I recently bought (pre-ordered) a copy of Reinventing Collapse : The Soviet Example and American Prospects by Dmitry Orlov. Orlov is a Peak Oiler and his writing on the subject is easily distinguishable from his contemporaries because he spent a lot of time in the Soviet Union during its collapse from Socialist Superpower to Just Another Asian Country With Nukes and a Funny Alphabet. In other words, he’s seen the mighty fall and it wasn’t pretty. His work can be seen at his Club Orlov blog and if you have time, I’d suggest giving it a good look.
Archives for May 2008
First, a great big thank you to Tom and Phil of EscapingNYC for pointing out that Library Journal has finally published an article about peak oil and what libraries should be thinking about in terms of dealing with it. (If you guys ever do manage to escape, please leave a forwarding address.)
It’s a good article overall, but I’ve got a few relatively tiny problems with it. The author has clearly read a fair amount of James Howard’s Kunstler’s work, which is great, he’s a terrific source for this subject. But then she writes:
If grand-scale fuel conservation and creation of alternative
liquid fuels had begun two decades ago, the results of the decline
would have gone largely unfelt. The demand for oil would have been
lower and the rate of decline in production slower.
Possible, but I think unlikely, if only because alternative-liquid fuels (biodiesel, ethanol and liquefied coal to name three) are a scam and were just as big a scam then, just less heavily subsidized scams than they are today. Note that the term "scam" here means "requires greater energy input per unit of production than is contained within that unit of production." Ethanol is a particularly cruel joke in this regard, as it’s made from corn, which can be, I dunno, eaten by hungry people. (Do you think it coincidental that food riots erupt in 37 countries just as our supply of ethanol explodes? I don’t.)
I think what we could very easily have done twenty years ago was refurbish, modernize and expand our rail and water-based transportation infrastructure. We also could have built better, more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, re-thought how electricity was generated and delivered, and not built more 3,000 sq. ft. houses than we could afford to buy. Oh, and we could have not exported nearly all of our manufacturing jobs to the Far East. All of these points have been made by Kunstler in the recent past.
Oh, well. Pet peeve over. It is an excellent article, and you should read it.
Stuff has happened since I first starting posting on this subject. I’m told by friends who have relatives in the oil business that had you suggested even a decade ago, with oil at $12 per barrel that we’d see such a remarkably steep price curve, due to stagnant supply and climbing international demand more than anything else, you’d have been laughed out of the room. (For the record, some did, and they were.) And I don’t think that Peak Oil means the end of the world as we’ve known it, or even the end of libraries. But I do think it means that our current model of converting absolutely everything to digital media will be more expensive to maintain and more difficult to implement, if only because if the increased risk of losing access to those collections due to–of all things–lack of electricity.
Electricity is easy: take a pair of magnets, wrap them with copper wire and spin them around each other, and you get an electric current. Simple. What’s a good deal less simple is how to provide a particular type of electrical current–in the case of the U.S., 120 volts at 60Hz frequency–in quantities sufficient to power 150 million+ homes and their attendant gadgets, gizmos, and appliances in a consistent manner.
"Consistent" in this case means, "always cheap and always on," neither of which will be a given 10 years from now. (Heck, it’s not always a given now.) In 10 years, the word may come to mean "10 consecutive hours a day, Monday through Friday." 20 years from now the concept of a reliable civilian power grid could well be ancient history. So imagining how to revitalize our electricity-based ILS’s and OPACs using the assumption that we’ll always have all the PCs in the library at our disposal may not be the best use of our time. Granted, such things will help our patrons in the short term (if 10 years is a short term to you), but the real question is one that the author touched on in her article: you’re maintaining a public library, and resources are short; your computers are old, and getting older. They break more often and each time, it takes longer for someone to actually fix it. Worse, the parts needed to maintain it are becoming more difficult to find at any price. People will naturally move away from exclusive reliance on the PCs and go back to the stacks where the "real" books are. Also the supply of brand new books will shrink as deliveries become less predictable (and the mass market paperback publishing industry goes belly up, one publisher at a time) such that donations become primary sources for our collection.
We may want to think about how we’ll track our stacks materials and update our card catalogs under those conditions.
I hate memorial Day. Specifically, I hate the jingoism, the militaristic bullshit and the monumental levels of hype one hears pretty much on every television, radio, and in every newspaper and magazine, and on God knows how many internet sites, for these 24 hours. Statism is bad when it’s tolerable, it’s disgusting when it’s prostituted for mere political gain.
That said, I was born here, and at least 2 branches of my immediate family risked literally everything to come here in the early part of the 20th century, and for all it’s warts, it’s home. It’s a home that numerous individuals lived and died to defend and protect, and for their service, I am grateful.
My only real experience with the U. S. armed forces has been financial: I sold a couple of hard drives to the Navy and the Marines way back when I was in the computer parts business. The navy ship in question, whose quartermaster ordered the equipment was the U.S.S. Enterprise, which, being the science fiction nerd I am and will always be, pretty much made my whole year. But asthmatics with crappy vision are generally exempt from military service, so a civilian I remain, despite high scores of marksmanship at the local rifle range.
Members of my family, however, have served, for a wide variety of reasons, and I’m going to honor them and their memories by putting their names and service information here. You’ll notice that there’s more information on some than others, but in every case I listed as much as I could find.
Many thanks to my grand-uncle, Fred Frater, for maintaining these family records. (Fred’s half-brother, Hal Frater, was my grandfather; Hal passed away this past February 3, only 30 days sort of his 99th brthday. Hal’s wartime service was spent working for the War Dept. illustrating equipment manuals for the Army and Navy.)
KNOWN VETERANS OF THE FRATER FAMILY
Captain Garret Winegar, 12TH Mass. Regiment, Revolutionary War; enlisted, Continental Army, America, N.U. (see Revolutionary Rolls, Mass. Archives, Chapter 45, page 406)
John N. Francisco, Civil War, Union Forces, 1st Lt. Co. K, 22nd Infantry, Iowa Volunteers. Wounded, Port Gibson, Miss. (Battle of Vicksburg), (Grandparent of Jannibell O. S. Frater)
Edward W. Knapp, Civil War, Pvt., Co. E, 9th Regiment, Iowa Infantry Volunteers, (Grandparent of Janibell)
Walter A. “Skip” Smith, WWII, Seabee Pacific
Janibell O. Smith Frater, Army Nurse, WWII, served 1943-46 (wife of Fred)
Fred Stanley Frater, 82nd Airbone, WWII (Husband of Janibell)
Albert R. “Al” Frater, USMC, Vietnam, 1965-66
Arthur Frater, Major, U.S. Army, 9 years service
Jules Frater, served in Europe
Ronald Wherely, U.S.M.C
Tom Wilbean, U.S. Navy
Stan Smith, Served in Vietnam
Dick Memmary, U.S. Navy
Julian Frankel, U.S. Army, served in Korea
Happy Memorial Day!
If you read my last post–which I think of as "yesterday’s" but is really more like "two days ago’s"–you know that some very smart, observant, and well-spoken individuals think that the Era of American Participatory Democracy is either on the ropes or gone for good, depending on your reading of their arguments. That, if true, would suck. At the very least we’d have to deal with the fact that we’ve sold out our collective ability to make stuff, do stuff, and solve real problems in real time for cheap toys and doodads, which break if you play too roughly with them.
But as if that were not enough, now comes this. There is a decent chance (estimated at 10%, which is significant but not something to really lose sleep over on a nightly basis) that something big enough to punch a hole in our planet will hit us some time this century. That’s not really news to people who have any interest in astronomy or geology–it’s a big planet, and the solar system is crowded, and pieces of space junk are always hitting us or coming close to hitting us. Less often and to lesser effect now than, say, 1 billion years ago, when the solar system was getting the last kinks worked out and mountains routinely punched holes big enough swallow Ontario in the planets and their moons. Until now this has not been that big a problem. Mostly because, well, we’ve only been here a short time, nearly all of which (until just recently) has been spent dealing with more immediate concerns like hunting, gathering, and growing food and sheltering ourselves from the elements.
Think of it this way. We at some point all do the same thing, which is sit on our beds, and watch as the sunbeams stream in through the window, illuminating every speck of dust in the air before splashing down on to the bedspread and floor. I’m still fascinated by that. It’s possible to stare at this display of the sheer thickness of the air just in our bedrooms–air filled with tiny particles shed by anything and everything around us, including dust, pollen, bits of skin, hair (both from us and our pets), plaster and insulation from the ceiling–for hours. Now, these things are all tiny compared to our heads, or even our eyes, yet the space around us is filled with them, but since they don’t bother us, we don’t even think about them. Then one day, some speck of God knows what hits your eyeball at exactly the right speed and angle and you feel a shooting pain in your eye, so you blink, then you stagger, maybe you fall down, and the only thing on your mind is how the hell did that happen?
Well, it happened because your luck ran out. It’s the odds. Ten billion billion trillion specks of dust whizz past you or smack into a part of you that’s not sensitive enough to notice, but eventually, your luck runs out, then owie!!
The solar system isn’t that different. The biggest difference is that the Earth is an eyeball that’s roughly 8,000 miles wide, and the last real owie that hit is was about 65 million years ago. The result was a massive underwater crater near the Yucatan Peninsula and a change in environment that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. It’s estimated that the rock which caused that was something like a mile wide which is pretty tiny compared to a lot of the stuff that’s out there now. But out there these falling rocks remain, just waiting for that ever so elusive gravity nudge that sends it on a course towards another major owie.
The thing we have going for us is that fact that we are here. We actually have the tools and knowledge we’d need to see something like a mile-wide rock from space while it’s still far enough away to do something about it. We aren’t doing much at the moment, which is disappointing because movies like Deep Impact and Armageddon aside, it really is just a matter of time and the chance of any given event happening is 100% if your time horizon is long enough. Clearly the editors of The Atlantic though it was worth a cover story.
Anyway, read the article. Enjoy!
It’s an interesting exercise in evaluating the current state of politics in the U.S. to take a good, long look at Bill Moyers’ new book, Moyers on Democracy (excerpted by Truthout.org, here) and compare it to Chalmers Johnson’s review of Sheldon S. Wolin’s new book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, (discussed here on Alternet.org).
The two authors take parallel courses through their research and observations, but they both imagine subtle differences to the similar conclusion: the American ideal of "government of the people, by the people, for the people" is just about over. Moyers believes that time is running out to save our souls and the ticks are getting closer together, while Wolin has (to Johnson’s reading) chronicled the end of Our Way of Life. If so, it would be a sad day indeed, since it’s one thing to realize that the Greedheads have won but it’s quite another to realize that you’ve been helping them win all along.
Anyway, read the articles and if you’re feeling especially flush, buy the books. Enjoy!
Faced with an absolute abundance of stuff to write about (work, articles, the recent Nylink and NYTSL events just to name a few) I am choosing to alert the general public that June 13, 2008 will once again be "Blog As If It’s The End Of The World As We Know It" day.
I go now to prepare and try to structure a week of posts.