lifting are Iraqi militias supported by Tehran. The hidden agenda is always – what else –chaos; be it across “Syraq” or inside Yemen. With an extra bonus; while Washington is engaged on striking a nuclear deal with Tehran, it also turbo-charges an alliance against Tehran using the House of Saud.

Vietnam in the desert

The House of Saud badly wants Pakistan to take no prisoners, supplying bomber jets, ships and lots of ground troops for their war. Riyadh treats Islamabad as a vassal state. A joint session of the Pakistani Parliament will decide what to do.

It’s quite revealing to learn what happened when Pakistan’s most popular private TV channel assembled representatives of all major political parties to explain where they stand. Soon they reached a consensus; Pakistan should be neutral; act as mediator; and commit no troops, unless there was a “tangible threat” to the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, which is far from the case.

The House of Saud remains on overdrive, showering tons of cash over Salafi and Deobandi preachers to bullhorn their war; that includes a delegation of ulema visiting Riyadh. Support has already duly poured from Pakistan-based hardcore groups that trained with al-Qaeda and fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan; after all they are all funded by Wahhabi fanatics.

Followers of the Houthi movement attend a protest against the Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa April 5, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Followers of the Houthi movement attend a protest against the Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa April 5, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Meanwhile, in the front lines, a real game-changer may be ahead, with the Houthis already firing missiles across the border at Saudi oil installations. Then all bets are off – and the possibility that long-range missiles have been pre-positioned becomes quite credible.

That scenario would mean a foreign intel agency luring the House of Saud into its own Vietnam quagmire in Yemen, setting them up for a barrage of missiles hitting their pumping stations and oil fields, with catastrophic consequences for the global economy. It’s crucial to remember that the Grand Armada Run Amok (GARA) assembled by Riyadh happens to account for no less than 32% of global oil production. This cannot possibly end well.

Everyone in Yemen has an AK-47, not to mention RPGs and hand grenades. The terrain is guerrilla heaven. History spells out at least 2,000 years of hardened tribes fighting foreign invaders. Most Yemenis hate the House of Saud with a vengeance; a majority follows what the Houthis announced in late February, that the House of Saud and the US were planning to devastate Yemen.

The Houthi rebellion includes both Sunnis and Shi’ites – thus totally debunking the Saudi narrative. When they captured the Yemeni National Security Bureau, which was basically a CIA station, the Houthis found a wealth of secret documents that “compromised” Washington’s Yemeni chapter of the war on terra. As for the Saudi Army, it’s a joke. Besides, it employs a huge contingent of – you guessed it – Yemeni soldiers.

“Operation Decisive Storm” – yet another Pentagon-style illegal war – has already plunged Yemen into the twin plagues of civil war and humanitarian disaster. The remains of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and most of all ISIS/ISIL/Daesh (who hate the Houthis and all Shi’ites with a vengeance) couldn’t be happier. The ‘Empire of Chaos’ couldn’t give a damn; the more widespread the chaos, the better for the Pentagon-defined Long War (on terra).

Over five years ago I wrote that Yemen is the new Waziristan. Now it’s also heading towards the new Somalia. And soon it may become the House of Saud’s Vietnam.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Year of the Sheep, Century of the Dragon?

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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New Silk Roads and the Chinese Vision of a Brave New (Trade) World…

Majority Of Flights In Eastern China Delayed By Red Alert

Published in Asia Times on February 22, 2015
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

BEIJING — Seen from the Chinese capital as the Year of the Sheep starts, the malaise affecting the West seems like a mirage in a galaxy far, far away. On the other hand, the China that surrounds you looks all too solid and nothing like the embattled nation you hear about in the Western media, with its falling industrial figures, its real estate bubble, and its looming environmental disasters. Prophecies of doom notwithstanding, as the dogs of austerity and war bark madly in the distance, the Chinese caravan passes by in what President Xi Jinping calls “new normal” mode.

“Slower” economic activity still means a staggeringly impressive annual growth rate of 7% in what is now the globe’s leading economy. Internally, an immensely complex economic restructuring is underway as consumption overtakes investment as the main driver of economic development. At 46.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP), the service economy has pulled ahead of manufacturing, which stands at 44%.

Geopolitically, Russia, India, and China have just sent a powerful message westward: they are busy fine-tuning a complex trilateral strategy for setting up a network of economic corridors the Chinese call “new silk roads” across Eurasia. Beijing is also organizing a maritime version of the same, modeled on the feats of Admiral Zheng He who, in the Ming dynasty, sailed the “western seas” seven times, commanding fleets of more than 200 vessels.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing are at work planning a new high-speed railremix of the fabled Trans-Siberian Railroad. And Beijing is committed to translating its growing strategic partnership with Russia into crucial financial and economic help, if a sanctions-besieged Moscow, facing a disastrous oil price war, asks for it. To China’s south, Afghanistan, despite the 13-year American war still being fought there, is fast moving into its economic orbit, while a planned China-Myanmar oil pipeline is seen as a game-changing reconfiguration of the flow of Eurasian energy across what I’ve long called Pipelineistan.

And this is just part of the frenetic action shaping what the Beijing leadership defines as the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road of the twenty-first century. We’re talking about a vision of creating a potentially mind-boggling infrastructure, much of it from scratch, that will connect China to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe. Such a development will include projects that range from upgrading the ancient silk road via Central Asia to developing a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor; a China-Pakistan corridor through Kashmir; and a new maritime silk road that will extend from southern China all the way, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, to Venice.

Don’t think of this as the twenty-first-century Chinese equivalent of America’s post-World War II Marshall Plan for Europe, but as something far more ambitious and potentially with a far vaster reach.

China as a Mega-City

If you are following this frenzy of economic planning from Beijing, you end up with a perspective not available in Europe or the U.S. Here, red-and-gold billboards promote President Xi Jinping’s much ballyhooed new tagline for the country and the century, “the Chinese Dream” (which brings to mind “the American Dream” of another era). No subway station is without them. They are a reminder of why 40,000 miles of brand new high-speed rail is considered so essential to the country’s future. After all, no less than 300 million Chinese have, in the last three decades, made a paradigm-breaking migration from the countryside to exploding urban areas in search of that dream.

Another 350 million are expected to be on the way, according to a McKinsey Global Institute study. From 1980 to 2010, China’s urban population grew by 400 million, leaving the country with at least 700 million urban dwellers. This figure is expected to hit one billion by 2030, which means tremendous stress on cities, infrastructure, resources, and the economy as a whole, as well as near-apocalyptic air pollution levels in some major cities.

Already 160 Chinese cities boast populations of more than one million. (Europe has only 35.) No less than 250 Chinese cities have tripled their GDP per capita since 1990, while disposable income per capita is up by 300%.

These days, China should be thought of not in terms of individual cities but urban clusters — groupings of cities with more than 60 million people. The Beijing-Tianjin area, for example, is actually a cluster of 28 cities. Shenzhen, the ultimate migrant megacity in the southern province of Guangdong, is now a key hub in a cluster as well. China, in fact, has more than 20 such clusters, each the size of a European country. Pretty soon, the main clusters will account for 80% of China’s GDP and 60% of its population. So the country’s high-speed rail frenzy and its head-spinning infrastructure projects — part of a $1.1 trillion investment in 300 public works — are all about managing those clusters.

Not surprisingly, this process is intimately linked to what in the West is considered a notorious “housing bubble,” which in 1998 couldn’t have even existed. Until then all housing was still owned by the state. Once liberalized, that housing market sent a surging Chinese middle class into paroxysms of investment. Yet with rare exceptions, middle-class Chinese can still afford their mortgages because both rural and urban incomes have also surged.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is, in fact, paying careful attention to this process, allowing farmers to lease or mortgage their land, among other things, and so finance their urban migration and new housing. Since we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people, however, there are bound to be distortions in the housing market, even the creation of whole disastrous ghost towns with associated eerie, empty malls.

The Chinese infrastructure frenzy is being financed by a pool of investments from central and local government sources, state-owned enterprises, and the private sector. The construction business, one of the country’s biggest employers, involves more than 100 million people, directly or indirectly. Real estate accounts for as much as 22% of total national investment in fixed assets and all of this is tied to the sale of consumer appliances, furnishings, and an annual turnover of 25% of China’s steel production, 70% of its cement, 70% of its plate glass, and 25% of its plastics.

So no wonder, on my recent stay in Beijing, businessmen kept assuring me that the ever-impending “popping” of the “housing bubble” is, in fact, a myth in a country where, for the average citizen, the ultimate investment is property. In addition, the vast urbanization drive ensures, as Premier Li Keqiang stressed at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, a “long-term demand for housing.”

Markets, Markets, Markets

China is also modifying its manufacturing base, which increased by a multiple of 18 in the last three decades. The country still produces 80% of the world’s air conditioners, 90% of its personal computers, 75% of its solar panels, 70% of its cell phones, and 63% of its shoes. Manufacturing accounts for 44% of Chinese GDP, directly employing more than 130 million people. In addition, the country already accounts for 12.8% of global research and development, well ahead of England and most of Western Europe.

Yet the emphasis is now switching to a fast-growing domestic market, which will mean yet more major infrastructural investment, the need for an influx of further engineering talent, and a fast-developing supplier base. Globally, as China starts to face new challenges — rising labor costs, an increasingly complicated global supply chain, and market volatility — it is also making an aggressive push to move low-tech assembly to high-tech manufacturing. Already, the majority of Chinese exports are smartphones, engine systems, and cars (with planes on their way). In the process, a geographic shift in manufacturing is underway from the southern seaboard to Central and Western China. The city of Chengdu in the southwestern province of Sichuan, for instance, is now becoming a high-tech urban cluster as it expands around firms like Intel and HP.

So China is boldly attempting to upgrade in manufacturing terms, both internally and globally at the same time. In the past, Chinese companies have excelled in delivering the basics of life at cheap prices and acceptable quality levels. Now, many companies are fast upgrading their technology and moving up into second- and first-tier cities, while foreign firms, trying to lessen costs, are moving down to second- and third-tier cities. Meanwhile, globally, Chinese CEOs want their companies to become true multinationals in the next decade. The country already has 73 companies in the Fortune Global 500, leaving it in the number two spot behind the U.S.

In terms of Chinese advantages, keep in mind that the future of the global economy clearly lies in Asia with its record rise in middle-class incomes. In 2009, the Asia-Pacific region had just 18% of the world’s middle class; by 2030, according to the Development Center of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, that figure will rise to an astounding 66%. North America and Europe had 54% of the global middle class in 2009; in 2030, it will only be 21%.

Follow the money, and the value you get for that money, too. For instance, no less than 200,000 Chinese workers were involved in the production of the first iPhone, overseen by 8,700 Chinese industrial engineers. They were recruited in only two weeks. In the U.S., that process might have taken more than nine months. The Chinese manufacturing ecosystem is indeed fast, flexible, and smart — and it’s backed by an ever more impressive education system. Since 1998, the percentage of GDP dedicated to education has almost tripled; the number of colleges has doubled; and in only a decade, China has built the largest higher education system in the world.

Strengths and Weaknesses

China holds more than $15 trillion in bank deposits, which are growing by a whopping $2 trillion a year. Foreign exchange reserves are nearing $4 trillion. A definitive study of how this torrent of funds circulates within China among projects, companies, financial institutions, and the state still does not exist. No one really knows, for instance, how many loans the Agricultural Bank of China actually makes. High finance, state capitalism, and one-party rule all mix and meld in the realm of Chinese financial services where realpolitik meets real big money.

The big four state-owned banks — the Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the China Construction Bank, and the Agricultural Bank of China — have all evolved from government organizations into semi-corporate state-owned entities. They benefit handsomely both from legacy assets and government connections, or guanxi, and operate with a mix of commercial and government objectives in mind. They are the drivers to watch when it comes to the formidable process of reshaping the Chinese economic model.

As for China’s debt-to-GDP ratio, it’s not yet a big deal. In a list of 17 countries, it lies well below those of Japan and the U.S., according to Standard Chartered Bank, and unlike in the West, consumer credit is only a small fraction of total debt. True, the West exhibits a particular fascination with China’s shadow banking industry: wealth management products, underground finance, off-the-balance-sheet lending. But such operations only add up to around 28% of GDP, whereas, according to the International Monetary Fund, it’s a much higher percentage in the U.S.

China’s problems may turn out to come from non-economic areas where the Beijing leadership has proven far more prone to false moves. It is, for instance, on the offensive on three fronts, each of which may prove to have its own form of blowback: tightening ideological control over the country under the rubric of sidelining “Western values”; tightening control over online information and social media networks, including reinforcing “the Great Firewall of China” to police the Internet; and tightening further its control over restive ethnic minorities, especially over the Uighurs in the key western province of Xinjiang.

On two of these fronts — the “Western values” controversy and Internet control — the leadership in Beijing might reap far more benefits, especially among the vast numbers of younger, well educated, globally connected citizens, by promoting debate, but that’s not how the hyper-centralized Chinese Communist Party machinery works.

When it comes to those minorities in Xinjiang, the essential problem may not be with the new guiding principles of President Xi’s ethnic policy. According to Beijing-based analyst Gabriele Battaglia, Xi wants to manage ethnic conflict there by applying the “three Js”: jiaowang, jiaoliu, jiaorong (“inter-ethnic contact,” “exchange,” and “mixage”). Yet what adds up to a push from Beijing for Han/Uighur assimilation may mean little in practice when day-to-day policy in Xinjiang is conducted by unprepared Han cadres who tend to view most Uighurs as “terrorists.”

If Beijing botches the handling of its Far West, Xinjiang won’t, as expected, become the peaceful, stable, new hub of a crucial part of the silk-road strategy. Yet it is already considered an essential communication link in Xi’s vision of Eurasian integration, as well as a crucial conduit for the massive flow of energy supplies from Central Asia and Russia. The Central Asia-China pipeline, for instance, which brings natural gas from the Turkmen-Uzbek border through Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan, is already adding a fourth line to Xinjiang. And one of the two newly agreed upon Russia-China pipelines will also arrive in Xinjiang.

The Book of Xi

The extent and complexity of China’s myriad transformations barely filter into the American media. Stories in the U.S. tend to emphasize the country’s “shrinking” economy and nervousness about its future global role, the way it has “duped” the U.S. about its designs, and its nature as a military “threat” to Washington and the world.

The U.S. media has a China fever, which results in typically feverish reports that don’t take the pulse of the country or its leader. In the process, so much is missed. One prescription might be for them to read The Governance of China, a compilation of President Xi’s major speeches, talks, interviews, and correspondence. It’s already a three-million-copy bestseller in its Mandarin edition and offers a remarkably digestible vision of what Xi’s highly proclaimed “China Dream” will mean in the new Chinese century.

Xi Dada (“Xi Big Bang” as he’s nicknamed here) is no post-Mao deity. He’s more like a pop phenomenon and that’s hardly surprising. In this “to get rich is glorious” remix, you couldn’t launch the superhuman task of reshaping the Chinese model by being a cold-as-a-cucumber bureaucrat. Xi has instead struck a collective nerve by stressing that the country’s governance must be based on competence, not insider trading and Party corruption, and he’s cleverly packaged the transformation he has in mind as an American-style “dream.”

Behind the pop star clearly lies a man of substance that the Western media should come to grips with. You don’t, after all, manage such an economic success story by accident. It may be particularly important to take his measure since he’s taken the measure of Washington and the West and decided that China’s fate and fortune lie elsewhere.

As a result, last November he made official an earthshaking geopolitical shift. From now on, Beijing would stop treating the U.S. or the European Union as its main strategic priority and refocus instead on China’s Asian neighbors and fellow BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa, with a special focus on Russia), also known here as the “major developing powers” (kuoda fazhanzhong de guojia). And just for the record, China does not consider itself a “developing country” anymore.

No wonder there’s been such a blitz of Chinese mega-deals and mega-dealings across Pipelineistan recently. Under Xi, Beijing is fast closing the gap on Washington in terms of intellectual and economic firepower and yet its global investment offensive has barely begun, new silk roads included.

Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo sees the newly emerging world order as a solar system with two suns, the United States and China. The Obama administration’s new National Security Strategy affirms that “the United States has been and will remain a Pacific power” and states that “while there will be competition, we reject the inevitability of confrontation” with Beijing. The “major developing powers,” intrigued as they are by China’s extraordinary infrastructural push, both internally and across those New Silk Roads, wonder whether a solar system with two suns might not be a non-starter. The question then is: Which “sun” will shine on Planet Earth?  Might this, in fact, be the century of the dragon?

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Signature of Collapse: End of the Glory Days

Off the keyboard of RE
Featuring the Photography of Johnny Joo

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 28, 2014

Discuss this article at the History Table inside the Diner

http://briancromer.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/door-frame.jpgWhen events and changes occur slowly over the period of a human lifespan, you often don’t notice them occuring while they are happening, it is only when you look back in retrospect that you can see the changes that have occurred.

A typical example is the growth of a child.  If you put the child up against a doorjamb to mark the day’s growth, you won’t see any difference.  However, if you do it once every 3 months during a growth spurt, the changes in the interim are easily measured.

Similarly, as you age, each day you look in the mirror to shave, you don’t look a whole lot different than you did the day before, but when you go look at a picture of yourself in one of your sister’s photo albums, it becomes shockingly clear how much you have aged.

The spirit of this is reflected in the song “Sunrise, Sunset” from “A Fiddler on the Roof”

(Tevye)
Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?

(Golde)
I don’t remember growing older
When did they?

(Tevye)
When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?

(Golde)
Wasn’t it yesterday
When they were small?


As we walk around, or in many cases in the 1st World drive around, it’s not usually apparent that today is so much different than yesterday, it’s only when you look back in retrospect to what things were like a few decades ago versus how they are now that you become shockingly aware of how far down we have already come on the Collapse Highway.

Some people don’t notice it at all, in fact I think most people willfully shut out seeing decay, and also of course so much of the decay is inside the great cities of yesteryear, places like Detroit and Cleveland, so the only people who usually witness that daily are the few impoverished people that still live there.

A few days ago however, I ran into the video at the top of the page chronicling the decay of the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit.

http://static3.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.2052827.1419206967!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_970/silverdome22n-12-web.jpg

This is what the Pontiac Silverdome looks like today, in 2014

At the beginning of the video though are some clips from the Silverdome, vintage 1980s or so.  That’s pretty much how I remember the Silverdome, since in those years I still followed dumb ass sports like NFL Football, and watched the Detroit Lions play the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving Day.  In those days, the Silverdome looked more like this:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9b/Silverdome_2.jpg

In the space of a mere 30 years, the Blink of an Eye really in Civilization terms, this behemoth of a Stadium, which took $Millions$ to build now is just a decaying wreck in a decaying city that doesn’t even have the resources around to demolish it.

Following the links from the You Tube page led me to find the rest of the work of the photographer who made that video, Johnny Joo.  Johnny has a website Architectural Afterlife with many more links to his portfolios and albums, dropped around in repositories on the net.  Many of the images are absolutely stunning, and when you view all of them together, you begin to get a much more visceral understanding of the Collapse going on all around us, as we speak.

Although Detroit is of course the Poster Child for collapse, you can find it almost everywhere if you don’t shut your eyes to it.  Johnny Joo doesn’t shut his eyes, instead he opens the Camera Lens.

http://i.huffpost.com/gadgets/slideshows/348614/slide_348614_3714018_free.jpg

Once Upon a Time, people lived in this house…

http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/05/28/article-2641627-1E43C1DC00000578-264_470x629.jpg

Once Upon a Time, people worked in this Factory

http://c2910532.r32.cf0.rackcdn.com/379750-5028028a168f4-large.jpg

Once Upon a Time, people watched Movies here

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-aOyvOQawYao/Up4MiBKtKCI/AAAAAAAABAU/oBKis9MFk1Y/s1600/P1011746-4.jpg

Once Upon a Time, children learned to read and write here

There are none so Blind as those who will not See
-Little Donnie Dark, “Butterflies are Free”

Many if not most people do not see the decay surrounding them, and they will point to all the Great Advances we have made to demonstrate the continuing and to their eyes unstoppable Progress forward of Industrial Civilization.  The Carz, the I-phones, the BRAND NEW Cities being built in China, soon to be the next Empire/Superpower to rule the world.

Sadly of course for the Chinese, they showed up a Day Late and a Yuan Short to the great Industrial Keg Party, and the Beer has about Run Out now.  The cities they are building will never even get the chance to experience the Glory Days of a Detroit or Cleveland.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3222/2755769142_742947f839.jpg

Frank J. Hecker Mansion. Frank made his fortune building Railroad Cars in the late 1800s

That is one of the few that have been preserved here, a more typical example is the Ransom Gills House, built in 1878.  Despite some refurbishment to the exterior, no buyer has been found.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-KD_zoEGYRz0/TueYthNXOJI/AAAAAAAAA8g/u0v5w4IuJyY/s640/94590419_d9ab0d8db5.jpg

For the brand new cities in China, they are ALREADY Ghost Cities, and there will be no Glory Days for them.

http://ad009cdnb.archdaily.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/52295f53e8e44e1a330000e0_how-to-bring-china-s-ghost-towns-back-to-life_shanghaisoundbites_yunan.jpg

What reflects whether a civilization is growing or declining is not so much what new stuff is being built, but what is happening to the old stuff?

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4010/4648998731_56992189da_z.jpgIf you have plenty of resources around, you don’t let old structures decay, you Demolish them and build new ones, or you Refurbish them.  It’s the fact that we are leaving behind here a long trail of abandoned and decaying structures that is the Signature of a Collapsing Civilization.

For a long time, really going back as far as the Toba Cataclysm 75,000 years ago, there has always been somewhere new to GO, and more energy to exploit along the way as well, building new cities, rebuilding some old ones, keeping up the maintenance on the infrastructure as it were.

What is evident now however is first that we are fresh OUT of new places to Pave Over to Put Up a Parking Lot, the Asphalt is too expensive to Pave with, the population cannot afford to drive to the Parking Lot, and Sears, JC Penney, Radio Shack and numerous other retailers are all set to go straight Outta Biz here, leaving a whole lot of Empty Strip Malls for Johnny Joo to photograph in the future.

Johnny Joo discusses the history behind his Photography

You will find the Photographs of Johnny Joo featured on the Photographs page of the Diner regularly.  His newest book will be available soon at Amazon.com.  Buy it.

Rage Against the Dying of the Lights

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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The lights went out in Hoboken in 2012. They’re going out more often, for longer, in more places. Are you ready? (Photo by Alec Perkins/Flickr)

The lights went out in Hoboken in 2012. They’re going out more often, for longer, in more places. Are you ready? (Photo by Alec Perkins/Flickr)

 

First published at The Daily Impact  December 5, 2014

Much of Detroit went “gentle into that good night” this week, its entire municipal power grid succumbing to age, infirmity and neglect.  It was no big surprise, Detroit’s public buildings (schools, fire and police stations, courts, a hospital, etc.) and traffic signals went dark in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Nor would it have surprised the readers of a recent study [“The Technology and Sociology of Power (Failure)”] whose authors concluded that “Blackouts are dress rehearsals for the future in which they will appear with greater frequency and severity, and as urban areas become more compact, with greater consequences.”

The world, they said, should “prepare for the prospect of coping without electricity as instances of complete power failure become increasingly common.”

It would be a mistake to ascribe Detroit’s woes to the fact that it is insolvent, decrepit, blighted and without the resources to begin healing itself. That description applies to the rest of the country as well, especially where the electric grid is concerned. The American Society of Civil Engineers has been complaining about the deteriorating power grid for years, noting that the number of significant power outages around the country rose from 76 in 2007 to 307 in 2011. Small wonder when you reflect that a network cannot be stronger than its weakest part, and parts of the grid still in use were installed in the 1880s. Most of it was built shortly after World War II.

The problem is just as bad in Europe. Three years ago the insurance company Allianz declared:

“The power blackout risk is generally underestimated. Blackouts during the last ten years in Europe and Northern America have demonstrated an increasing likelihood of supra-regional and long-lasting blackouts including high economical losses. Due to the increasing interconnectedness in combination with rather old infrastructure we expect this risk to increase in both frequency and severity.”

We’re used to hearing about massive blackouts in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Brazil, South Africa and the like, and we often react to them with a feeling of gratitude that we don’t live in a Third World country where such things are common.

For an attitude adjustment, read the official report of how the U.S. power industry got through last January during the coldest winter temperatures in nearly two decades. (Better yet, read about it; as someone who tried to comprehend the official report on the titanic Northeast power failure of 2003, I can tell you it can be a hard slog.) Managing the grid requires maintaining a precise balance between supply and demand, both of which change from nanosecond to nanosecond, with the changes rippling across the country at the speed of light. (There are several interconnected grids covering the U.S. and Canada, but let’s not get lost in the weeds.)

The story of the management of the 2014 cold snap is a nailbiter, as managers are confronted with sudden demands as millions of people tried to stay warm; sudden equipment failures such as generators that were too cold to start when called on; and shortages of fuel, both natural gas and oil, as both supplies and supply lines proved inadequate to the task. As it turned out saving the system from blackout required cutting off a relatively few customers and reducing voltage only slightly, for a short time. But it was a very close thing.

Paying lip service to “renewable energy” by cramming the output of solar panels and wind turbines into the strings and sticks that constitute the grid is increasing the threat of blackouts, according to the newest report on it. That speed-of-light balancing act is made even more difficult by sources that vary their output according to the time of day, the passing of a cloud or the gusting of the wind. The proper application for renewable energy is as distributed energy, which mean making your energy where you use it and not trying to move it across the country first.

All these concerns continue to worsen without catching the attention of the folks who pretend to govern this country. So there will be more Detroits in our future. It is not only the Third World, but the whole world, that should “prepare for the prospect of coping without electricity.”

 

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

America Rotting/Miracle of the New Home Sales

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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The deadly collapse of an Interstate Highway bridge near Minneapolis in 2007 brought a horrified nation to its feet. Then the nation sat down again.

The deadly collapse of an Interstate Highway bridge near Minneapolis in 2007 brought a horrified nation to its feet. Then the nation sat down again.

First published at The Daily Impact  September 28, 2014

I Hear America Rotting

She was elderly, spry, energetic, and she lived alone in the remains of a genteel Southern plantation, with its Tara-like mansion and sprawling lawns. She was not without means, but she was entirely without staff.  She was telling me how she had recently paved with flagstones the banks of a fairly sizable pond near the mansion’s rear patio. Herself. Mightily impressed, I asked her what she did with her spare time. “Oh,” she sighed, “I like to get a glass of iced tea and just sit out here and listen to the house rot.”

Which is what we Americans have been doing since 1980, when we decided that taxes are evil and must never be raised again for any reason. We’ve been sitting around listening to the country rot. Here is what we’ve heard in the past few weeks:

1. Water Soluble Water Mains. On Friday, a water main break in Hollywood, California, sent nearly 10,000 gallons of water a minute gushing down Sunset Boulevard, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. The 36-inch steel pipe was installed 98 years ago, and 57 years ago, in a cheapskate attempt to extend its life, it was lined with cement. Just two months ago, on the same street, a water-main rupture turned to swamp a large section of the campus of the University of California. For LA, just a day in the life: the city has three breaks a day in its 7,000 miles of aged water mains.  The whole country — most of whose water mains were built a century ago — experiences roughly 660 breaks a day.

And what is not breaking is leaking. Houston Texas, for example, estimates it is losing one quarter of its treated, potable water to hidden leaks from old pipe.

But LA is the poster child for America the Rotten; its sidewalks are buckling, its streets are pot-holed, its storm drains overwhelmed and the system that brings fresh water to the city needs $4 billion in maintenance. Increase the sales tax? Off the table. Increase the water rates? Not possible. And the breaks go on.

2. Rotting Roads. The video of an interstate-highway bridge in Minneapolis collapsing during rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring 145,  electrified the nation in 2007 — for about two news cycles. Then it was back onto the patio to listen to the roads rot. Since then, a buckling Interstate bridge near Seattle, a dangerously deteriorated Champlain Bridge between upstate New York and Vermont, and a suddenly tilting Interstate 95 bypass around Wilmington Delaware have done their best to drive home the point that the 60-year-old Interstate Highway system (for the most part, the best highways in the country)  is at the end of its lifespan, is carrying far more traffic than it was built for, and is not being repaired, let alone being replaced as needed.

3. Leaking Levees. A report just out from the American Society of Civil Engineers says that in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the nation has failed to assess, let alone prepare for, the threat posed by floodwaters in an era of rising water and intensifying storms.

“We do not have a sound analysis of the potential risk to the nation from flooding,” the report said. Congress authorized a national flood vulnerability assessment in 2007, but has provided no money for it. “We are operating in the dark as we continue to underfund our flood risk mapping program,” the report said. “The public at large and many public officials clearly do not understand the risk we face.” It said much of the nation’s flood infrastructure, mostly levees, “remains in marginal condition and there is no realistic plan in place to deal with or improve these conditions.”

“The question is.” says one of the report’s authors, “why aren’t more people listening to what’s been said about flood risk in report after report after report?”

Well, they are otherwise engaged. Sitting on their patios, listening to the country rot.

***

Miracle of the Loaves, Fishes and New Home Sales

First published at The Daily Impact  September 26, 2014

To call it a miracle is to misunderestimate it by at least an order of magnitude: according to the US Commerce Department, sales of new single family homes in August surged 18% from July, and 33% from last year, “offering confirmation,” swooned CNBC, “that the housing recovery remains on course.”

Even while humming its charming little refrain of “Happy,” CNBC, like the many others who sang from the same sheet music, slipped in a few clunkers without elaborating or explaining: one, that new home sales account for only nine percent of the market, and thus (despite CNBC’s offered confirmation) are hardly determinative; and two, that despite the rise in sales, the stock of new houses still unsold hit its highest level in four years. Wait, what? You sell more than you have in six years, and end up with more unsold inventory than you’ve had in four years?

Either somebody has been on an ungodly — and ill-advised — building binge, or somebody is cooking the numbers. It would take a quant to analyze the numbers themselves. For example, what does the Commerce Department mean, exactly, when it says its numbers are “seasonally adjusted?” And why does it admit to margins of error from 16.3% to 21.7%? 

What if, instead, one looked at KB Home, one of the largest builders of new homes in the country, to see how well they are doing in this six-year high? On the very day that the Commerce Department offered us all a hit on the recovery bong, KB Home lost ten percent of its share value after reporting third-quarter profits that were up four percent from last year.

Wait, what? They report increased earnings and take a major stock-market hit? Welcome to this side of the looking glass, Alice. The two problems with the earnings report were that it was much less than analysts expected, which on Wall Street is just one step shy of bankruptcy; and although earnings were up, the number of houses KB actually sold was down. Wait, what?

The average selling price of KB homes was up 9 percent over last year’s third quarter — more than twice the increase in KB’s profit. The number of homes KB sold dropped from 1825 in last year’s Q3 to this year’s 1793. Keep in mind that if you sell two million-dollar homes and one $200,000 home, the average price of the homes you sold is over $700,000. The demand for high-end homes has remained strong throughout the Great Recession, the problem is with the other 99 per cent.

As luck would have it, we have a report on that from RealtyTrac, out the same day as the hopium dream offered by the Commerce Department. August sales of all US residential properties were down half a percent from July and 16 per cent from a year ago. It was the fourth consecutive month of declining sales, offering confirmation that the housing recovery remains on course for hell in a handbasket.

It is becoming more and more obvious every day that high-end new homes cannot lead the market to recovery. KB specializes in the .o1 per cent, and has reached the point where its liabilities are about equal to its assets and its cash flow is positive only after filtering through a large team of creative accountants.

The only sense in which the housing recovery in the US remains on course is the sense in which, after its collision with the iceberg, the Titanic remained “on course” for New York.

 

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

The fall of a superpower

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar

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THE ROVING EYE

PepeFT100714

Originally published in Asia Times on July 11, 2014
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SAO PAULO – I know; Israel bombing civilians in Gaza, Kiev bombing civilians in eastern Ukraine, the Caliph running amok in the Middle East, The Empire of Chaos playing trickster. But let me get something out of my chest first. 

I was saving this picture for the right moment. Which is now. Meet a classic tropical paradise – as in Santo Andre, in Bahia, close to the spot where Brazil was “discovered” by the Portuguese in 1500. The Mannschaft training camp is right behind those trees on the left. I was there at the start of the World Cup; my gracious host Anna Mariani owns a fabulous beach house right next to it.

The German camp – actually a beach condo – was secluded and customized to perfection. Yet the players interacted with the small village nearby, visited a local school, fraternized with Pataxo Indians, went for morning beach walks. And trained very, very hard; discipline, commitment, work ethic – while loving every minute of their side of paradise and imbibing rituals of Brazilian culture. This is where the already famous/infamous 7-1 evisceration of Brazil really started. 

The Brazilian national team, meanwhile, was starring a (literal) tearjerker psychodrama convulsing 200 million people. It was like an abysmal telenovela – bearing no hard work or discipline; just bling bling (look at my new haircut!) coupled with a smug sense of entitlement. In the end they should win because after all, runs the top national myth, “God is Brazilian”. 

Now for a globalization parable. Way before the Cup, Brazil – once a mighty footballing superpower – had been reduced, by concentric levels of mismanagement, to a minor role of commodity exporter (as in talented players). There had been no thought of investing in the future; all that mattered was profitable TV rights privileging a media racket. Germany, on the other hand, since they lost the 2002 World Cup (to Brazil …) invested in a vast network of football schools, part of a national system of nurturing talent, educating them, and preparing coaches as well. 



Three hours before the start of the 7-1 humiliation, I was asked at my barbershop about the match result. I shot back “Germany 4-0”. Everyone was stunned. Well, I flew in from Asia and then Europe to follow the World Cup in Brazil as if I was covering a war; what I initially suspected was confirmed as the psychodrama started to unroll/unravel. 

All signs pointed to a bunch of psychologically unstable young Brazilian millionaires ready to spectacularly implode – as they had threatened to while playing Chile and then Colombia. It finally happened in the space of only six minutes when Germany scored 4 goals – and at the 29th minute the Europeans were already leading by 5-0. 

Surprise? Not really. Brazil has ceased to play jogo bonito (the beautiful game) a long time ago, after that fabulous 1970 side and then the best side that never won anything, in 1982. Since the 1990s, Brazil as the home of jogo bonito was just another myth – an elaborate marketing trick (with a Nike hand). And all the way, Brazilians loved to fool themselves, draped in a perennially cheap “We Are the Champions” brand of nationalism. 

Until hubris prevailed. It took Germany to reclaim the real jogo bonito, with their scintillating passes, top finishing and triangulation flair worthy of the Chicago Bulls in their heyday. 

The Brazilian team turned into a nervous wreck first of all for tactical/technical reasons; this was a team with no midfield playing against the best midfield on the planet. Blame it on their handlers, the Brazilian football federation and the “technical commission” they appointed; a talentless, arrogant/ignorant lowly bunch that mirrors, crystal clear, the arrogance/ignorance of Brazilian political/economic elites, old and new. As much as Brazilian police, quite ironically, dismantled a FIFA corporate ticket black market racket in Rio of all places (Scotland Yard couldn’t do it), it missed another racket – a spin-off at the shadowy corridors of Brazilian football. 

The technical commission, in their post-traumatic press conference, the same day Argentina and Holland played like grown ups for an interminable 120 minutes to 0-0 (then solved it on penalties), reminded me of the Pentagon dismissing Abu Ghraib: “Oh, that was just a freak accident.” No, it was not. The Brazilian cowards in charge simply could not admit the “blackout” was systemic. 

There will be endless political reverberations about this 7-1 thrashing. It goes way beyond the (white) Brazilian moneyed crowd who could afford to buy FIFA’s tickets while despising President Dilma Rousseff’s spending on social welfare. It certainly has to do with the handsome profit of FIFA’s own funfest (US$4 billion, tax-free) supplied by the locals, as well as the overall bill (a staggering $13.6 billion). Compare it to the pitiful investments in education, public services, “urban mobility”, still appalling infrastructure – while no-holds-barred corruption reigns supreme. 

The biggest global sport humiliation in living memory is directly related to the trademark Brazilian elites’ ignorance/arrogance syndrome (and sense of entitlement). At the same time, you cannot aspire to become a BRICS “superpower” when your self-identity is constructed around a sport – football – debased by crooks. 

The gods of football have mercifully declared the 200 million-strong psychodrama over. Still I really feel sad for the losers – the overwhelming majority of these 200 million supporters, honest and hardworking people for whom football is a meager relief from their pain and struggle; they have been taken for a ride, and consistently lied to. 

Brazil may still enjoy an unlimited stock of soft power across the world, but it must get its corrupt/inefficient act together. If football is to remain the only element that keeps this aspiring superpower glued, better think hard, understand where the humiliation came from, get rid of all those self-important bums, show some humility and work very hard. Learn from the German sports model – one that certainly does not have to do with EU austerity. And then you will be back in paradise. 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Privatization: ACROPOLIS FOR SALE!

Off the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on June 24, 2014

akropolis_sale3

Discuss this Rant at the Podcast Table inside the Diner


Snippet:

http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2014/06/Bring%20Back%20Humvees.jpg…Even though there is a lot of Hot Breaking Lunacy in the world of Collapse on the Geopolitical level going down now, I wanna take a break from looking at Iraq-no-Phobia Hashtag Diplomacy on Twitshit by Michelle Obama-sama and the latest Jawboning from the Minions of Vlad the Impaler threatening De-Dollarization to a more fundamental topic, the Privatization of Public Assets meme that is underway in more than a few locations now.

Not sure if the Greeks have sold the Parthenon or the Acropolis to Private Investors yet, but just about everything else the Greeks “own” through their Goobermint is on the Auction Block these days. Over in Frogland, I don’t think they sold the Louvre quite yet to some Chinese Art Aficionado Pigmen, but you can buy the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower for the Low, Low Price of $10B on Craig’s List now…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

Also, don’t miss the recent Collapse Cafe with Gail Tverberg of Our Finite World and Ugo Bardi of Resource Limits.

RE

Building Stupidity

Off the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on May 1, 2014

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Snippet:

…Not a day goes by anymore where you can’t find something supremely stupid going on somewhere in the world. Today it was the newz that the Saudi Sheiks are breaking ground on the newest tallest building to be in the world, the Kingdom Tower.

About the only thing positive I can say about this monstrosity is that at least it doesn’t look like a giant PENIS like the Chinese have been erecting lately, this one looks more like a giant hypodermic needle….

Chinese Architectural Genius in Action

http://db2.stb.s-msn.com/i/F3/EDB140EDC861CD7FCAEDED4571228.jpg

Saudi Arabian Architectural Genius in Action

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/thumb/msid-22065699,width-640,resizemode-4/1-kingdom-tower-saudi-arabia.jpg

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!

RE

The Great Race at the Finish Line

Off the keyboard of RE

 

Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

 

A fairly popular perspective around the Collapse Blogosphere is that the overall collapsing economy will result in just the Uber Rich still driving around in Carz, while J6P makes it to work and the grocery store on foot, bicycles and trains.  Is it really possible though to maintain a network of roads and bridges suitable for Carz when only the Uber Rich can afford both the hardware of the Car and the Konsumable of Gas to run it?

Gottlieb Daimler's First Car

Back at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution when Carz were invented, they were a Toy for the very rich. They drove no faster than the typical Horse driven Carriage on the same roads designed for those vehicles. Maybe 15-20mph tops there. Yes horses CAN run faster than that, but if you are inside the stage coach and the horses are at full gallop yanking the coach behind on a dirt road, you likely hit your head on the ceiling innumerable times and come out seriously Brain Damaged.

Our Industrialist Ubermeisters though were enamored of this new technology, and wanted to build ever faster and more powerful Carz they could zip around in, just as they had built Private Railroad Cars to tack onto the back of trains carrying the Hoi Polloi.

Thes new toys were GREAT, and the Uber Rich started Racing them around tracks, and even organized up Races across countries in the new fangled Horseless Carriages. A Spoof of this called “The Great Race” with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon produced by Hollywood back in the 60s showed the vast number of PROBLEMS these guys had racing their carz “Around the World”

Of course, being stuck on a melting Iceberg isn’t a REAL problem early drivers dealt with, but rutted and muddy dirt roads were, along with many roads regularly washed out in the Springtime which a Horse could easily negotiate by wading through but a Car could not. 3 feet of standing water anywhere and you submerge the exhaust, water gets into the engine, DEAD IN THE WATER.

Who dealt with this problem in all its magnificent glory the most? A Young Lieutenent in the FSofA Big Ass Military, Lt. Dwight D. Eisenhower, was assigned the task in 1919 of bringing a Military Convoy across the FSofA on the Road Network of the era:

ORIGINS AND PURPOSES OF THE 1919 ARMY CONVOY

World War I (1914-1918) was the first large scale military conflict that employed vehicles powered by the relatively new internal combustion engine. Airplanes, trucks, motorcars, and tanks were used on both sides. However, they lacked the reliability, flexibility, and capacity for moving large masses of troops or equipment over long distances on inferior European roads. The vast majority of WWI military transportation on land was done by horses and railroad trains; nevertheless, by the end of the war, most military leaders saw the potential for increased use of motorized troops and equipment in military campaigns of the future.

The end of the war also inspired the leaders of the Good Roads Movement to resume their public relations (PR) campaign to convince the public to demand better roads from state and local governments. The PR campaign had been put on hold during the 1917-1918 period while America was engaged in WWI. Early in 1919, Lincoln Highway Association leader Harry Ostermann had persuaded the War Department to conduct a transcontinental motor convoy trip from the East Coast to San Francisco on the marked route of the Lincoln Highway.

The purpose of the convoy was two fold: 1) it was to be a training exercise and 2) a test of the feasibility of the long distance movement of military men and supplies by auto and truck.

From the Good Roads Movement’s viewpoint, the convoy was meant to produce positive PR by demonstrating that long distance motor travel was possible. It was also meant to heighten awareness of existing poor roads that comprised much of the Lincoln Highway and other roads in the Unites States. Return to Top

AN EPIC JOURNEY FULL OF CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Amid much hoopla, speeches and fanfare, a 76-vehicle combined “public-private” convoy, including 56 military vehicles, 209 officers and enlisted men, and dozens of private citizens took off from the White House on July 7, 1919. (LH/MAIN STREET, p. 83).

Later that evening, the convoy was joined by two, last minute volunteer Army officers. They were Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower and Major Sereno Brett, who were to serve as observers for the Army Tank Corps. PHOTO: Major Sereno Brett, Harvey Firestone, Jr., and Lt. Colonel Dwight Eisenhower at 1919 Army Convoy stopover at the Firestone Homestead, Columbania, Ohio, July 13, 1919. Eisenhower Library Audiovisual Department, photo 70-520-3.

The convoy was to operate as if the country was at war and that an Asiatic enemy had destroyed railroad lines, bridges, and tunnels. They were also to act as if they would be traveling through enemy territory and thus, had to be self-contained and self-sustaining over the 3,250-mile route. Maintaining the illusion of being at war or being truly self-sustaining proved to be very difficult, as was the trip itself.

Among some of the military personnel, there was even doubt whether or not the convoy could actually make it across the continent. The vehicles were untested over long distances. Many sections of the Lincoln Highway were unimproved dirt roads. Finally, few military personnel; especially enlisted men, had much experience with motor vehicle driving or maintenance. Eisenhower later wrote that the trek was a genuine adventure. “We were not sure it could be accomplished at all. Nothing of the sort had ever been attempted.”

At first, in the East from Washington through Indiana, the roads were generally good but mechanical problems with the various vehicles and logistical problems slowed the convoy’s progress. Military discipline among the men also was “conspicuous by its absence,” according to one observer. About the familiarity of the men with operating trucks, Eisenhower wrote:

All drivers had claimed lengthy experience in driving trucks; some of them, it turned out, had never handled anything more advanced than a Model T. Most colored the air with expression in starting and stopping that indicated a longer association with teams of horses than with internal combustion engines. (EISENHOWER REPORT)

As the convoy (also referred to as the “train” by some) headed into Illinois and the West, road conditions along the Lincoln Highway presented serious challenges that often delayed and sometimes halted the convoy. The Highway ran on dirt roads through most of Illinois, but the weather was dry, so it was possible to cross the state in a few days. Of the roads between Illinois and California, Eisenhower, in his post-trip report wrote:

The dirt roads of Iowa are well graded and are good in dry weather; but would be impossible in wet weather. In Nebraska, the first real sand was encountered, and two days were lost in western part of this state due to bad, sandy roads. Wyoming roads west of Cheyenne are poor dirt ones, with weak culverts and bridges. In one day, 14 of these were counted, broken through by the train. The desert roads in the southwest portion of this state are very poor. In western Utah, on the Salt Lake Desert, the road becomes almost impossible to heavy vehicles. From Orr’s Ranch, Utah, to Carson City, Nevada, road is one succession of dust, ruts, pits and holes. This stretch was not improved in any way, and consisted only of a track across the desert. At many points on the road water is twenty miles distant, and parts of the road are ninety miles from the nearest railroad. (EISENHOWER REPORT)

In fact, one of the biggest problems was the poor state of the bridges along the Lincoln Highway. PHOTO: Army Truck testing the holding power of one of many small bridges crossed during the Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy, 1919. Eisenhower Library Audiovisual Department, photo 81-17-25.

Advance notice of the convoy spread and its arrival in towns along the Lincoln Highway were occasions for celebrations and plenty of speeches imploring listeners to demand more public funding for “Good Roads.” The convoy passed through 350 communities, and it was estimated that more than 3,000,000 people witnessed it along the route. Millions more followed the trek in newspapers and early motion picture “newsreels.” PHOTO: 1919 Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy on Review, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1919. Eisenhower Library Audiovisual Department, photo 81-17-55.

The convoy did make it. Battered, but unbowed, the caravan arrived at the gates of Lincoln Park in San Francisco. However, it had taken until September 6, 1919 for it to reach its destination, a grueling sixty-two (62) days!

In November 1919, Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower wrote a seven-page report relaying the observations he made during the Army Convoy to the Chief of the Army’s Motor Transport Corps (M.T.C.). He summarized the results as follows:

The truck train was well received at all points along the route. It seemed that there was a great deal of sentiment for the improving of highways, and, from the standpoint of promoting this sentiment, the trip was an undoubted success. As stated before in this paper, it is believed that the M. T. C. should pay more attention to disciplinary drills for officers and men, and that all should be intelligent, snappy soldiers before giving them the responsibility of operating trucks. Extended trips by trucks through the middle western part of the United States are impracticable until roads are improved, and then only a light truck should be used on long hauls. Through the eastern part of the United States, the truck can be efficiently used in the Military Service, especially in problems involving a haul of approximately 100 miles, which could be negotiated by light trucks in one day. (EISENHOWER REPORT.)

Return to Top

THE 1919 ARMY MOTOR CONVOY IN ILLINOIS

The 1919 Army Transcontinental Army Convoy crossed into Illinois on the afternoon of Saturday, July 19, 1919. It stopped the next day for a Sunday rest period in Chicago Heights. The trip was resumed on Monday July 21, 1919, and the convoy camped over that night in DeKalb. On Tuesday July 22, 1919, the convoy left DeKalb and crossed over the Mississippi River Bridge at Fulton, Illinois and entered into Iowa that evening.

During the two full days it spent on the road in Illinois, the convoy covered about 172 miles in a little over 21 hours on the road. It was fairly lucky with the weather and thus the roads, but as the following account from the convoy’s daily log reveals, it had its share of problems with the vehicles, drivers, and equipment in its journey across the Land of Lincoln.

(Read the official Army account of the convoy’s journey thru Illinois).

So here in fact is the real MOTIVATION for developing a Road Network around the FSofA that could support Motorized Transport.  It was necessary to make it possible to move the new fangled War machines of Tanks and APCs around the country quickly, so as to “Protect” it from a Hypothetical Invasion of Asiatic Forces.  Problem of course was the road system did not ALLOW for that,   It took 62 DAYS for the convoy to cross the country, as compared to the 3 days or so it would take me driving my Big Rig SOLO across the country a decade or so ago.  Team driving, you can do it in under 2 days.  To traverse 172 miles in Illinois it took 21 HOURS, an average speed of a bit over 8 MPH, which Horseback Cavalry would CREAM and even Infantry can probably keep up with pretty well.

So now you have not one but TWO motivations for why we “needed” a road system for these vehicles.  First for the Wealthy Great Leslie’s and Dr. Fate’s to be able to zip quickly Around the Country and NOT get stuck in Mudholes; and  Second so these same folks could move around Big Ass Military equipment basically to be able to steal from whomsoever they wanted whenever they wanted. “Build us a Road into your Town so we can Roll our Hardware down Main Street and run the show for you here!”  LOL.

How do you SUCKER people into paying for something they don’t need at all, because they do NOT have Carz to zip around in?  Answer: You build “Affordable Carz” for EVERYONE, and convince EVERYONE they need one!  So you Fund Hank Ford as many times as necessary until he comes up with a cheap enough car and promote to everyone with Advertising why they really NEED such a vehicle.

Which after a while they actually DO need, because the farmers who have a Tractor are out-producing the farmers still running Horse Drawn Plows, and new Trucks are moving goods around cheaper and faster than any Teamster driving a Horse Drawn Carriage can keep up with.

In 1919, less than 100 years ago, it really was close to impossible for Carz to move around the country, all they really could do was drive around at just about the same speed as the Horse Drawn Carriages, Stagecoaches and Wagons.  In the intervening time, a MASSIVE expenditure of capital was undertaken to build a road network in the FSofA to support that, and the way it was built was to distribute out the debt and the cost over EVERYONE in society who had a Car.  Unless everyone DOES have a car and Drives it willy-nilly around though, not only can you not afford to build MORE roads, you can’t afford to Maintain the ones already built!

The Electric Grid is not a whole lot different than this.  Electricity when Edison first put up his DC system was only available to a VERY few people, and was clearly not economicaly viable.  However, those who did have access to it wanted MORE of it!  They didn’t want just their house ILLUMINATED, they wanted the Restaurants they frequented Illuminated ALSO.  They wanted the Streets around their Upper East Side Apartments Illuminated also.  Of course though, they themselves could not AFFORD to pay for the Streetlights, so they gotta CONVINCE J6P HE really needs Streetlights so he will pay for it with his TAXES.

Only by getting DA GOOBERMINT involved here and taking on Debt in the name of the People to build these grids did they get built.  Same story all over the world really, Goobermints taking on fabulous amounts of Debt in the name of the people so they too could have an Electric Grid and a Road system, both of which you MUST have if you are to attract Capital to your country to build Factories utilizing still MORE fossil fuel energy and become a PLAYER in this great game of Industrialization.

One by one the Dominoes fell over the intervening years as really every Elite in every country Aspired to run with the Big Boys.  If you are in charge of China, you don’t want to be running a country of Ag workers in Rice Paddies, you wanna be big time Producer of Goods to sell to everybody else and as a member of the Han Chinese Elite, begin to live the same kind of Super Lifestyle of your Western Counterpart Elites.  The Big Yachts, the Private Jets, all that nonsense.  You do NOT earn enough FOREX running Rice Paddies to become a Master of the Universe, you are just a pipsqueak Feudal Lord until you jump on the bandwagon of Debt and Industrialization.

Anybody who believes the Chinese are SOLVENT with their late entry into the Industrialization Game is seriously DELUDED.  In order to become the Mercantilist Power they are, the Chinese took on a shit load of debt  Nobody built those factories for free, and nobody built the Chinese Electric grid for free either, anymore than it wa built for free here in the FSofA.  The Debt the Chinese have is hidden in innumerable ways, they run all sorts of Public/Private “Partnerships” between the Politburo and Capitalista Pigmen.  Da Chinese Goobermint promises to Tax the Living Shit out of Chinese Peasants, and in return Capitalistas fork over megabucks for Elite Han Chinese to build Factories staffed by Slave Wage Chinese Peasants.

The continuity/discontinuity problem is partially one of BELIEF, in that does anyone actually BELIEVE the massive debt that the FSofA owes to the Chinese will or can ever be paid off?  Even more that does anyone BELIEVE the the Massive Debt the Chinese undertook to Illuminati Bankster “investors” have can ever be paid off when energy costs go stratospheric in real terms, and Konsumers of Chinese Goods no longer have MONEY to buy those goods?

It remains a bit unclear as to who goes DOWN here first, the heavy Debtors or the heavy Creditors, they are both inextricably linked and really the Creditors themselves are in fact debtors also.  The chinese Economy is EXTREMELY fragile, despite what the MSM makes it out to be and how the China Bulls spin it.  The Chinese have Bubbles in every sector of their economy all just WAITING to POP here!  Real Estate, Regional Debt, insolvent Banks, the WORKS.  They are no different in this respect than the PIIGS.

Given all of this fairly obvious stuff, does it seem likely that the Chinese can continue to “Grow” at anywhere NEAR the growth rate they have show on paper here for the last Score of Years?  Seems highly unlikely to ME, and I haven’t even touched on their ecological problems and the drought situation they face.

Where I began this article was with the QUESTION of whether it is possible to maintain a Boutique Economy of Carz for the Wealthy while the rest of the population Walks or rides Bikes. How is it really possible to maintain all the infrastructure necessary for Happy Motoring with only the Uber-Rich Driving Carz? No, it is not possible.  China is important in this question, because if there is anywhere in the world where “Investors” think Growth is Possible, it is China.  Point is here, China has no more hope of Growing than Spain or Italy does, they are equally Fucked here. In fact due to their extreme Overshoot problems and extreme Environmental problems, the Chinese are in fact in WORSE shape than the PIIGS are.

Given that it is so unlikely the Chinese will be able to pursue a Boutique Carz Economy very long, why would anyone believe it could be pursued anywhere else either?  Carz are not going to disappear here overnight, and the roads won’t get SOOOO bad you can’t drive on them for a few years, but inexorably the system will decay, until at last there are no more Carz driving around at all, though many may become Homes of the Future.  In their Final Resting Place when the Gas Runs Out, until they Rust Away to Nothingness, these Carz already are providing Shelter for the Homeless.

 

The Great Race Run on the Thermodynamic Energy of Fossil Fuels has reached its Final Stage.  As the Saudi Phrase goes:

My father drove a Camel.  I drive a Car.  My Son flies a Jet.  His son will drive a Camel.

RE

A Few Insights Regarding Today’s Nuclear Situation

Off the Keyboard of Gail Tverberg

Published originally on Our Finite World on August 14, 2012

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord of the Diner

The issue of nuclear electricity is a complex one. In this post, I offer a few insights into the nuclear electric situation based on recent reports and statistical data.

Nuclear Electric Production Is Already Declining

Figure 1. World nuclear electric production split by major producing countries, based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy. FSU is Former Soviet Union.

According to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, the highest year of nuclear electric production was 2006.

There are really two trends taking place, however.

1. The countries that adopted nuclear first, that is the United States, Europe, Japan, and Russia, have been experiencing flat to declining nuclear electricity production. The countries with actual declines in generation are Japan and some of the countries in Europe outside of France.

2. The countries that began adopting nuclear later, particularly the developing countries, are continuing to show growth. China and India in particular are adding nuclear production.

The long-term trend depends on how these two opposite trends balance out. There may also be new facilities built, and some “uprates” of old facilities, among existing large users of nuclear. Russia, in particular, has been mentioned as being interested in adding more nuclear.

Role of Nuclear in World Electricity

Nuclear provides a significant share of world electricity production, far more than any new alternative, making a change from nuclear to wind or solar PV difficult. If nuclear electricity use is reduced, the most likely outcome would seem to be a reduction in overall electricity supply or an increase in fossil fuel usage.

Figure 2. Based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy

Nuclear is the largest source of world electricity after fossil fuels and hydroelectric, comprising about 12% of total world electricity. Wind amounts to about 2% of world electric supply, and solar (which is not visible on Figure 2) amounts to one-quarter of one percent (0.25%). “Other renewable” includes electricity from a variety of sources, including geothermal and wood burned to produce electricity. These can’t be scaled up very far, either.

Note that even with the growth of renewables, there is still very substantial growth in fossil fuel use in recent years. If nuclear electricity use is reduced, fossil fuel use may grow by even a greater amount.

Role of Nuclear in Countries that Use Nuclear

The world situation shown in Figure 1 includes many countries that do not use nuclear at all, so the countries that do use nuclear tend to generate more than 12% of their electricity from nuclear. This means that if a decision is made to move away from nuclear, an even larger share of electricity must be replaced (or “be done without”).

Figure 3. Based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

For example, in the Untied States (Figure 3), nuclear now amounts to about 19% of US electricity production, and is second only to fossil fuels as an electricity source. US nuclear production tends to be concentrated in the Eastern part of the US, so that nuclear amounts to 30% to 35% of electric production along the US East Coast. This would be very difficult to replace by generation from another source, other than possibly fossil fuels.

For countries that are planning to reduce their nuclear generation, nuclear electricity as a percentage of total electric production in 2010  are as follows:

  • Germany, 22%;
  • Switzerland, 37%;
  • Belgium, 52%; and
  • Japan 25%.

Unless these countries can count on imports from elsewhere, it will be difficult to make up the entire amount of electricity lost through demand reduction, or through a shift to renewables.

Nuclear Electric Plants that are “Paid for” Generate Electricity Very Cheaply

Nuclear power plants for which the capital costs are already “sunk” are very inexpensive to operate, with operating costs estimated at 2 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Any kind of change away from nuclear is likely to require the substitution of more expensive generation of some other type.

The electrical rates in place today in Europe and the United States today take into account the favorable cost structure for nuclear, and thus help keep electrical rates low, especially for commercial users (since they usually get the best rates).

If new generation is added to substitute for the paid off nuclear, it almost certainly will raise electricity rates. These higher rates will be considered by businesses in their decisions regarding where to locate new facilities, and perhaps result in more of a shift in manufacturing to developing nations.

Germany’s Experience in Leaving Nuclear

It is too early to know exactly what Germany’s experience will be in leaving nuclear, but its early experiences provide some insights.

One cost is decommissioning. According to Reuters, German nuclear companies have made a total of $30 billion euros ($36.7 billion) in provision for costs related to the cost of dismantling the plants and disposing of radioactive materials. According to the same article, Greenpeace expects the cost may exceed 44 billion euros ($53.8 billion). If the amount of installed nuclear capacity in Germany is 20.48 million kilowatts (kW), the direct cost of dismantling the nuclear reactors and handling the spent fuel ranges from $1,792 to $2,627 per kW. This cost is greater than the Chinese and Indian cost of building a comparable amount of new reactor capacity (discussed later in this article).

David Buchanan of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies did an analysis of some of the issues Germany is facing in making the change. Germany was in an unusually favorable situation because it had a cushion of spare capacity when it decided to close its reactors. When Germany closed its oldest eight reactors, one issue it discovered was lack of transmission capacity to transfer wind energy from the North to areas in the South and Southwest of Germany, where the closed reactors were located. In addition, the system needs additional balancing capability, either through more natural gas generation (because gas generators can ramp up and down quickly), or more electric storage, or both.

In Germany, natural gas is an expensive imported source of energy. The economics of the situation are not such that private companies are willing to build natural gas generation facilities, because the economics don’t work: (a) renewables get first priority in electricity purchases and (b) electricity from locally produced coal also gets priority over electricity from gas, because it is cheaper.  If new gas generation is to be built, it appears that these plants may need to be subsidized as well.

Increased efficiency and demand response programs are also expected to play a role in balancing demand with supply.

Not All Countries Have the Same High Nuclear Electricity Costs

We don’t really know the cost of new nuclear electricity plants in the United States, because it has been so long since a new plants were built. The new reactors which are now under construction in the state of Georgia will provide a total of 2,200 MW of generation capacity at a cost estimated at $14.9 billion, which means an average cost of $6,773/kW.

In China and India, costs are lower, and may drop even lower in the future, as the Chinese apply their techniques and low-cost labor to bring costs down.  The World Nuclear Association (WNA) in its section on China makes the statement,

Standard construction time is 52 months, and the claimed unit cost is under CNY 10,000 (US$ 1500) per kilowatt (kW), though other estimates put it at about $2000/kW.

In the section on nuclear power for India, the WNA quotes construction costs ranging from $1,200/kW to $1,700/kW, using its own technology.

If we compare the cost of  US planned plants in Georgia to the Chinese and Indian plants, the cost seems to be three or four times as high.

These cost differences also appear in comparisons on a “Levelized Cost” basis. The EIA in its 2012 Annual Energy Outlook quotes an US expected levelized cost of nuclear of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), anticipated for facilities being constructed now. The section on the Economics of Nuclear Power of the WNA quotes levelized costs in the 3 to 5 cents per kWh range for China, depending on the interest rate assumed. A cost in the 3 to 5 cents range is very good, competitive with coal and with natural gas, when they are inexpensive, as they are now in the United States.

Some of China’s nuclear reactors were purchased from the United States, and thus will be higher in cost because of the purchased components. But knowing that China has a reputation for “reverse engineering” products it buys, and figuring out how to make cheap imitations, I expect that it  will be able to figure out ways to create low-cost reactors in the near future, whether or not it can do so today. So the expectation is that China and India will be able to make cheap reactors (probably without all the safety devices that some other countries currently require) for itself, and quite likely, eventually for sale to others. Sales of such reactors may eventually undercut sales by American and French companies.

Interest in Purchasing Reactors

The interest in purchasing electricity generation of all kinds is likely to be greater in developing countries where the economy is growing and the need for electricity generation is growing, than in the stagnant economies of the United States, Europe, and Japan. If we look at a graph of electricity production of Asia-Pacific excluding Japan, we see a very rapid growth in electricity use.

Figure 4. Asia-Pacific Excluding Japan Electricity by Source, based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review.

The Middle East (Figure 5, below) is another area with an interest in nuclear. It too has shown rapid growth in electricity use, and a historical base of mostly fossil use for electricity generation.

Figure 5. Middle East Electricity by Source, based on data of the BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Use of Thorium Instead of Uranium Would Seem to be a Better Choice, if It Can be Made to Work

I have not tried to research this subject, except to note that research in this area is currently being done that may eventually lead to its use.

Uranium Production is a Problem

World uranium production fell a bit in 2011, relative to 2010, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Figure 6. World Uranium Production, based on data of the World Nuclear Association.

Production from Kazakhstan is becoming an increasingly large share of the total. Production in both the US and Canada declined in 2011. Spot prices have tended to stay low, in spite of the fact that an agreement that allowed the US to buy recycled Russian bomb material reaches an end in 2013. There are no doubt some stockpiles, but the WNA estimates 2011 production to equal to only 85% of current demand (including military demand).

Figure 7. World Uranium Production and Demand, in an image prepared by the World Nuclear Association.

A person would think that prices would rise higher, to incentivize increased production, but this doesn’t seem to be happening yet, at least. The uranium consulting firm Ux Consulting offers the following comment on its website:

The market that we now find ourselves in is like no other in the history of uranium. Production is far below requirements, which are growing. HEU [highly enriched uranium] supplies and the enrichment of tails material make up a large portion of supply, but the fate of these supply sources is uncertain. Supply has become more concentrated, making the market more vulnerable to disruptions if there are any problems with a particular supply source. Another source of market vulnerability is the relatively low level of inventory held by buyers and sellers alike.

The consulting firm ends the section with a pitch for its $5,000 report on the situation.

A person would like to think that additional production will be ramped up quickly, or that the US military would find some inventory. Markets don’t always work well at incentivizing a need for future production, especially when more or less adequate current supplies are available when Russian recycled bomb material is included. The discontinuity comes when those extra supplies disappear.

Large Publics Works Projects: Part II

Discuss this article at the Economics Table of the Diner

One common theme you find these days amongst OWSers and Libertarians alike is the despair over Big Bizness taking over, with all the TBTF Corporations being supported, while Small Biz Mom & Pop shops go Belly Up.  The Great Myth here in the FSofA has been that “Small Biz is the Backbone of Amerika”, particularly with respect to the archetypal hero of such a paradigm, the Entrepreneur who starts a biz in his Garage and goes on to grow it into a Big Biz down the line.

Even before I came up with the idea that LPWPs were the driver for economics in a large society, I held the opinion not that Small Biz was the foundation of Capitalism, but rather that Small Biz has always functioned as a parasite, or at best in symbiosis with Big Biz, which comes first.

If you take any town, it doesn’t start developing lots of Restaraunts and Hardware Stores and Starbucks until there is some Big Biz in town employing people who then in turn use their disposable income to begin a secondary economy going in all those retail biznesses.  On the occassions the Big Biz in town shuts its doors, the whole town goes into a tailspin of closed up smaller biznesses.  Thus you have all those depressing Rust Belt towns in the Midwest, which died economically when Manufacturing was moved over to the cheaper labor markets of the 3rd World.

Both the Railroad Era and the Interstate Era provide prime examples of how Big Biz begins building an LPWP which gets lots of Money flowing through the economy, which then can support ancillary Small Biz off that.  In the case of Railroads, now smaller Prospectors can go out in an area, locate something worth mining up and then have a means to transport it back to a manufacturing center.  The prospectors need tools, which come to the local hardware store via the railroad.  A local Blacksmith is necessary to fix broken tools, and Saloons open up in town for the local miners to frequent each night after backbreaking work digging rocks up out of the ground.  Dentists are necessary to fix the teeth they break, doctors to set their broken bones, POOF you have a thriving economy!

No Railroad comes to your Town, you get none of that, thus of course every small town across Amerika wanted to be Chosen as a Station on the Railroad.  Having your town Bypassed by the Railroad meant being Left Behind by that period of Economic Development of the Age of Coal.  So Railroads were given Rights of Way, Tax Breaks and all the rest to entice them into passing through your territory and then stopping at the town in that Ag Community, which turns it from a Subsistence Level Town into a Food Supplier of the Big Shities.  A good thing for the Large Land Holders in such an area; not necessarily so good for the smaller land holders of course.

The building of the Interstate has even more examples of how this works.  The highways were built not because large numbers of people had cars they wanted to move around in, but rather large numebrs of cars were built because the Interstate was built.  The Interstate was built because the Young Lieutenenant Dwight D. Eisenhower had to move a Mechanized Military Convoy across the FSofA inthe 1920s along the old Lincoln Highway, which really was just a hodgepodge of Dirt Roads quite sufficient for Horse and Buggy, but not all that amenable to Gas Powered Trucks and Personnel Carriers which were much bigger and got bogged down in the mud.  It became rapidly apparent to the Military that they could not control a large area as vast as the FSofA with a Mechanized Army without good Roads upon which to move that Army.

The Consumer level Automotive Biz arose from the need to find some way to gain utility out of the LPWP of the Interstate and so help to pay for it.  This vastly expanded the size of the Automotive construction biz, which in addition to the laboring jobs building the roads provided a generation of Union Workers a good living.  The Taxes they then paid on the gas they used to drive around on the Interstate is what paid for its construction.  Long as the Oil came up virtually free from the ground, the more people you got burning the stuff and running around willy nilly doing commerce, the more money you could push through the system.  Not only the Quantity of Money increased through this period, but its Velocity increased greatly as well.  Whereas in the agrarian economy of the Old West a person might have got by with just a few Silver Coins to spend each year and most of his needs covered by subsistence farming and barter, once the Automotive economy got rolling (sic), money became absolutely essential for all living.  Primary here: The Money is necessary to buy the Fuel.  There is no Coinkidink here that the very same person, John D. Rockefeller who was intrumental inthe rise of Standard Oil ALSO became such a large scale Bankster, or that Railroad Tycoons like JP Morgan also were in the Banking Biz.  The connection between Money and Energy has been well known by the Illuminati at least since the time of the Enlightenment when the ability to do Work with Heat was developed through the Steam Engine.

The Big Money piles of the Illuminati sifted out through the ages was put to Work by building the LPWPs of the Railroads and the Interstate and the Automotive Biz.  These LPWPs enabled them to Create out of Thin air much MORE money, which first gets distributed out the Big Biznesses and well connected next tier down the line of folks like Morgan and Rockefeller, although who knows there might be another layer between them and true Illuminati.

The Nation State and the Taxation System provides the means to Lever Up through Bond Issues to build these LPWPs.  As long as you are insinuated into the system CREATING the money used to fund all these projects, each time one is undertaken you get ever richer.  Of course, necessary here is that there is enough SURPLUS that as a whole the society can afford to undertake such an LPWP.

The reason there was likely such a long period during the Dark Ages of so little money flowing around was the lack of any great LPWP to be undertaken.  Note that from the period of around 500AD until pretty much the 1800s when the Railroads were built there were no LPWPs going on in the Western World, at this time they were occurring over in Asia when the Great Wall of China was built.  This could make a good case for the idea that the Illuminati were at the time holed up in the Himalayas and were levering up their wealth on the backs of the Chinese.

The levering up of Wealth takes either a large population or a large source of Energy, or preferably both to really work.  In both cases, in order to accomplish this task, during the time of Surplus you vastly increase the money supply and the velocity of money increases as well.  Building goes into “overdrive”.  Work is created at the most basic level of Physical Labor for a large number of people, either directly int he building of the LPWP itself, or in the Small Biz Ancillary economy that grows around the LPWP.  During the Post WWII era, this was the period where wealth distribution, at least on the “obvious” level seemed most Equitable, with Biz Managers paid only perhaps 40X what the average laborer made, as opposed to today where the managers make 400X what J6P makes.  This would be the late stage of an Expansion period, where as it decays the wealth gets consolidated down in layers, with in the end all being impoverished except of course our old friends the Illuminati, historically speaking of course.

Its this last layer of course that we often run into conflict over here, insofar as their ability goes to maintain the wealth and control after THIS collapse, which really is the first truly GLOBAL one since the whole bizness began with the Dawn of Agriculture some 6 Millenia ago or so.  In all prior collapses, it was always possible for “Capital” to run somewhere else and hide, or even not necessarily hide but lever itself up on new territory and new populations.  Particularly Efficient in this process was the general acceptance of Gold as THE Indestructible source of Capital.  If you could run away with all the gold in the Bank and leave J6P all just holding the bag on a bumch of Irredeemable Debt, after they finish fighting over this, you just drop back in with your Pile of Gold to begin the process all over again.

The problems with repeating this process in the case of a Global Collapse are many.  First off, there is no real “Safe Haven” for wealth anywhere in the world anymore.  You certainly cannot go over to China and hole up in the Himalayas now to preserve Wealth, and I would say South America is pretty dicey also, though better than China is.  SA has many reasons why it did not become the Powerhouse NA did through the Age of Oil.  climate and Topography work against it.  Mowing down the Rainforest is overall counterproductive, but unless you do mow it down you cannot support the building of an LPWP.  Much of what is not Rainforest is Mountainous in the Andes.  Again, Mountainous areas prevent much Commerce from developing in them and Armies of any era have an almost impossible task in trying to control the people who live in the Mountains.  Be it the Pashtuns of Afghanistans or the Swiss in the Alps, Mountain peoples always have a decent amount of independence compared to the flatlanders, though of course with the exception of the Swiss they generally lead a relatively deprived existence.  There are some signs that perhaps Cheeelay, home of Speedy Gonzalo Lira is becoming the New Switzerland for the Illuminati.  However, I just do not see that overall SA has enough good flatland that is not Rainforest upon which to do another LPWP like the Mayans worked up back in the day.

The second problem is it remains unclear to me that PMs will maintain the status of being Cross Border Money that can be used to transfer Wealth from one place to another.  I am of the opinion that until a large scale Die Off is completed AND the Earth has had decent time on a Geological Scale to recover from 6000 years of Agricultural Rape and 300 years of Thermodynamic Rape of fossil fuels that even if you Possess Gold, there just isn’t enough Resource Wealth left to lever up using the Gold.

Third issue is maintaing Ownership rights over vast areas of the Global Surface once you do not have sufficient energy to maintain Mechanized Armies.  You may still be able to maintain hegemony over smaller portions of the earth surface with armies of Troops armed with Atlatls, but again you would need sufficient Ag production to feed said armies, and the logistics of moving them around are much more difficult without the mechanization.  At the very least, it will take a generation or two to breed up enough Horses to run a decent size Cavalry again.

So essentially, the Great Pyramid that is Wealth Extraction from Labor and from the Resources of the Earth was pretty much completed through the process of developing LPWPs that provided the basis for a Surplus Economy to build its Population and distribute Resources to that population, if not fairly and equitably at least in such amounts that during the period of Expansion the Slaves of the society were kept complacent enough to keep on a-building.

The Last of these was the attempt to Lever Up off the Surface of the Earth and into the Final Frontier of Space, and it is this attempt that upon failing left nowhere really left to GO anymore.  It also why we likely are getting so many Science Propaganda Newz Stories now of new “exoplanets” and “Earth twins” being “discovered by the Kepler Telescope in far away Star Systems.  Even if true, all these discoveries tell us is that there is a hunk of rock circling around a star many light years away which is in the “Sweet Spot” where the Temps would be in theory correct for the presence of Liquid Water.  They may in fact even HAVE Liquid Water on them, they may in fact even have just the right amount of Mass so the Gravity is not too great or small for Homo Sapiens to wander about the surface.  IF Homo Sapiens could GET there, but crap man, we can hardly get to MARS after 40 years here of throwing big ass Rockets up into Space.  We are going to traverse LIGHT YEARS of Interstellar Travel with as yet undeveloped Matter-Anti Matter Engines that will propel us even at Sub-Light speeds to these Planets?  EVER?  Gimmee a break here.  Even IF such travel is in theory possible, it would take Centuries if not Millenia before we could manage such a thing, and long before that comes to pass we have to deal with the depleting resources of THIS planet.   We are not going to escape into the Final Frontier here IN TIME, so there just is not that much left now for the Illuminati to lever up anymore.  All the Gold in the WORLD will not get you to Betelgeuse, though Lord Only Knows, plenty was spent on super Conducting Super Colliders and all the rest to TRY to resolve the problem of living on one small Rock circling the Sun in one small corner of the Milky Way Galaxy.

All that is left now is for Homo Sapiens to REVERSE ENGINEER our way back to a simpler way of living and to invest the great GIFT that is Sentience in trying to figure out how to go BEYOND the Physical Limitations of Energy, Matter and Gravity.  That process does not take Super Conducting Super Colliders Or Oil OR Gold.  What it takes is applying the Human Mind to thinking outside the BOX of all these things.  They are a TRAP, which we have been caught in for 6000 years hear now at least.

The time has come now to leave this Box, and find our future elsewhere, not in the world of the Physical, but in the world of the Spirit.  This time will come, as Energy drops to Zero, the Spirit will RISE TO INFINITY.

The tough part of course is making it through the Zero Point.

Discuss this article at the Economics Table of the Diner

RE

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