Monday, October 15, 2012

Remembering Von Thunen

On Saturday, this past weekend, my wife and I visited our undergraduate college specifically so we could attend the reception they were holding.  It was Homecoming weekend, and the geography department was celebrating the coming together of three events:  the 60th anniversary of the department, the 50th year of my advisor first teaching, and the 40th anniversary for the second professor who was teaching in the department at the time I earned my degree in geography in the late 1970s-beginning of the 1980s.

And so I had geography on my mind during my drive home to Dubuque from the place where my wife now lives.  Two months ago my wife took a new call as a pastor at a church four hours away, in far north-central Iowa, which means we now have two homes we occupy.  And so I spend most weekends driving the four hours each way to stay in this new community and be with my wife.

This time as I drove through the cloudy, rainy terrain that represented the weather this weekend, and looked out at the mostly harvested corn and soy bean fields, endless miles of them, broken up by small pockets of trees, that mark modern Iowa, I remembered back to some geography I learned more than 30 years ago now authored by Johann Heinrich von Thunen in 1826.  Von Thunen observed that land use around communities was divided into rings of activity which seemed to be controlled by the economics of transportation and other factors.  Closest to the town were the fields of vegetables and dairy, items that are both perishable and heavy (and expensive) to transport to market, followed by a ring a bit further out of woodland for firewood.  Beyond the wooded ring were first rings of crops of various types, again differentiated by their lower costs to transport and longer times they can exist before becoming unusable.

Here is one rendition of von Thunen's model, an image that has been reproduced on several web pages on the internet, such that I don't know the particular source:

Here is another image of the von Thunen model, illustrating the graphing that one does in calculating "rent" (profit) against distance and costs:
The idea is that the particular land use at each incremental distance represents that use that is most profitable among the choices.

There is a logic to this model, although I don't necessarily like the particular emphasis on economics alone, and would rather think of other measures and determinants.  It clearly does not mimic the world of today, much affected by our cars, trucks, modern pricing, tractors, specialization in farming, mono-cropping, and so on.  And it is clearly an illustration of how different our world has become from that of a earlier, pre-industrial view.

Cast forward to a future world without automobiles, trucks, and ready means to move about, I began to image a similar pattern needing to re-emerge on the Iowa landscape, and every landscape for that matter, as land use once again needs to match the means of transport by foot, by water, and by animal-drawn carts.  Individual farmsteads will need to diversify again to meet their own food needs, once again having having vegetable gardens, with animals and their own individual wood lots.  Some farms will no longer be growing crops, but will need to switch to being tree farms to eventually produce trees for the local community.  All kinds of changes that will no longer be mono-crops fed by large machines.

The thinking I went through yesterday reinvigorated my mind, as images flooded past of a much different landscape, one that by no means appeared scary.  My mind was reawakened to geography, something it hasn't been for a few years now.  I began picturing a new map for Iowa.  It was exciting yesterday afternoon, and still is today.  I hope to flesh these thoughts out some more in the future.  But first I need to do some more reading, to remind myself of the details and concepts I've forgotten over the years.

From Dubuque,
Kevin Anderson

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My fictional peak-oil story submission for JMG

On September 7, 2011, John Michael Greer, on his blog, TheArchdruidReport, issued a challenge for people to write "realistic" peak-oil fiction or science fiction. The primary rule is that there can't be an "Invasion of the Space Bats" -- in other words, no miracles from space or inconceivable solutions that will get us out of the future. So I put my mind to work, and this is what came out. I don't know if it meets all the requirements of the challenge, but we will see. Enjoy.

The Closing of a Radar Station, A Peak Oil Story
by Kevin Anderson
September 2011


Master Sergeant (Promotable) Daniel Johnson, United States Air Force, was in his office early this morning. He stopped by to grab some papers he needed before heading over to catch his ride with the bi-weekly resupply and crew-change trip to the weather radar station north of the base.

Earlier this morning, he left his wife, Carla, for the five-mile shuttle bus ride to the squadron headquarters. Normally he would bike to the headquarters, but he had to catch the bus this morning as his bike was already at the office. He had left his bicycle at the office last Friday when it was raining, and instead caught a ride home with his wife, who had come over to the commissary that afternoon in order to purchase the fresh food that gets shipped in once a month and had been put out on the shelves that morning.

He had packed clothes for an overnight trip, as traveling to the radar site was no longer a simple visit, the kind that he used to do in just an afternoon. Although not that many miles away from the air base in terms of how people still think about distance, the Air Force now made trips to the radar site only every other week in order to save on precious fuel. Starting about ten years ago, when fuel was already really expensive and vehicles got harder to keep repaired, the Air Force made the decision to house personnel at the radar site. Before that, they used to drive out as often as needed, which could be several times a week.

Now, the crew of three airman that staff the site 24-hours a day spend two weeks at a time on site, exchanging with the replacement crew using the same truck that brings in their supplies. While at the radar station, they do all maintenance on the site. The replacement crew drives up on Sunday, with the afternoon spent unloading the truck with the help of usually two of the airman already there. The tired crew would then drive back to base on Monday. This two-day switchover of crews is why the Master Sergeant needed overnight clothes.

MSgt Johnson, soon to be the senior NCO and "First Shirt" in his communications squadron if he stays in the Air Force (which is debatable at this time), typically would visit the radar site only once or twice a year. His last visit wasn't very long ago, back in May, but this trip was an extra trip. He had news to bring to the site, on what could very well be be his final visit.

You see, the news he had to reveal is that the Department of Defense, in consultation with the Department of Transportation and the National Weather Service, had made the decision that they would no longer continue to maintain this particular weather radar, and so in just a month's time, they are going to shut down the site. The parts for this radar are now deemed more valuable in being used elsewhere in order to keep the remaining radar sites operational. Although not widely publicized, Johnson knows that his particular radar site is already the fourth this year to be closed, and the seventh since the government started this consolidation of sites in the middle of last year.

While in his office, which is quiet at this early hour on a Sunday morning, he happened to glance again at the calendar on his wall. Noticing the date, he shook his head, knowing something was significant about today's date, but it was slipping his mind. Earlier this morning, he also suspected something was different about the day, as Carla had cooked up an extra egg from the chickens out back to augment his breakfast. Usually he gets just one egg every other day, but for some reason this morning he got two.

"Oh yeah," he said out loud, after another glance at the calendar, the sound echoing around the empty office, "it's my Air Force anniversary date." Thinking on, "Twenty years ago I traveled to Lackland [Air Force Base] to start my Air Force enlistment."

That Daniel was still in the Air Force is a fact that caused him to eat several times the words that he had given his father. Dan used to boast he would serve only four years, and then it would be off to get that great job in industry repairing radars. But when four years passed, and then eight years, he reenlisted each time as those jobs just weren't out there -- too many out-of-work serviceman had already claimed them. And now its twenty years, and he is still here, and there are even fewer government radar sites now to repair than there used to be.

That he got two eggs this particular morning might also be Carla's quiet way of reminding him that it was time to retire from the Air Force. For Carla, it was time to move back to Midwest to be closer to family, while they still had the chance to easily get there. Her parents have been bugging them to come home now, worried that they won't otherwise see them again, and that Daniel and Carla might get "trapped" in California.

Twenty years ago, Daniel Johnson entered the Air Force as a fresh recruit at the age of 23, after a year of trying various jobs after college. A graduate of a “Big Ten” university with a major in Geography, Daniel tried several different types of sales jobs, helped with the national census collection that happened that year, and even worked as a barista for Starbucks. (What's Starbuck's, you ask? Back then it was THE big nationwide franchise of coffee shops that expanded out of Seattle. Everyone wanted to fork out $3-4 for a coffee. You don't hear of them anymore, not for at least five years now, ever since the cost of fuel and the needed protections against hijackers on the high seas more than quadrupled the cost of getting coffee from overseas.)

The year Daniel enlisted was a particularly bad year, as the economy continued to tank in the years following the burst of the housing bubble in 2008 and all the woes of banks, European countries, and a slow job market. It was around this time that the elected members of Congress seemed to become really ineffective in running the country, when party politics kept the government from agreeing on anything dealing with appropriations or jobs, and nothing has changed since.

None of the jobs Daniel tried that year out of school ever worked out very well, never earning enough to live on. No matter what he could do, economic ends didn't meet. In a desire to make more of himself, he joined the Air Force and was very pleased to be selected to train as a ground radar apprentice. This meant he was trained in electronics, an important and interesting field that he was happy to get. As a ground radar tech, he was trained in the maintenance of all the various airport surveillance, airport approach, air route, and weather radars that were then being used by the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Weather Service. These were all critical systems that the country needed, and he would have a role in keeping them going.

Usually by now, on this particular day of the year, Master Sergeant Johnson would have received an annual anniversary card from his dad, celebrating another year in the service.

"I wonder why I didn't get a card this year," he thought.

His dad, who was as excited as Daniel was about going into the Air Force, was a very proud parent. He always communicated somehow each year on his service anniversary.

"Something must have happen to hold up the mail," Daniel thought again.

This isn't the first time that postal mail has failed to arrive on time. What used to be an easy, guaranteed three- or four-day journey for mail by a combination of over-the-road truckers, and sometimes by airplane as extra baggage, now was a week journey at minimum from the Midwest to California, and often times ten days to two weeks. While U.S. Postal Service mail still had some priority as far as shipping space and access for fuel, often times the Postal Service couldn't outbid the other remaining companies trying to ship items, particularly food stuff needed everywhere. As a result, trailers filled with mail would often end up waiting someplace until a shipper could be found to haul the trailer filled with bags a few hundred miles further down the highway, where another delay might happen yet again. Delays were common place. Beale Air Force Base didn't have it too bad, however, as a railroad mainline passes not too far south, down near Sacramento, and often mail will come through on the California Zephyr and similar trains that still ran. And fortunately the U.S. Postal Service could maintain that the mail did eventually still get through, although one had to wonder if that will always be true.

"Oh well, can't worry about that now.” Time to get out to the transport.


Five hours later, the transport pulled into the small fenced compound that held the radar site, with its radome on top of a tower, an equipment hut, a generator shed, several fuel tanks, and a small barracks, plus some gardens in the wetter growing season.

What used to a be a fairly quick trip before now takes at least three to four hours one way on a good day (and much longer in the winter). This is largely due to the truck they use having a governor that limits travel to no faster than 15 miles an hour, a Department of Defense mandate. Initially put in place as a means to minimize wear and tear on tires (as rubber, and particularly its chemical substitutes, became hard to get), the mandated slow vehicle speed has also become necessary as the roads are breaking down from the lack of repair. The State of California, in their need to control budgets and loss of income, have made road repair a much lower priority. And calling it a "much lower priority" is putting it mildly; no priority is probably a better description in this part of the state. It amazes Daniel, who loves to drive, how quickly road surfaces break down when they aren't regularly repaired. And in addition to the mandatory slow driving speed, the DoD also stipulated the use of drivers who were also specialists in the repair of their own vehicles - no longer do the airman get to drive themselves to the radar site.

The Master Sergeant, after being welcomed by the personnel who were already at the site, headed into the main equipment room, leaving the truck driver and the radar crew to the task of unloading the truck. Boxes of food had to be unloaded, and barrels of oil transferred to the fuel tanks that fed the radar's generators.

The Master Sergeant had the equipment room to himself. Given that it was a clear, sunny, beautiful late-summer day, with no weather of consequence brewing outside, everyone could be devoted to the unloading process except for the night-time shift operator, as he was sleeping in the barracks. And the one crewman who would normally be on duty at the console was also helping outside, so Johnson had the room to himself. (Normally he wouldn't be alone, because if there was unfavorable weather of any sort, the airman on duty for this shift would be busy making sure the radar was working properly and the needed information was getting out to Weather Service offices and forecast centers.)

This quiet time gave Daniel a chance to continue his reflection on all that has changed in the years he has been in the Air Force. It also gave him a further moment to reflect on the news he was bringing.

Nineteen years ago, Daniel, then an Airman First Class fresh out of his technical school, reported to this same airbase, Beale, located in California's Sacramento Valley. He can still remember the day, about ten days after he first stepped on the base, when he first walked into this equipment room below the white fiberglass soccer-ball-like "radome." Exciting as it was at the time, he didn't expect this very same equipment would still be here today.

"His" radar, a WSR-88D (Weather Surveillance Radar, 1988, Doppler, also known as NEXRAD, for Next Generation Radar, a sign of how progressive this design was viewed at the time it was first developed), was still supposedly the state-of-the-art when he first trained on it, the primary weather radar used throughout the United States in an interconnected network of more than 150 sites at its most extensive implementation. Beale's weather radar was one of nineteen sites maintained by the Department of Defense in this national network. It's coverage area, a distance extending out to beyond 400 kilometers at its furthest extent, goes north all the way up to the Oregon state line, south to well south of Sacramento to where the Fresno radar takes over, and west over the Coastal Ranges and wine country to the Pacific shoreline, including San Francisco. This coverage west has always been helpful, as it is from the west that storms come on shore. To the east of the radar site, the tall Sierra Nevada mountain range cuts off this otherwise circular coverage area except for all but the highest altitudes of the atmosphere measured, where the radar near Reno takes over. This radar site to the east of here is why the Master Sergeant is making this extra trip this month - the keeping of the Reno radar operational has been deemed more important than the Beale site, whose equipment will be shipped to Reno as replacement parts. That, and the existence of the coastal radars at Eureka to the northwest and San Francisco to the southwest, both covering the approaching weather potential better by searching further out from the coast, make this radar site appear redundant and unnecessary.

Daniel would disagree, arguing that much can happen as weather systems approach the lofty mountains across the valley. But it is also hard to combat the biggest constraint of all, the lack of money and the fact that no new replacement parts are being manufactured, and haven't been for several years, for these radar systems. The only way to keep this critical network going is to cannibalize unneeded sites. Daniel has heard rumors that another six sites will likely get closed next year, including the San Joaquin Valley radar to his south, as it too is in a similar geographic area that is covered by other radar sites. The government can no longer afford this level of duplication and redundancy, even if it means an ultimate risk to safety and security. More of what you see happening every year in both state and Federal government.

The weather radar at Beale became operational in the mid-1990s, and was already starting to show its age when Daniel first saw the equipment on that first visit to the site. Now, years later, this same equipment is still here and well over thirty-some years old, and soon would be forty years old. While not terribly old in human terms, but ancient in technological years, the fact that this equipment is a few years younger than the equipment at other radar sites, those put in earlier because they covered areas of more active weather, makes these particular parts all that much more valuable for the longevity they could provide in a more needed radar site.

The equipment room where the Master Sergeant is standing, which houses the transmitter and receiver for the radar, a console for the operator, plus what's left of the communications equipment, is surprisingly quiet. It's quiet because the radar is on standby for this particular hour. Fans are running, but are no where as loud or active as when the radar is actually completing its scan of the skies.

It was quiet right now because ten years ago, before the need for scavenging parts was envisioned, the DoD and Weather Service had already made the decision to operate radars mostly on an as-needed basis. "As-needed" in this case was dependent on the weather. Daniel was a member of the team representing the Air Force that met to make that decision, which just happened to have occurred during a time when he was serving on temporary duty at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, near to where the National Weather Service Radar Operations Center is located. As a local Air Force “expert” on the WSR-88D, even though that was not the type of radar he was specifically watching over while at Tinker, the brass upstairs nonetheless assigned him to the task force.

Ten years ago it was decided that in times, and areas, where the weather experienced or predicted for the day was what meteorologists call "fair weather conditions," meaning that no rainy or bad weather was happening or forecast to happen for a number of hours, that the radar sites in those parts of the country would mostly stand down and only scan once an hour. The idea was two-fold -- to save on the fuel oil that was feeding the generators that were powering the site by reducing their load and allowing them to idle, and to save wear and tear on the equipment itself, particularly the rotating antenna and the expensive high-power amplifiers (which were starting to get hard to come by) that generated the bursts of energy sent out by the radar.

The electrical generators, which were originally put in at each radar site for use as a backup only, during times of power outages, became necessary for daily operation at most sites as the nation's electrical grid became unreliable. The radar sites in California were among the first hit by this need, brought on by California's long-standing problem with maintenance of power lines and the lack of reliable interconnects with the power sources outside the state. After several large-scale events that happened about eleven years ago, plus almost continuous brownouts and rolling blackouts during the summer months ever since, it was decided that it was cheaper to power the radars continuously on generators rather than risk their proper cycling on and off as the electrical power on the grid came and went.

With the nice weather being experienced this week, Daniel happened to arrive during one of the standby time periods when the radar sat idle. In about an hour, it will get noisier for a bit while the radar makes another scan. But for now it is quiet.

It was during the switchover to using around-the-clock generators that the decision was also made to staff the radar sites continuously. Prior to this time, most weather radar sites could be empty of people except for during maintenance, as the WSR-88D was also touted as the first fully-automatic weather radar system put into service. With the emergence of the DARPA's "Internet" in the late 1980s, plus the development of powerful (at that time) workstations that could do all the needed processing of data and control of the radar, the WSR-88D was developed to be remotely monitored.

When generators became necessary, initially mechanics began manning the site, one person at a time, with the sole purpose of keeping the generators going. All other operations of the radar were still done remotely, automated as they were before, with the technicians at Beale watching from afar. But that lasted only a couple of years, when, after the loss of two critical radar sites in the middle to the country due to major breakdowns during a heavy day of tornadoes, it was also decided that the radars were too valuable to trust to someone on-site not trained on the equipment itself. In that disastrous year, one of the radars had its antenna get destroyed when the bearings overheated and tore up the assembly before the generator mechanic could shut it down using directions telephoned from a technician. Another radar site was lost when its transmitter's amplifiers overheated and the automatic shutdown failed to happen. In the analysis of these two disasters, it was decided that trained radar technicians were needed on site for all hours of the day, ready to immediately fix a problem. Or at least shut things down before a disaster ensued. No longer could the radar technicians be several hours away, back on the air base.

That decision to continuously staff radar sites was further justified when it was found necessary to go to the alternating scan/standby schedule, as the added wear and tear from starting and stopping needed to be monitored, and the already old computers couldn't be trusted to handle the automation anymore. After years of putting trust in information technology, automation, and replacing people with technology, it was found to once again cheaper to use people, especially people in government and military positions, who get paid whether they are active or not. Better to keep people busy, as technology had now become unreliable and too expensive. And so with the small cost of building an adjacent barracks, complete with an fuel- oil stove for cooking, plus a backup coal heater for those few months in the winter it still gets cold here, the site got 24-service with on-site radar crews. This is actually a throw-back to the early Cold War years, when all radar sites were manned 24/7 by technicians and operators, in the days before much automation was available.


Later that evening, after supper was eaten and cleared away, the Master Sergeant gave his news to his airman.

"Come October 1, the start of the new fiscal year, this facility will cease its operational status. And then we will spend the remainder of the calendar year dismantling the entire facility, moving all electronics to storage at Beale, from where it will get shipped over the mountain next summer to Reno (unless they are needed sooner at some other site)."

Further, he gave the news that a couple of the radar technicians will likely get reassigned with a permanent change of station to another air base that still has their WSR-88D. The rest of the airman, the newer technicians still early in their enlistment, will probably get retrained as HF (high frequency) radio technicians or operators.

This last bit, actually can be seen as good news for these airman. High Frequency radio (aka "shortwave") has been in a resurgence in the last five to ten years. With the loss of a reliable electrical grid, and coincidentally at the same time the loss of a reliable telephone system due to neglect and lack of investment by the private companies we relied upon, it has become necessary for all of the military to develop (or more correctly, "rediscover") alternative methods of keeping in touch between bases. The military, once the leader in networking technologies, which allowed computers to talk to each other, was now relearning to use technology that dates back to the Second World War and much of the early Cold War periods.

The "Internet," once the global network of high-speed communications between corporate and personal computers, and previously used by almost everyone in the world for near-instantaneous communication with each other, has largely become history. Touted as the future, and the impetus for so many changes in the way communications took place and how people learned of news, plus how companies decided to hire workers, it is surprising how quickly it has disappeared again.

Today the Internet is almost gone. Or at least the Internet that Daniel used to know. Computer networks, which still do exist in critical areas, can no longer be counted on running on any particular day. Worse, there aren't that many functional computers left to connect to this network.

Daniel is of the right age to have been born at the start of the Internet and to have witnessed its heyday. Even though his parents were somewhat slow in bringing this technology into his house while he was growing up, Daniel embraced it completely during high school, college, and throughout his early years in the Air Force. Its unbelievable to think of it now, but he used to have several laptop computers, smart phones, Internet-capable portable music players, and a whole host of whiz-bang technological gadgets.

The younger airmen playing cards at the adjoining table this evening, on the other hand, have only known the Internet in its decline. Born at the peak of the Internet, by the time these airmen were in middle school, and certainly by high school, they had already experienced the decline.

First it was the rising cost of the service itself. When the economy tanked years ago, companies who made the Internet happen by wiring it together also discovered that could no longer afford to invest in the new and replacement equipment that was needed to make it happen. These Internet service providers, ISPs as they were called, started experiencing the same problems that are now hurting this weather site with the inability to maintain service. And five years after that, the actual manufacturing of electronics began to decline. Almost all of the electronics we depended on were made overseas, in Japan, Korea, China, and other places that experienced civil unrest, natural disasters, and loss in global trade that limited their ability to gather together resources to design and manufacture equipment. One of the problems with modern electronics is its manufacturing process, the small components used, particularly integrated circuits, "chips," which require clean rooms, steady electrical sources, and high quantities of clean water, plus caustic chemicals, in their making. When electricity itself became unreliable, so did the manufacturing of modern electronic devices, which by their nature and design can't be simple “backyard” productions. Companies quickly started going out of business.

And with it came the inability to reliably transfer data via this Internet "superhighway." The loss of this Internet quickly affected the national network of weather radars, as well as the extensive network of interconnected airport surveillance radars and cross-country air traffic radars, as they all depended on funneling data to each other and to large capacity data processing centers. The Internet both aggregated the data and in turn sent it back out to users. With the power outages and breakdowns in the Internet, data transfers in both directions began to fail more frequently. "Radar data not available from this site" became an all-too-common message.

So it became necessary to find alternative means of sharing this critical data. Alternate methods almost inevitably mean something slower than the previous technology it replaces. One of the results was a scavenging of equipment, particularly simple coding systems that could run over HF radio, or possibly an existing telephone wire, that could also work in the presence of high amounts of "noise" in the signal. Often that meant humans that could step in, both to encode, transmit, and decode the data. Even Beale AFB had to do something when the dedicated communications link between the radar station and the air base got cut; the microwave link that is currently being used is there only because the Master Sergeant's airman were able to recondition and re-purpose equipment from an earlier base closure in California, equipment that had been sitting idle for over twenty years and is older than Daniel. The MSgt went one step further at the same time, and found some unused solar panels for cheap, which the crew rigged up with batteries and a charging circuit to make sure his communications link will run 24/7.

Slow and unreliable communications was one of the reasons also behind not running every radar site continuously. By having fewer radar sites recording weather data every hour of the day, the Weather Service is able to still transfer the data from the scan at a much slower speed in the time available between the hourly or three-hour scans. Even in times of severe weather, when many more radars are operating to see where tornadoes and storm cells are located, they currently can only scan once every 30 minutes before the communication lines are too limiting (which is in stark contrast to the original network design of scans every 5 to 10 minutes from all of the 150-some radars).

"While not ideal, at least we still have radar," Daniel thought. He wonders, however, how many more years even this level of service can be kept up.

The ill-timed change in the economy, and therefore the overall loss in major amounts of money to invest like the government used to, plus later the loss in the production of electronics, also cost the U.S. Government their one opportunity to replace the aging fleet of radars, both airport and weather surveillance radars, and put us in this position today of having to shutdown the Beale weather radar.

Daniel thought, "If only we would have gotten MPAR everywhere. Maybe then I wouldn't be needing to close this radar site." Back when Daniel entered the Air Force, plans were being drawn up for MPAR, the Multipurpose Phase Array Radar, which was being designed to replace the entire fleet of installed air route, airport, and weather doppler radars in the country with a single unified system. Using thousands of integrated transceiver systems, each built as a single unified, and identical, antenna, transmitter, and receiver of microwave energy that were to be mass-produced at supposedly a ridiculously low price, these units were to be combined in arrays of thousands of units on a four-sided, non-rotating system. Controlled entirely by computers, each MPAR site, with these thousands of transceiver-antenna units functioning as a coordinated scanner of both airplane and weather information simultaneously, would have required very little maintenance and have no moving parts. Touted as the best thing to come, with each individual unit costing only a little, and made to work through sophisticated computers, software, and networking, we were looking at the replacement for some seven different forms of largely mechanical radar systems like the WSR-88D. This was to be the cutting edge of what he trained to maintain.

But, it never happened. Some test initial sites were set up in the middle of the country in "Tornado Alley" in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. But the sheer cost of a nationwide replacment became prohibitive, and then the actual manufacturing of the components couldn't happen, including the lack of up-to-date fast computers needed. So MPAR died completely, and now we are left with an aging mechanical radar system that is everywhere 35 years and older, which will die one radar site at a time.


2200. Ten o'clock in the evening.

Daniel knew he should go to bed, but Sunday nights at 10 was the start of an hour he looked forward to each week. On the radio in the day room where the entire crew was sitting, including himself and the truck driver, the AM radio station, KGO in San Francisco, had just switched its programming over to its once-a-week broadcast of an hour of alternative and independent rock music from the 1990s and 2000s. Daniel's ears and attention shifted to this music, as this is what he grew up on.

He had to chuckle to himself yet again, as he has reminisced all day, how much like his parents he has become.

Back when he was growing up, and especially in college, Daniel used to be annoyed, and amused, with how his parents could be willing to watch whatever shows were on the television, or listen to whatever music (or news) was on the radio. They took what was given to them by the broadcasters, and even would plan their day around a particular television show or radio program they wanted to watch or hear at the time it was broadcast. Occasionally they would use some more older technology, this time the VCR and a VHS tape, to record a show to keep.

Daniel, on the other hand, only listened to the music of his choice, which he could do with his iPod and computer, which were both stuffed with music he had downloaded from the Internet. Or he'd watch shows and movies using one of the many streaming services on the Internet, all without leaving his chair, and at any time of the day he wanted to watch.

But now, twenty years later, he has come full circle. His last iPod, purchased before he went into the Air Force, was thrown away long ago, unable to be replaced. Same with the fancy "smartphone" he had bought to take with him to Basic training. Those devices are no longer available to the average person; at least he can't afford them, as they are getting very scarce. Now he is forced to listen to an old AM/FM radio just like his parents did - in fact, the particular radio in the day room looks to be about as old as the one that used to sit on top of the kitchen refrigerator when he was growing up. No doubt a castaway that someone thoughtfully retrieved out of the garbage somewhere.

And fortunately there is a radio station to listen to. Most of the radio stations that he used to skip over on the car radio when he was a younger kid are now also gone, unable to afford the cost to stay in business or run the transmitter. There are only a few AM stations still going, plus the occasional FM station in urban areas. The good thing about AM radio stations, while they sound terrible without all the nice stereo sound we used to hear on our iPods, is that they can be received many miles away, even out here quite a ways from San Francisco. They come alive at night, after the Sun sets, when "radio skip" brings in stations from halfway across the country. It is this same idea, the use of radio that can travel distances, including over the horizon, that is re-surging in the military, and across the country, as the way we now keep in contact. And no wires to keep repairing every time the scavengers tear them down, Just a transceiver, antenna, and an operator trained to use it (like two thirds of the airman sitting in front him will be in six months), and we will still keep in touch.

"We won't have person-to-person private conversations like I used to have on my Verizon cellphone," Daniel thought to himself, "but at least we can be in contact." With radio, critical information, such as weather reports or the need for hospital care, and responding to a disaster, can still be relayed, albeit possibly slower. "And I can occasionally talk to my dad," Dan thought, as his dad was a licensed amateur radio operator. In fact, his dad passed messages to him on several occasions in the past at the various air bases he was assigned to by relaying a message through the volunteer "ham radio" operators who manned the base MARS (Military Affiliate Radio Service) stations. That was in fact the way Daniel got word that his mom had died a couple of years ago. That time, the MARS operators were able to set up a "phone patch" that allowed him to talk directly to his dad from his office telephone.

"Damn, this music is good," Daniel thought. If he was alone at home, he'd be playing an "air guitar" and showing off to his wife. But that is not the behavior a leader portrays in front of his airman. "Carla loves this music too, and I'll bet she is listening right now," thought Daniel. "It is nice to share this moment with her, even if I'm not back home." Much like staring at the same moon at the same time from two places on the Earth.


Five o'clock on Monday afternoon.

"Time to head for home and to see Carla again."

Three hours earlier, the truck he rode back from the radar site had dropped the Master Sergeant off at the headquarters for the Communications Squadron, along with the three radar technicians he had brought back. The truck driver then headed off to dispose of the garbage and recyclables they had also brought back from the site, which was a lot, two weeks worth, plus to return the now empty oil drums to the fuel depot for reuse on the next trip. After a debriefing, the radar technicians have also left, on their way for supper and rejoining their families or friends, and no doubt to share the news. Likely a beer or two will be consumed as well, since alcohol is not permitted at the radar site.

Daniel grabs his bike from the bike rack, and peddles down the main road toward the family housing areas that lie up against the foothills on the edge of the base. He was one of over a hundred such bikers that hour who were completing this same commute home. Airman, junior officers -- all ranks except the highest officers who still qualify for a driver and a car -- make this commute. Those families that still have a car, as he and Carla do, usually leave it home, saving it for when groceries are needed or during an alert. Most use a bicycle or ride the shuttle back and forth.

Along the way, he passes the treeless area on the edge of the main office area that now holds the "emergency replacement housing” that was hurriedly built a decade ago when it became necessary to move all airman, officers, and their families back on base.

Back when Daniel finished his tech school and first came out to Beale, he was excited that this was a base with limited on-base housing. The idea of not being confined on base was appealing. As quickly as they could, he and Carla (who he had met in his first year at Beale, as she was also in the Air Force) quickly rented a place in a nearby town as soon as they could get permission. Most airman sought an apartment down near Sacramento, some twenty or more miles away, where they could be closer to "night life" and jobs for their spouses. The daily ride to and from the base was an enjoyable break to the rigors of military life.

But then gasoline got expensive and cars harder to keep repaired. The State of California's mandatory drop in speed limits to 40 miles per hour, later dropping to 30 miles per hour, and then 20, also made the length of the commute unbearable. What really hurt, however, was the enforced limit of sale of only five gallons of gas a week per car. Overnight it became almost impossible for off-base personnel to make it to base when they were needed, even with carpooling.

And Beale wasn't the only air base having these problems. Air bases and army camps across the country were having a transportation crisis, which in turn meant a housing crisis.

So in desperation, the Department of Defense embarked on a hurried three-year building program at all air bases to construct emergency housing. In order to speed up the process and save on resources, costs, and access to qualified contractors and builders, the military resurrected plans from the last time such a major building program happened back in the WWII and Cold War years in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. These houses and barracks, barely meeting housing codes even back then, were no more than studs, plaster board, and tar paper, with minimal insulation, a roof, and a fresh coat of paint. The officer quarters got a brick or stucco exterior, but they still had the same leaky windows and roof as the enlisted housing.

The whole idea was that these would be temporary, as the economy was sure to recover. Except this time temporary is looking more permanent. But this housing serves an important purpose, which is to allow the entire base personnel to be in housing right there on the base, with minimal transportation needed for day-to-day operations. The Master Sergeant knows from his history about World War II, which his dad kept telling him about as he was growing up, that this type of housing, plus tire and gas rationing, and even shuttle buses for workers, were the same then as what he is experiencing now.

Thirty minutes later, Daniel bikes up to his home, fortunately one of the better-built, pre-emergency structures. Unfortunately, being older doesn't necessarily mean that the house is much better, not after the number of families that have passed through each house and induced their own wear and tear. But Daniel, after all these years in the military, is finally starting to learn not to complain.

Opening the front door, he calls out, "Honey, I'm home."

"I'm in the kitchen," Carla calls out. "Get changed. We are eating supper with Bill and Judy next door."

"By the way, there is a letter for you on the table from your father."

The End.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Scarcity Industrialism, salvaging, and the future

John Michael Greer (JMG) has been doing a series of excellent weekly posts over on his blog, The Archdruid Report ( on the subject of post-oil living. This particular series has been focusing on the near-term futures, leading into the longer term future, with an emphasis on scarcity in industrialism.

I commend this series to you.

Start with the opening post of the series, titled "How Not to Play the Game"
(Posted Wednesday, June 29, 2011)

In that post, he lays out his understanding of a four-stage adjustment, which are also described in his most excellent book, The Ecotechnic Future. JMG sees these stages:

1. Abundance Industrialism, which is the era we all grew up in and is rapidly starting to close

2. Scarcity Industrialism, which is the period we are starting to live

3. Salvage Societies, which will appear when the resources are exhausted and we are having to salvage from the remnants of the past

4. Ecotechnic Future, which, for lack of a better name (JMG admits), will be the world finally entered many generations from now, after most all resources are exhausted and we live once again within the limits of the Earth and the Sun.

After you have read the starting post, then ponder this further in the subsequent weekly submissions that attempt to spell these changes out and how possibly to adapt, adjust, and benefit as you help others transition through this process. The next entries in the series include:

Salvaging Energy
(Posted Wednesday, July 6, 2011)

Salvaging Quality
(Posted Wednesday, July 13, 2011)

Salvaging Resilience
(Posted Wednesday, July 20, 2011)

And no doubt the series will continue, so stay tuned.

And after reading these four posts on the The Archdruid Report, peruse his earlier posts just before that regarding scale, energy, and so on. JMG's blog is well worth reading, as I have said a few times before this.

Cheers from Dubuque.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Three phrases to contemplate

Here are three essential phrases to contemplate (and hopefully come to accept):

1. "Food. Shelter. Transportation. Security." [Dmitry Orlov, when summarizing essential needs, in his blog post, "Social Collapse, Best Practices," February 19, 2009,]

2. "There is no brighter future ahead." [John Michael Greer, in offering a counterspell against incantatory thinking that prevents people from seeing the future; postulated at the end of his blog post, "Waiting for the Millennium; Part One: Peak Oil Goes Mainstream," June 9, 2010,]

3. "No technology or product, regardless of how "good" or desirable it may seem, can be guaranteed to be there tomorrow." [Me, summarizing John Michael Greer and his views in response to blog commentors who insist that "good" things, such as the internet or medicine, will be preserved or still there after oil.]

Friday, July 23, 2010

A second online Physical Geography textbook by Pidwirny

Four years ago, back in 2006, I wrote a brief post pointing readers to an online physical geography textbook authored by Prof. Michael Pidwirny of the University of British Columbia. This textbook, titled "Fundamentals of Physical Geography," is now in its second edition at this website,

Checking back through some of my earlier posts, I revisited Pidwirny's website to make sure his textbook was still available, and discovered that he is working on a second physical geography text. This is a much more substantial text, written in the pattern of most traditional textbooks that college professors use. So far he is still in the sections on the atmosphere, weather, and climate, which means much of the book has yet to be written. But with what he has written, he covers solar dynamics, including the solar radiation budget, the atmosphere, and the resulting air masses. He has still to write about actual weather patters, such as mid-latitude cyclones and longer-term climate. This new book, titled "Understanding Physical Geography (1st Edition), can be found here: Be sure to monitor this work in progress, and then download a copy when it is done. I will try to do the same to keep you in formed of its publication status. The author does suggest he will have this second ebook done in 2012.

I congratulate Prof. Pidwirny on his efforts!

Cheers from Dubuque,
Kevin Anderson

Thursday, July 15, 2010

See "Green Wizardry" series over on TheArchdruidReport

John Michael Greer, over on his outstanding blog, The Archdruid Report (, has recently started a series of posts and educational lessons on what he is calling "green wizardry." His goal is to teach all of us (okay, those who will listen and learn), and have each of us self-teach, about the skills and lessons needed about living in a less energy-intensive way. He is using, in part, as his starting point what was already known and written about in the 70s and 80s, plus previously taught in ecology before it got "modernized."

Remember all those DIY books on insulating your home, building solar dehydrators, solar water heaters, and so on? Remember all those pamphlets published by your university extension agent? They are back (or should be back) as part of our resource to preserve and learn from. Here is one rather comprehensive set of those pamphlets, all 190 pages worth as a PDF document, that I commend all of you to print and save:

I commend anyone reading my blog who isn't already reading JMGs materials to go on over there. Read. Learn. Participate. He will succeed in what honestly was the starting point for this personal blog several years ago. While I didn't (and would not have thought to call it) "green wizardry," if you search the earliest posts on this blog on what my goal was (e.g., the first and last posts in my August 2005 archive), it is actually the same as what JMG will accomplish.

Humbled in Dubuque,
Kevin Anderson

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Buy a Weather Radio, and attend a Storm Spotter class

As we head into the more active weather season of the year, it is good to remind everyone in the U.S. that you should have at least one good functioning weather radio in each household. Preferably one that runs off of mains, but with battery backup, and provides the latest in SAME-coded reception.

The National Weather Service, both to meet their needs for alerting the public and for their role in the nation's Emergency Alert System (EAS), have invested heavily in a radio service that covers nearly every part of the U.S., including Hawaii, the U.S. possessions in the Caribbean, Guam, and major populated areas in the state of Alaska. Over 1,000 transmitters are now in place, ranging in power from 300 to 1,000 watts with overlapping reception areas. The main set of webpages describing this system can be found here:

Besides getting 24 hour weather information, you will be able to get near-instant notification of weather warnings, watches, and advisories. Everything is broadcast with sub-audible digital coding, known as SAME, that can set off an alarm when a warning comes through and allows you to keep the radio silent (squelched) until such a warning is sent. The better radios (starting already at only $30 for a Midland WR-100) include the ability to select only those counties for which you want to receive these warnings. And even slightly better radios (starting at just under twice this price) allow you to select (or deselect) which types of warnings you wish to get. By this I mean that you could disable both alerts for counties too far away, but you can also disable the reception of things like AMBER alerts, for instance.

Which leads me to the other point I want to make about weather radios -- they represent the closest thing we have in the U.S. to a government-sponsored broadcast network. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) in general also includes all major broadcast stations, over-the-air television stations, and most major cable providers, which also broadcasts weather warnings and other major disaster alerts. But the NOAA weather radio network is the only strictly government-provided network. As a major participant in the EAS, and part of its backbone, your NOAA weather radio will also get all Presidential and other national alerts in times of major distress or emergency, plus the same for your local state. Lets hope it will never be needed this way, but your weather radio could prove valuable in the future, along with a basic AM/FM (and possibly shortwave radio) for getting information in case we lose telephone and internet service. And being a radio receiver is very low-power to operate (as compared to power-hungry computers and televisions), they are great information source for times when the power is out, or for households that operate strictly by solar or wind generated energy. In fact, many companies manufacture AM/FM/weather radio receivers that operate by crank-power (dynamo), solar cell, and other rechargeable batteries. Having one of those might be a valuable option as well.

Let me also give a plug for everyone who is even the least bit interested in weather to attend a locally taught weather or Storm Spotter class. These are taught though out the country, but particularly in the middle section of the U.S. where extreme weather such as thunderstorms and tornadoes are prevalent, by the National Weather Service and are free of charge. They are typically taught during the spring months of January through April, and last about two hours. Listen to your weather radio to hear announcements about upcoming classes, or search on "storm spotter" on the NWS web pages at These courses will be valuable in preparing you to know what to watch for when inclement weather is heading your way. I in fact attended a course just the other evening; I hadn't been to one in a dozen or more years and thought I should get the latest skinny on what they are saying in these courses. I went even though I used to teach introductory college weather courses in the past, so it is appropriate that you should go as well. (I also wanted to know how much I had forgotten in the nine years since I last taught this stuff.)

Bye for now from Dubuque, Iowa, where it is currently sunny and spring has definitely arrived.
Kevin Anderson

Monday, January 04, 2010

"Life Without People" series on History Channel

I've been watching the "Life Without People" series on the History Channel. The series is the outgrowth of an original two-hour program that attempts to describe how the modern built trappings of our modern society would fare if people were removed entirely from the picture. Each program shows for selected places and themes what would happen on day one, day two, after one week, after a year, twenty years, 100 years, etc. The end result is always the same - buildings and bridges collapsing, vegetation taking over, and eventually all traces of our existence being buried from view by vegetation and erosion.

Very sobering, and collectively a very good illustration/lessen on how necessary the built nature of our current way of living requires the daily intervention of humans to keep it all "a float." A tremendous amount of energy, and attention, goes into keeping our built world from falling apart.

A commend the series to readers. Even watching just a couple of episodes will get the message across, as they do get repetitive after that.

From Dubuque in the new year and decade,
Kevin Anderson

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Relocalization - A link to a good blog article

There are a few bloggers that I follow, and one of them is John Michael Greer,

JMG has been writing a series of articles that focus on economics. His latest contribution, released November 18, 2009, is a must read: How Relocalization Worked. While not physical geography, the concepts are the same - without cheap oil to pay for transportation, our life will become local in nature, forcing us to live within the limits of our local environment and within our own economic market. This particular blog contribution uses a very good example - the demise of the centralized Roman Empire and its replacement by local cities and guilds, which in fact didn't shutdown innovation - and is well worth a read by any would-be geographer.

Cheers from Dubuque,
Kevin Anderson

Monday, November 02, 2009

Follow-up on communications

As a follow-up to my earlier musing on communication technologies, I did pen recently a document summarizing the various licensed and unlicensed two-way technologies that are available to people here in the United States and Canada. Here is the current version of it:

(Should a new numbered version get created of this document, you will be able to find the update by checking at this webpage:

Two-way radio will only be a stop-gap measure, as eventually we won't have the parts or electricity to keep it going. But between now and then some people will want to have it available.


I'm still alive, just....

Just a brief post to let the world (all none of you probably reading my blog besides me and my cat), that I am still alive. I just haven't been in the mood to post on a subject appropriate for my blog.

I'm still pondering the post-oil world. Lately I've been wondering about my retirement funds (assuming I get to use them in 15 years, let alone longer than that, if I get to retire at all), our economic system, and about banking. With regard to banking, I'm exploring my fiscal conservatism in light of ideas known as "narrow" banking or full-reserve banking. I'm struggling between wanting to see my money grow in value, even while in a savings account, let alone in bonds or in the stock market, against just wanting the guarantee it will be there any time I choose to withdraw it. Currently banks are required to keep on-hand in their reserve something like only 10%, with the rest being re-invested and "creating" money. What if banks had to keep 90%, or even 100% (full reserve), on hand? How would that affect the economy? Could we even keep up with cost of living and inflation so we aren't going backwards?

Just some of what I've been thinking lately. Maybe soon I will have something substantial to post. In the meantime I keep reading my favorite blogs (see early post) and just trying to survive.

Kevin Anderson
'who is tired on this Monday that I'm posting, but so far as I know not sick yet

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A First Step to Getting Others to Accept Human Impacts on Climate

While not directly Peak Oil related, a question that has pondered me for about 18 years is how to get others to accept the possibility that we, as humans, are impacting climate, possibly causing a global warming of considerable proportion.

This question came up in my mind yet again this past week. I've been co-teaching a course this semester at our seminary, titled Ethics, Environment, and Development. As part of the course, we have the students watch the Al Gore movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," and then have a discussion about it. Like other discussions I've had with students on global warming, few seem to be willing to accept the possibility that human activity is having an impact. And even fewer are willing to accept changes that might be needed except for the same tired litany of using CFL bulbs, turning off lights, and driving a hybrid, and realizing those changes alone aren't enough. I saw the same response back in the early 1990s when I used to show a different movie, James Burk's "After the Warming." That movie was even more powerful, I thought, than Gore's movie in that it attempts to portray what the future might look like in a significantly warmer world. My students were speechless.

I guess I don't blame them for being afraid. But it sure helps if one can accept that we are having an impact on the climate and change is necessary. One of Al Gore's criticisms in his movie is the number of skeptics that keeping trying to fight against the idea of human impacts on climate.

In response to those who are skeptical, after some pondering during a very slow and long walk after class on Thursday, I think I've come up with a fairly simple explanation. An explanation I hope will be easy enough for someone to accept. Let me try it on for size:

Any time humans burn either oil, coal, or natural gas, we are releasing into the atmosphere carbon dioxide (CO2, a gas known to have "greenhouse" effects) that hasn't been there for a very, very long time (at least not for millions of years, or at least hundreds of thousands of years, since the carbon was first locked up by plants before being buried and eventually become gas, coal, and oil). This "ancient sunlight," now released again, means more CO2 in the atmosphere than before humans started burning oil, coal, and gas. We've been burning this ancient sunlight in ever increasing quantities for over 100 years now. And since we haven't been increasing the amount of plants in the world (in fact, the quantity and density of plants has been decreasing), which conceivably could remove that released CO2 again, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere must be increasing. So unless you feel that CO2 has no function in a retention of the sun's energy and temperature in the atmosphere, then we as humans must be having some impact.

It's as simple as that.

Notice I'm not saying anything yet about the amount of impact (other than suggest it is likely increasing), or that all measured climate warming is due to humans. For the moment I'd be happy if people just accept the fact that we are having an impact. Better yet, I'd be happy if they understand that the burning of oil, coal, and gas is the form or source of an impact, and therefore the reduction of the same burning is needed to remove that impact.

Let me start there and let this idea sit for a time.

From a currently sunny Dubuque,
Kevin Anderson

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Musings on Communication Technology

After worrying about food, shelter (including winter heating where I live), clothing, and health, a concern for the future will be how we communicate.

Communication technology has long been an interest of mine. Radio and telegraphy have been particularly interests. Using the internet consumes a bunch of my time each day, both for work and pleasure. And lately I have been caught up in this switch to digital television here in the States.

My guess is that most Americans (and Canadians, Europeans, and others surrounded by electronic technology) believe we will always have telephones, cell phones, television, satellites, cheap long distance, computers, and the internet.

I think when all is said in done, however, that we won't have any of these, and hope that we might at least have a working postal service.

So how will communicate? I don't know - how did people communicate 500 years ago? By person-to-person carrying of letters and stories, traveled there by foot, horse, and sail. And the town crier and over-the-fence gosiping. In the end, that is likely all we can count on having. Communication will be slow, but it will take place. It just may not go very far.

Why the pessimistic view?

Well, all of our modern communication depend on electricity, and high-tech production that use tight tolerances and materials that are rare (except for sand) and will become too costly for the average person to own or support. I just don't see it continuing after some point in time, as this will be closely tied to the loss of oil.

So what do we do in the meantime?

I know that I, for one, plan to spend as little money as possible on televisions and computers, to name two specific technologies Same with automobiles, which are likely to become expendable before the other items. All three need to be viewed as expendable, likely to get disposed. The novel, World Made by Hand, by John Howard Kunstler, which I described in an earlier post, provided a good example of how that could happen. A critical constraint, at least for anything requiring electricity, which all electronic technologies need, can be taken away very easily. It doesn't have to disappear completely - just becoming inconsistent, starting with roaming blackouts, is enough to make its availability unpredictable. It will become easier to expect electricity not to be there at all, rather than sitting around waiting for it. Besides, when the electricity does come on, watching television or getting on the internet will be very low priorities compared to just making sure food can be cooked or cooled.

Forget about cell phones (mobiles). They will one of the first communication methods to disappear. I'm hoping basic telephone will be one of the last to die, along with basic radio, although even today's telephone system is very sophisticated and computerized behind the scenes. Television will disappear in the middle somewhere, especially now that it is going to digital broadcasting, which is a most complicated technology, requiring more sophisticated manufacturing of components and less tolerant of interference. Even computers, let alone the internet, will be less accessible, first due to rising costs and later due to lack of ability to keep it going; the government, military, and large corporation users will be the last to lose out, long after the idea of "personal" computing disappears.

It is best now to think about all of this being unavailable someday. The world is in effect going to get very large and very small at the same time. Very small in that one's area of movement will be small indeed, with communities effectively isolated from each other, which means in a time scale the world as a whole will become very large, too large for all but a few to know it or travel to see it.

Looked at it this way, it makes no sense to spend US$800, let alone $1,600 or more, on a new widescreen digital television. It is a poor investment given that it may become a useless object in a short time. Same goes for similar costs for a new computer. They just don't make sense anymore. But that 46-inch TV sure looks nice! And that new laptop sure would be fast!

Now if only I could break my habit today of using these technologies. Yet, as others will argue, we need to use these technologies all the more while we go through this transition to a post-oil world (and therefore by implication a post-electronic communication world). There is so much we need to learn, and to share, and time is short, which modern communication can help.

We will see what happens.

Cheers from Dubuque,
Kevin Anderson

Thursday, January 29, 2009

eBook "Lights Out" by Halffast

While I don't normally make a habit of reading survivalist literature or watching post-apocalyptic movies (although I will admit to liking some), I was in the mood this past weekend to read an eBook that I was aware of. In this case the book is called "Lights Out" by an author who names himself "Halffast." You can currently find copies of this 600+ page book at these two URLs:!/LightsOut-Current.pdf
The book is about 2.5 Mbytes in size as a PDF, in what appears to be 8-1/2x11-inch format. (Or if you prefer smaller chunks, ten chapters at a time, start here:

I started the book on Saturday, while doing laundry, and finished it Wednesday evening. I read about 100 to 120 pages a day, except for the marathon stretch on Wednesday when I finished the book.

It is the story about the survival efforts of a subdivision of people, and later many, many others, who live just east of San Antonio, Texas, following a terrorist attack against the entire U.S. (and later Europe and elsewhere) using missile-launched nukes to knock out electricity, lights, and most other devices dependent on electronics with an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) blast. Set in this decade, the book follows about 120 days or so of survival and how they had to start over again. First to preserve themselves against nature and mostly raiders, and later hopefully later to thrive, which it appears they did based on the brief epilogue about 60 years into the future.

Be prepared for much fighting, blood, killing, etc. There are many survivalist ideas in the book, if you are into this type of thing (which I am not), including military-type tactics. I read it mainly for an unusual diversion from the cold winter weather, but also to keep in my mind the possibilities of what could happen some day. Similar to my reading this past year of "Earth Abides" and "World Made by Man." I don't think I'm wanting this or another form of apocalypse to happen, but I'm also not saying that it couldn't happen. It is hard to say what terrorists might do, a fast-moving pandemic, or what not having oil might mean if it happens too quickly for people to gradually adjust.

Other books I am considering reading in the coming year, but that I haven't bought yet, include Caryl Johnston’s Peak Oil novel "After the Crash," Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” and "Ecotopia"by Ernest Callenback. At the same time, I hate to dwell on the idea of apocalypse, as it is depressing.

From Dubuque,
Kevin Anderson

Friday, December 12, 2008

Blogs I follow regularly

Just a brief post to let you know of four blogs that I regularly monitor (once a week typically) on the subject of Peak Oil and ideas for changes that need to be made. No particular order, they are:

which is published by someone, Jan Lundberg, who used to be an oil industry analyst and who left that industry quite a few years ago. Jan's thoughts are sometimes extreme, and other times very good. His interests are broader than just Peak Oil.

a weekly blog article (updated Monday mornings) by the author James Howard Kunstler, who has been speaking against suburbs, etc., for some time ("Geography of Nowhere" and "The Long Emergency") and wrote the fictional novel I read last year, "World Made by Hand."

a blog updated almost daily with interesting ideas about food security.

Another interesting blog, updated on Wednesdays, that is fairly wide-ranging and with well thought out ideas.

Kevin Anderson

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I'm Still Alive

I'm still alive. I just haven't felt like writing. Like most of you, I'm caught up in life (work, family, etc.) and watching the economy.

For instance, I recently moved some of my retirement investments into hopefully more "secure" vehicles. Or put it another way, I've moved a bunch (but not all yet) of my 403 money out of stock options to things like money market and government security options. Money market vehicles, for instance, have a huge stigma attached to them by investment companies about not wanting to "break the buck" (i.e., lose money). My goal in these shifts is to at least temporarily minimize my losses. I can always reconfigure my asset allocations later to put more money back into stocks and other supposed "growth" vehicles once the economy improves. But in the meantime, I don't want to lose my retirement investments.

Not that I expect to spend this retirement later. Being I'm only 49 now, I believe all this - retirement monies, social security, etc. - will have all but disappeared by the time I might retire. Even "retirement" is a word my wife and I are realizing won't likely be an option for us, let alone for our children. I am keeping open the option for my three university-aged children to move back home. Maybe we can survive the old style way, by multi-generational families under one roof. I don't see how we can do otherwise.

We also want to work on building up further our cash-based emergency fund and in storing at least a modest amount of food. Just in case....

Sober in Dubuque.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sidebar on Higher Education and Jobs of the Future

Today I find myself pondering the future with respect to jobs that will exist after the economy shrinks and the respective need for higher education.

I work in higher education, and have been involved in one fashion or another my entire adult life. I have a vested interest in higher education. I am the product of higher education. I also have my oldest son at the university as an undergraduate right now, plus my younger two will graduate from high school this spring and are off to university next year as well. As I reflect on the shrinking economy and the cost of my children getting their education, and then think ahead to what is to come, I find I have very mixed feelings about what they are and are about to do.

Admittedly James Howard Kunstler's new novel, World Made By Hand, has shook me up somewhat. So much of what we take for granted today for employment, travel, and access to resources will likely be gone after Peak Oil. Not that I will miss it that much, at least as I anticipate it coming. And I am somewhat shaken by the recent decision by Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, an Episcopal seminary near Chicago, to not offer a traditional residential Master of Divinity any more, due in part to a self-recognition of an over-abundance of Episcopal seminaries, but largely due to an ongoing budget deficit, which the continued education of traditional students will only make worse.

Higher education, particularly graduate -level education, is not cheap. It is a very large and costly industry. I have wondered on many occasions how students will be able to afford post-secondary education in the future, and in turn how many institutions, and what kinds of institutions, of higher education will be viable in twenty years.

When I think ahead to the world described in Kunstler's novel, and to the nature of essential jobs in small towns and rural areas (but also cities), I come up with a very short list of those needing post-secondary education, at least those needing a Bachelor's degree, let alone a Masters and beyond. Comparing that list (more in a moment) against the number of students getting degrees and the fields these studies are in, one quickly becomes aware of a chasm between needs and wants. The needs are very small compared to the surplus of fields graduating students. I don't dispute the economics that currently, and have for several decades, favored the income earned by college graduates as being substantially more than the cost of education and the earnings of a student who didn't complete college. But I can't help wondering if those days are already numbered. And therefore wondering if my children will in turn be favored by their education, and the cost (i.e., debt) we must bear in the near term to make it happen.

So what jobs need higher education for their preparation? Here is my short list:

  • The medical profession, primarily doctors, nurses, and dentists
  • Lawyers (and hopefully not so many of those...)
  • Teachers, including elementary, secondary, and some post-secondary (to educate the same and those in the other professions being listed)
  • Pastors, priests, clergy
  • Some engineers, particularly understanding structures and materials for safety sake
That's about it.

Pretty much all of the other activities/professions you'd expect people to be involved don't require a college degree. Some vocational training perhaps, but not a college degree. And even those listed above will not number into being nearly so many people as our educational system is set up to produce, let alone all the other graduates we are turning out. So the higher educational system is bound to shrink. How extensive, and how quickly, is what we will discover as Peak Oil unfolds.

For now am I saying "no" to my children going to school? No. I can't point my finger at enough certainties to do that. But I am admittedly very cautious about the amount of money it may be prudent to put into their education. And I am questioning my own future for employment down the road. Some people are saying many factors will be converging on or about 2010 or 2011, which is very soon.

I guess I/we will find out.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

"World Made by Hand" by James Howard Kunstler

Last week Friday I received in the mail from my copy of James Howard Kunstler's new (2008) novel, "World Made by Hand." I starting reading it quickly that evening, finishing by Saturday afternoon, and am now reading it through a second time over three evenings.

I recommend this book to anyone who is cognizant of Peak Oil, and has read such books as "The Long Emergency" or "Collapse." If you are looking for examples or illustrations of how living really may change in the future, this book provides those.

I won't focus on what happens in the book, other than to describe it this way: The story takes place during one hot summer in about 20 years time in a fictitious town call Union Grove in east central New York, in the upper Hudson Valley north of Albany and east of Saratoga Springs. Robert Earle, a former software engineer out of Boston and now a carpenter in Union Grove (where his deceased wife grew up), is the main character and narrator of the story. Basically Union Grove is a town unto itself, as are countless towns and cities across what in name is still the United States, but in reality doesn't function anywhere close to a nation. A town isolated by lack of significant transportation elsewhere. A terrorist nuclear device went off in Los Angeles some dozen or so years earlier (none of these details are spelled out in great numeric detail), effectively shutting down the country economically. Shipping and other trading came to a halt, oil from outside sources all but disappeared, several resource wars erupted in the Holy Land and elsewhere involving the U.S. military, and the government in Washington became totally ineffective in dealing with all this, made permanent by a second terrorist nuclear device going off in Washington. Cars are all but gone, salvaged earlier for their scrap metal. Schools and colleges are closed. The only electricity is that a local enterprise might have from a community-built hydroelectric dam, or what might appear from elsewhere just a hour at a time maybe once a month. And the population is significantly smaller, killed by a pandemic called the "Mexican flu" in the book, with very few younger people around. Antibiotics and drugs don't exist, replaced by doctors and dentists (the few there are), and by individuals, using opium, alcohol, and marijuana. The killing described in the book reminds one of the western U.S. in the 1800s. And so on.

What I like about the book is the lessens it begins to teach. How we are going to, for instance, have to do all work manually. Computers won't exist. Telephone won't exist. Newspapers, assuming paper is available, won't include national, let alone international, news, with life being very local. Death will become a more common experience, whether it be by riots and lawless killing or by illness or lack of medicines. Transport of goods and people will be by boat, horse-drawn wagons, or on foot, on carts pushed or pulled by human power. Barter is the norm, with many needing to work on farms, and others needing to maintain gardens. Most houses will be empty, torn down for the lumber, and long-since closed town dumps reopened - not for dumping, but for digging it all up again for stuff to reuse.

In other words, life as we know it today will quickly become a memory to those still alive.

Another fascinating outcome for me of reading the book is how much it suggests our spending and activities of time today are a total waste of effort in the end. What an incredible waste of energy and money we are going through today when you think about this life in the future.

While the particular future described in this book may not necessarily come to pass, or in this specific timeline, some form of it will no doubt do so just because of peak oil and the decline of such a critical resource in the future. It makes one think that the current wars in the Middle East and the economic declines of today may just be the very beginning of this "long emergency" already begun. Reading the book will help you imagine living in the future, which is by all means doable and viable, much like it was for our ancestors back before the Civil War.

I hardily endorse the "World Made by Hand" as a book you should buy, read, and share. It is a nice "wake up call" that complements non-fiction books by providing vivid images in one's mind. I'm waiting now for my wife to have some time to read it, as I would like to know her reaction.

In another post soon, I may describe a second book I also purchased and read this past weekend - "Earth Abides," 1949, by George Stewart. An award-winning book, this is another post-apocalyptic novel, in this case about a mysterious virus that wipes out nearly the entire world's population except for small pockets of people who were immune, and the particular re-emergence of one particular enclave in Berkeley, California, led by Isherwood ("Ish") Williams, the main character in this book.

Kevin Anderson
Dubuque, Iowa

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Global Dimming

Last Tuesday, the public television program Nova was an episode titled "Global Dimming." It was about the fact that sunlight reaching the Earth's surface has been getting less and less over the past decades. If I heard correctly, sunlight at the Earth's surface is as much as 30 percent less than what it was some forty or fifty years ago. While I have been passively aware of this decline in sunlight, and understand why, having it brought to my attention through the show was powerful, especially the ending implication of this physical change, which is rather scary.

Global dimming (global because it has been measured everywhere) is due to human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels and our industrial activity, which is injecting minute particles into the atmosphere. These particles in turn block sunlight, primarily in their functioning as the catalyst for cloud formation. You see, for clouds to form, particles are needed for water droplets to adhere to. The more particles, the greater extent of cloud cover. The more clouds, the more they both block sunlight and also function as a reflector, sending sunlight back out into space before it reaches the ground.

A second way that humans have changed the cloud cover is by our extensive flying of jet airplanes. Besides injecting particles from their exhaust directly into the upper atmosphere, they cause instant cooling of air as they pass through, creating visible contrails, which are human made clouds. These contrails can be rather extensive in their own right as cloud cover.

Now here is the scary part that really got me sitting forward as I watched the show: This human induced solar dimming, which is cooling the surface of the Earth, may in fact be masking the full effect of global warming. In other words, if we hadn't been cooling the Earthy through this dimming, the increase of temperature already measured as higher might in fact be higher still. And if we do the right thing in "fixing" solar dimming by reducing our pollution and injection of particles into the atmosphere, we'd actually bring on further global warming.

Simply put, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We are dammed if we do, dammed if we don't. Throughout the industrial era we've been changing the atmosphere, both through global dimming and global warming from the injecting of both physical particles and greenhouse energy-absorbing gases. Yet to fix either one will make things worse, and the solution to fix one may be counterproductive in fixing the other.

A very strong ethical and moral dilemma. Not easily answered.

My initial inclination: We shouldn't be tinkering with the atmosphere, which our extensive industrialization and excess population has done. We have to stop. And yes, this could unleash worse global warming. But we need to get through this time ahead as quickly as we can to get to the time beyond, when the Earth won't be so harmed.

Pondering in Dubuque....

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Post Oil Geography as a form of "Solar Rationing"

Sharon Astyk, an English scholar/parent who raises with her husband four young children on a small farm/CSA in upstate New York (and yet who manages what appears to be considerable time to productively research and write), has written a excellent blog article on rationing, it's history and applicability to today's (and tomorrow's) food and energy situation. The article is well worth reading and can be found here:

One of the major ideas that Sharon points out is the extent to which people have been and are willing to accept rationing when it is democratic/equitable in its implementation (i.e., applied equally, per capita, rich and poor alike). People more often than not are willing to voluntarily submit to rationing (aye, even ask for it) when it is done right, and even prefer rationing before it becomes necessary, before the shortages are in already happening, in order to provide more certainty in access to important things like food. If done democratically (i.e, equitiable), rationing, especially voluntarily, is the "right thing to do".

What I have been proposing/suggesting through my limited blog articles thus far is a similar idea. I am suggesting that we need to learn to live within the Earth's limits, such as climatically imposed by the Sol and the atmosphere. Learning to recognize what solar input we have, and the limits to each area's water and soil capability, and then adjusting to live within those limits, is the same as voluntary rationing. It is the right thing to do. And within a given geographic area, the situation equally applies to rich and poor, young and old alike, as we all receive the same sunlight. Learning to live within those natural limits now will be better than "mandatory" rationing that eventually Nature will impose on us later when we use up the easy non-renewable resources.

Cheers from Dubuque,
(who hopes he might be able to write more often than he has lately...)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Tribute to our now deceased cat, Springer

It is hard to say whether in 50 to 100 years a "normal" family will have pets others than animals who can do work. I hope that people will still be able to afford and feed friends of the family such as a house cat.

Either way, for now we still do have pets. In our case a pair of house cats, both domestic shorthairs, a male and female each, both acquired from the Humane Society.

Last Sunday, on the evening of February 11, 2007, we lost our oldest cat, Springer. We acquired Springer exactly 15 years to the month, back in February 1992 when we still lived in the Illinois Quad Cities. The vet was not certain of his age, guessing that he was likely 24 months old, possibly older, which would place his birth back in either 1989 or 1990. Seventeen or eighteen years is a decent age for a cat to live.

We will miss Springer. We have many fond memories of him. We hope that we were able to serve him well in how we fed and kept him. And we appreciate being with him at the very end, as he died in our home with us present.

So long, Springer. Rest in peace.

Kevin Anderson

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Al Gore's Movie, "An Inconvenient Truth"

The seminary I work at is among some 4,000 churches and faith-based institutions that are showing in October the movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." Produced by Al Gore, it is both a filming of the talks he gives on global climate change and on the ethical/moral implications of how we live, especially here in the United States.

We have had two showings so far, one on Monday afternoon and the other on Tuesday evening. I was the facilitator for the discussion after last evening's movie showing. And we have one more showing this coming Saturday afternoon.

The movie is worth seeing. Even though it focuses mostly on the implications to global climate change (and is not a movie about "Peak Oil" per se), it does portray fairly the science behind measured CO2 increases, the implications of exponential growth in population, and the use of fossil fuels, particularly in the U.S., and the effects on the atmosphere. The movie is a good starting point for discussions to take place, and hopefully will have an impact on all who see it in suggesting that changes are needed in how we live.

I recommend that you find a showing of the movie to attend.

And I heard over the last weekend that there is a second movie now out on global climate change, with Keanu Reeves as one of the two narrators. I have not seen this one yet, but the radio story I heard about it suggests that this movie is even more "hard hitting" than "An Inconvenient Truth" on the need to change how we live.

Global climate change, which is already happening, is pretty scary. It is changing everything with how we have come to expect the physical world to behave (or at least what we are used to experiencing) with respect to climate, and in the global distribution of water. I've accepted global change as happening since the summer of 1990, and in the time I've been watching climate, even I can see the changes taking place. While local changes in some places may be to the good, the overall impact of change is only toward the negative, no matter how warm or cold, dry or wet, it may get. And the evidence is fairly clear to me that humans are playing a very major role in the climate changes that are happening - these are not just further cycles of change with glaciation and inter-glacial warm periods - those feedbacks and cycles have been modified by human intervention. And like rates of global population growth not being able to reverse themselves immediately, same too with the warming of global climate. Inertia is going to drive things forward for yet some time. Yet we need to make changes now in how we live - drastic changes that consume less, don't reproduce population so quickly, and don't pollute - if we hope to have some chance of alleviating (lessening) the impacts later of what is already happening.

See the movie if you can.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Lester Brown's "Plan B 2.0"

Still trying to get used to the idea that the future is changing, with the using up of resources and global climate change? Here is a book that might be of interest to you, and it's available for free online:

Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, by Lester R. Brown of the WorldWatch Institute, 2006.

Here is a link to the book's Table of Contents, which in turn lets you view each chapter as Adobe PDF documents or as HTML webpages:


Kevin Anderson

Monday, June 26, 2006

Here Comes the Sun

To begin studies for tomorrow's oil-less days, one needs to focus on learning about our Sun and about climate.

Without oil, we are basically forced to work within renewable energy sources. (For that matter, coal and oil are actually "ancient sunlight," but that is not what I consider a renewable resource given the timeframe needed to create coal and oil.) THE major, daily, dependable energy source is the Sun. Everyday, for all places on the Earth for half or more of the year, the Sun shines for at least part of the day, becoming an energy source we need to work with and work within its limits.

Almost every physical geography textbook starts with teaching about the Sun, the Earth's orbit about the Sun, and in turn the diurnal (daily) and seasonal rhythms of sunlight and the climate it produces. If you can master those first sections of the book, you can learn to live within this renewable energy source.

We interact with the energy the Sun produces in several important ways:

First, most directly, the Sun provides light to see by. We need light to see. Plants need light to grow. Daylight hours are when we need to be doing chores, outside or inside, while we have the light to see by. Night is when we should be sleeping. More work will be done naturally during the summer, with its longer days, and less work done in the winter, with its shorter days. Working within this rhythm of sunlight means that one's working day can't necessarily be the artificial 9 to 5 that most people live.

Second, the sun provides warmth - warmth to heat the ground for plants to grow, and to heat structures to keep us warm. We need to build (or more likely retrofit) our structures to capture this heat when we need it, and shed the excess heat when we need to be cooler. Key will be the latitude you live at - both for light and warmth - as this affect the design requirements of buildings for heating and cooling more than anything. One design does not fit all, as every place is different globally due to latitude.

Third, the sun, through its warming of the air and ground, and therefore relative temperature changes and air pressure changes, causes the wind. Wind can be used to heating, cooling, and to do work, such as energy production through wind mills. Understanding your locale's wind patterns in turn means understanding your location relative to the oceans, the interior of a continent, and physical features such as mountains, valleys, and plains.

Fourth, the sun brings us rain on those currents of wind, driven by the warmth of the sun. Understanding the sun leads one to want to understand their patterns of rainfall, how much to expect and when. Rain in turn provides us with water to drink, bathe with, cook with, water plants with, and use as a means of storing the Sun's energy for longer periods of time.

Fifth, the sun drives our climate. Put all of the above together, and you have the pieces that define what you can grow (affected by your soil, of course). Terms like heating degree days, cooling degree days, and growing degree days are all measure of one's climate, along with the basics of temperature and rainfall.

In other words, living in tomorrow's world, without fossil fuels in abundance to burn, means learning once again to live within the means and limits of the Sun. The past one hundred and fifty years has been basically an attempt, using oil and other "ancient" fuels, to live beyond the limits of the sun. We won't be able to do that in the future. We must once again learn about the Sun. Everything starts again there.

So start your post-oil studies by studying the Sun.

The slogan for tomorrow's world should be "Here Comes the Sun."

Kevin Anderson
Dubuque, Iowa