Welcome to the age of diminishing returns

Monday, December 9, 2013

Here comes the sun




The folks at the "Doomstead Diner" have been very active in various fields related to a a vision they have of the future that - as you may understand from the name of the blog - is not so rosy. Now, they have started a new project called "Here Comes the Sun", where the initials stand for "Sustaining Universal Needs".

Writes "Reverse Engineer" (AKA Joe Smith) that

"At a certain point in this timeline, not sure precisely when, I realized that simply writing about what was occurring was not sufficient, something more active and constructive was necessary."

That involves, among other things

"The greatest problems faced are in terms of Food & Water Security. Access to these most basic needs for life is essential, and in a failure of our larger system of Just In Time delivery and the monetary system that serves to distribute these products, it is necessary to build your own resilient local system to replace that. Here on SUN, we seek to find and develop the best means for doing that with the lowest energy inputs possible and least damage to the surrounding environment possible. This is ongoing work for SUN members at all levels. In the end, the goal is to disseminate the knowledge, to teach more people to be self sufficient while at the same time securing our own needs in this world."

Personally, I completely agree with the idea that  "simply writing about what's occurring is not sufficient, something more active and constructive is necessary". I think I did something with the sun myself, as you can read here. (and see the picture below - the girl is my daughter, the panels are a 200 kW plant in the Italian Appennini mountains built by myself and a few friends)




 Read the complete article about the SUN project on the Doomstead Diner

7 comments:

  1. I suggest starting by something more resilient that the BAU PV issue: builditsolar.com
    In a resilient community, even a big one with, say 100000 people, who will build the PV cells? And the required electronics to convert DC into AC? And where would we obtain the rare materials needed, like Gallium, Arsenicum, Tellurim, Indium, and such?
    OTOH, with simple technologies, one can build at home, alone, simple energy saving and energy collecting systems like those explained int builditsolar.
    I humbly think that the book Spanish Photovoltaic Revolution must be read and understood by many PV devotes (is PV another 'civil religion' or a part of 'civil religion of progress'?).
    BTW, I also think that electronics will have its own 'dark age' ahead, if available at all.
    Beamspot.

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  2. I have many thoughts and opinions regarding this particular post but I will try to keep my comments relatively brief so what I will say may not be as precise or as substantiated as I would like it to be.

    First, the "here comes the sun" –a great Beatles song- article above ends by saying "no man is an island". I agree but I think that no community is an island either. The problem with any kind of "enclave" solution –of whatever sort- that doesn't take into account fully the political and social dynamics that are likely to occur or play out all around the enclave if a real catastrophe takes place or begins to unfold is that any enclave easily could be over-run or overwhelmed by outside people and outside forces. For instance is Italy, -not an enclave but I think the analogy holds- prepared to send its navy to shoot at and sink the many migrant boats full of desperate migrants arriving on its shores from Africa? If not, then it has no choice but to try to accommodate them somehow into its social and economic fabric, or that of the EU. What will members of any enclave –anywhere- do if and when their fellow citizens, hungry, thirsty, desperate and perhaps also violent come knocking at their door or maybe even try breaking it down by force?

    But having said this I think there are at least two or three very significant benefits to trying to set up enclaves or systems or methods at either individual or community level (s) for trying to protect or better prepare oneself and one's family or one's community.

    One benefit is that these examples or experiments could perhaps be replicated or mainstreamed. Another is that they could be networked, hence increasing the overall resiliency of the network. And a third benefit is that: a) one learns a lot by setting them up, a learning process with outcomes that could come in quite useful later in various ways and b) enclave solutions may work for a limited period of time during the period from when things start to go bad until the full catastrophe unfolds. And such a period could be very short or very long “depending”.

    Coming now to your own - Ugo's - efforts to set up the photovoltaic installation described above, I think this is very interesting, useful and a great initiative; and I also am sure that you learned a lot by implementing it and so did your daughter. And it is also very likely that you enjoyed yourself a lot while doing it. So very clear and definite benefits already. I don't know if you also developed any sort of a farm or other sort of productive capacity around the installation -or perhaps one was already there- or how you are using -or perhaps selling into the national grid- the 200 Kw you are producing. But either alternative is certainly good and useful. And let me now say something about myself in these respects.

    The SUN doomsday folks said that at first they were mainly blogging but then they thought they should try to do something practical and constructive as well. My own trajectory was the reverse.
    First I developed a small farm in a fairly remote part of Thailand with my Thai wife, and only later did I start blogging about climate change and limits to growth. Or more precisely, posting on other peoples' blogs since I do not have a blog of my own nor have any interest in running and administering one. (continues below)

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  3. So now a few aspects of our small farm. I agree that water and food are the two essential things to ensure, and electricity is a third.
    Naturally safety and security are also very important. I did not install any solar power because: a) there is a hydroelectric power station and a dam 10 km. from the farm and in Thailand there is plenty of water and rainfall is if anything too plentiful. It is very unlikely that that hydroelectric plant nearby will stop producing electricity during my own lifetime or my wife's b) however it would be quite easy to install solar panels to provide enough electricity for our own use. Particularly since we use very little anyway. We also have a good water well with plenty of reserves -replenished by an ongoing underground source every season after the rains- and there are three ways to get the water out: i) the electric pump we have; ii) a gasoline powered back up pump; and iii) a hand pumping system in case both of these other options cannot work. We also collect huge vats of rainwater from the roof and put anti-dengue pills in it.
    We plant and harvest every season twice the amount of rice that both me and my wife and all her family can eat for the year, and sell the rest. There are also mango trees, bananas and many other fruit trees on the farm which do not need watering. And we also plant some vegetables -and easily could plant more- if they were no longer easily available in the local market. But for now they are, and for amazingly low prices. So I think I have done what I can to prepare. Admittedly the surrounding environment and conditions were fairly –or extremely- easy. Had I lived in the Sahel or Manhattan things would not have been quite so simple.

    Nonetheless I am also under no illusion that things would work out o.k. for me and my wife and her family if things started to go really wrong here in the Land of Smiles. It is already becoming the Land of the Sullen due to the ongoing political problems of the past 8 years -in fact much longer- which are nowhere near being resolved. And the economy is in a bubble ready to pop anytime -i.e. just as soon as Bernanke or his successor stops or withdraws the QE-. And the economy of the Philippines and other “emerging” south-east Asian economies are in similar bubbles, some worse and some not as bad. Moreover Thailand’s domestic sources of natural gas may run out in about 10-12 years.

    But I have learned a great deal through the conceptualizing, planning, building and setting up of that farm – all done in participatory fashion together with my wife, her family and some of the local people and contractors. I had laid it out as a very small project in advance with objectives, activities, outcomes, schedules and costs and etc. based on the same –albeit reduced- project design and implementation frameworks that I had learned professionally . And I did the same also for all of the needed infrastructure, -site grading, electricity, improvement of the access road and water primarily- since we had started with just raw land one kilometer from the nearest secondary road. And the total cost of the entire project was about half of what a small apartment would have cost me in the U.S. or Italy. And if I died tomorrow that experience is something nobody and no force on earth can ever take away from me. A lesson about life and how to try to live it half -way intelligently in the present but with an eye also to the future, that I learned from my socialist Italian father many years ago.

    And that's my comment and I am sorry if it was so long that it had to be broken up into two p

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  4. Max
    My very best wishes go with you and your wife and your wider family and community.
    And you remember your Beatle songs and John Donne better than I do!
    Enclaves, promontories and Italy and the roads that led to Rome - Ugo has written much valuable info and meditation, as well as finding the time to gather friends and families on a demo solar farm.

    How we spend our slender purse and mobilise the gold of our inheritance really matters - bravo to you all. Your father's socialism will not be wasted. In Europe we call them borders; in America frontier came to mean something else - but frontiers are indeed porous.

    John Greer wrote this yesterday in answer to a comment:
    "Janet, the Middle East is hugely overpopulated and increasingly short on water. The most likely outcome is chaos followed by mass migration -- not refugees, but whole peoples on the move, armed to the teeth. Glance at the last centuries of the Roman Empire for some sense of what that's like."

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    1. I think I should have added an afterthought to my quote from Greer. The awful predicament looming in Middle East North Africa is uncontroversial reality. Much of the future will look inevitable in hindsight but just now we cannot know the actual future outcomes. Greer makes a comparison with history of a collapsing empire. Looking at Europe's position if 'we' become cut off from the external resources we largely depend on, is indeed sobering.

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  5. "First, the "here comes the sun" –a great Beatles song- article above ends by saying "no man is an island". I agree but I think that no community is an island either. The problem with any kind of "enclave" solution –of whatever sort- that doesn't take into account fully the political and social dynamics that are likely to occur or play out all around the enclave if a real catastrophe takes place or begins to unfold is that any enclave easily could be over-run or overwhelmed by outside people and outside forces."-MadMax

    Well, you clearly haven't followed my articles on the Diner. LOL.

    None of us involved in SUN are unaware of the greater geopolitical problems you face in trying to become self-sufficient. The issues are too numerous to mention here, I've dropped on articles in the 5000 word range going over them in detail.

    The thing is, a general breakdown of supply chains will make the type of large military/police state being run now quite dysfunctional, along with just about every other structure you see running at the moment.

    Small communities out in the Bush will be tough to get to without operational mechanized vehicles. Hell, even now it is tough to make it to some of the cabins my friends have up here, the ONLY way in is float plane. Overland, it is a rough slog even with a 4wheeler or Snow Machine in winter. Basically, you gotta hoof it at least the last 20 or 30 miles.

    Obviously this is not usually the case in Europe or even the Lower 48 here, but even there, current places you think are easily accessible are not. Wait till no Gas Stations are open heading into the Pyrenees. Pretty much as inaccessible as Afghanistan.

    RE

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    1. Hello Roger. Yes you are quite right, I (Mad Max) (probably number 4 by now?) have NOT been following yours or anyone else's articles on the Diner. I am spending far too much time following various blogs already, and I should be doing so less, rather than more, otherwise someone or other may say to me "Get a Life" and perhaps even be half way right. So I try to balance my reading and writing activities with other so called "real life" activities. Although I think that reading and writing (and certainly thinking) are also "real life activities". But if you are well aware of the greater geopolitical (and also national problems in the United States) then you probably have considered and taken into account as best you can the issues I mentioned. I think they are obvious to any intelligent people and I am quite sure that you and whoever else is working with you at the Diner are NOT dummies. (though you may not be quite as Mad as Mad Max who has been moving around the world almost non-stop since age 11)

      And I share your views about the "large military police state being run now (in the U.S.) which is quite dysfunctional" since one guy I do follow pretty closely in the U.S. is Tom Engelhardt and his various always interesting and informative Tomgrams.

      I haven't lived in the U.S. for about twenty years now...(I resigned from the World Bank in 1993) and I also have not returned ever since both of my parents passed away and were buried. I also don't get back to Italy - my country of birth- all that often, though I still do go there sometime.

      From here in Thailand both Europe and the United States seem a bit like "other worlds". Though I do realize that they are part of the same overall globalized neo- liberal "free" market capitalism world that ever country and region of earth is now a part of. (at least from an economic perspective). (the cancer has spread?) From a political and cultural perspective there remain some more significant differences. Though from an economic perspective too there are of course many different levels of so called "development" both between countries and within them.

      In any case I will try to have a look at your blog every once in a while from now on and I also would like to wish you and your fellow Dining travelers in the good old U.S. of A. all the luck in the world with what you are trying to do. The U.S. tends to scare me nowadays and moreover I don't like flying anymore, for various reasons. But perhaps at some point "I shall return" at least for a while, though probably not quite like McArthur returned to "liberate" the Philippines. (another interesting country where I spent two or three years some years ago)

      Take care, all the best and thank you for having taken the time to respond to my above comment.

      Mad Max 4

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)