Friday, December 9, 2016

K is for Kids, and How to Prepare Them for the Future



One topic that is often glossed over by Kollapsniks is the topic of how to talk to children about the future. Perhaps it's because, as humans, we tend to place our hopes for the future in our children, and if all we can see is a bleak future then why bother telling them about it at all?

I have two daughters—aged 11 and 13. They are bright and beautiful, clever and compassionate. I'll admit that sometimes I worry about the world they will inhabit when they become adults. It's likely to be a world that very few people are preparing their kids for—and that's putting it mildly. Given what we know about how climate systems are becoming chaotic, how energy that was once as concentrated as a bottle of whisky is rapidly turning into a glass of shandy, about mass extinctions, overpopulation, the creeping corporate takeover of society, the dumbing down of culture, the pollution and destruction of the biosphere, mass refugee movements, resource wars, nuclear meltdowns and so on and so forth ... is it any wonder that so few of us want to broach the topic?

Despite all of these threats hanging over us what message, if any, is society sending to kids about the future? Are the cultural engineers who shape these young minds preparing them for a world in which the above drawbacks of industrial civilisation are honestly discussed? Or are they, instead, doubling down on the failures of the past and hammering into them the idea that what may kill us will also be our saviour? I think you already know the answer to that.

As a parent, I often get to unwillingly overhear/see children's TV programmes in the form of CBBC (Children's BBC). This is the only channel they are permitted to watch as it doesn't contain masses of commercial advertisements. But just the fact that there are no ads doesn't mean it doesn't contain plenty of social programming and, by now, my kids are well used to hearing me howl in disagreement at something that was said—especially when Newsround is on.

Newsround—and pretty much every other programme on CBBC—propagates the narrative that we are heading towards a shiny future where we will live on Mars and have robots doing all the drudge work. Everything will be solar powered and there will be all sorts of gadgets and devices, such as jetpacks and flying skateboards, and instead of dying we will be able to upload our minds into "the cloud" and live in virtual reality worlds that will be even more awesomer than living on Mars with robots.

These little techno utopian skits are punctuated with other "news"items  about reality TV programmes, sports and the lives of celebrities—and, needless to say, everything is very PC and "right on".

If this little window onto the cultural programming of infants is in any way reflective of the wider world then I hate to think what will be the effect on the state of mind of our youngsters as they approach maturity and find that the real world isn't like the one they were led to believe was awaiting them. What's a concerned elder to do?

So reaching over and turning off the mind-warp machine for a moment, what are reality-aware parents supposed to do to prepare their offspring for the future they'll likely get? Well, I can't speak for everyone, but my strategy is revealed in the 15 tips that follow:

1 - Teach them how to be aware of when someone/thing is trying to get them to do something that goes against their will. Adverts are a great place to start. Teach them how to strip an ad down to its basic components: what's it trying to do? Make it funny. My kids can laugh at any ad they see and tell you what emotion/fear/desire they are using to get you to buy their product.

2 - Get them interested in making things that are useful. I'm not very crafty, but my wife is, and she has taught them how to sew and crochet. They can now make their own clothes—and they enjoy doing it immensely.

3 - Don't give them everything they want—even assuming you could afford that. Being denied something that you really, really want, is good for you. Growing up and getting everything you want all the time creates adults that are selfish and unhappy. They will be forever craving material possessions and will be mentally unable to process not getting what they want. They end up unhappy and have unfulfilled and unfulfilling lives. In the future people will not be able to get what they want all the time. The best time to practice for that is now.

4 - Teach them to cook proper food from an early age. Let them be messy and let them create hideous concoctions, if that's what they want. Kids love preparing food and cooking, and the only way they'll learn about it is doing it for themselves.

5 - Tell them that school teaches you useful stuff but the real lessons come from life and what you learn yourself. These days most children are put on a conveyor belt from early infancy which leads them through school and college and turns them into bonded debt slaves working in unfulfilling jobs. Impress upon them that alternative paths are open to them. Encourage them to follow their dreams as long as their dreams will likely lead to a scenario where they will be able to make a living for themselves that doesn't rely on massive amounts of fossil fuels or ponzi finance schemes. Impress upon them that the world doesn't owe them a living and that no job should be below them. To that end, don't give them pocket money unless they've earned it doing chores.

6 - Show them how much fun can be had for free. My fondest memories from childhood involved tobogganing down a snowy hill on a plastic bin bag, building dens in bit of woodland at the edge of town, hunting for fossils for my collection, playing conkers, riding my bike with friends from dawn until dusk and bodyboarding on a cheap polystyrene surfboard. All of these activities were either free or very cheap—and very fun. I also had loads of toys and certainly suffered no lack of anything—but toys were things to be played with when all the other possibilities just mentioned had been exhausted. Today my kids, and many of the other kids in town, go down to the harbour in the summer and jump off the walls into the water, just as kids have done here for centuries. You can hear their cries of joy from afar.

7 - Get them interested in reading, because reading books opens up all sorts of doors in the mind. If you want to be really devious occasionally forbid them from reading certain books. I forbade my 13-year-old daughter from reading 1984 recently ("It's too grown up for you,") and—to my joy—found a copy hidden under her bed with a bookmark placed well into it. There is nothing like forbidding something to make it attractive to curious minds.

8 - Teach them to question authority and not to blindly obey whatever instructions are given to them. By this I don't mean encourage them to be mouthy confrontationists, I mean tell them to trust their instincts and, if something doesn't feel right, discuss it openly with people they trust. At the top I mention CBBC—when I was a kid in the 1970s, many of the famous faces on TV (we now discover) were pedophiles, using their status to prey on young kids. We can only guess how extensive this network of kiddie fiddlers was/is (even the Prime Minister at the time, Edward Heath, is under suspicion of running a ring), but we know that the psychic vampires who populate it prey on people's blind obedience and unwillingness to question authority. Give your kids the equivalent of a silver crucifix and some garlic to ward off these monsters.

9 - Tell them about how the future is likely to be, but don't be a doomer. Show them documentaries. Talk to them about problems—and ask them if they have any good ideas about how to tackle them (you'd be surprised). Nobody knows what the future will hold. It will certainly be turbulent, and turbulence means lots of potential and possibilities for those willing to engage with it.

10 - Teach them about growing plants. Just as with preparing food, kids love to grow plants—especially if they can eat them afterwards. Tomatoes are great to get started, as are potatoes, peppers and radishes. All are easy to grow.

11 - Make sure they are good mannered and learn how to think for themselves. Manners are a form of currency, and being able to disagree with someone with an opposing viewpoint without being hostile and reactive is a precious commodity indeed.

12 - Impress upon them the importance of avoiding debt, unless they are certain the debt will be invested in something that will allow them to pay it off and increase their future income.

13 - Tell them they ain't gonna live on Mars. No way. Never gonna happen.

14 - Show them by example. There's no point in telling them to do stuff if you then go and break all the rules yourself.

15 - And finally—loosen up. Don't be one of those joyless parents who only allows their precious little snowflakes to eat organic quinoa and listen to culturally non-appropriated fairy tales. Instead, allow them to drink Coca Cola, eat junk food, be with adults getting raucously drunk, play with knives, hear dirty jokes, get bullied, hurt themselves and run with scissors. Seriously. Because although there may be some minor risk involved in all of these things, there is an almost 100% probability that if you don't allow them this space you'll create a delicate little flower who won't be able to survive unless they are cocooned within a safe space and given trigger warnings every time something threatens to offend them. What's more they'll just end up rebelling against you and will  turn into exactly the kind of person you didn't want them to be - and it'll all be your fault.

That's pretty much how I'm raising my kids to deal with the kind of future that isn't being promoted by the cynical mind engineers hiding behind the TV screen. Oh, I forgot one last thing—make sure you treat your kids well. Look after them, love them and treat them with respect. Foster within them joy, compassion and a sense of fairness. Because one day the boot will be on the other foot and, if you've done your job right, you can only hope the favour will be repaid. At the very least, they'll help you to push that shopping trolley down The Road.





Monday, November 28, 2016

J is for Just Out - Seat of Mars



And so, just in time for Christmas, my new book Seat of Mars has been released by Club Orlov Press. Some people will be familiar with the story as I wrote it as a series of blog posts over 2015/2016, but for those who are not, the synopsis is as follows:

"Hell-bent on preserving the privileges of the wealthy in the face of a looming resource crisis, the British government executes a false flag terrorist attack and shuts down the national electricity grid. In the ensuing turmoil a shadowy cabal of globalists watches on with interest from a bunker deep beneath the frozen wastes of Iceland as they ready themselves to roll out the “experiment” across the world. Seat of Mars follows the fortunes of a handful of ordinary people flung into extraordinary times. These include Rose, a teenage Goth, who finds herself pulled into a web of intrigue within a fortified London; Jack and Cat, an ordinary city couple who end up stranded far from home; and the resourceful prepper Art Gwavas who sees the mayhem as a chance to take back what is rightfully his. The story asks the wider question of how well any of us would fare if the safety blanket of industrial civilisation were suddenly pulled from us and whether, from the embers of chaos, something more beautiful could emerge."

This book is an updated, edited and slightly re-jigged version of that story. It's kind of funny how it came about. A couple of years back I wrote a story that featured in John Michael Greer's book After Oil 3 - The Years of Rebirth. That story was set in Greenland in the 25th century and featured a young female archaeologist named Saga—and the story is called Saga and the Bog People. She ventures across the sea to what used to be the Isle of Skye and there she uncovers the corpses of a family buried in a bog inside their Audi. They seemed have died a violent death and the driver was still holding his iPhone in his hand half a millennium on. 

This got me wondering who this family might be and it gave me the idea to write a story set 500 years in her past—i.e. our present. I wanted to write some sort of realistic(ish) collapse story that didn't involve zombies. And then a thought occurred to me: do you ever have those conversations where someone says "Oh yeah, the government knows all about peak oil and everything, but they just don't want to admit it? Well, I reasoned, if they know about it, why is it the only thing they try to do is grow the economy as an answer to everything? Why don't they take some kind of proactive action ... such as kill off 2/3 of the population and preserve the lion's share of the remaining land and wealth for an elite few?

So, with this thought in mind, I wondered how they might be able to achieve this. A false flag eco-terrorist event was what I decided upon, giving them the excuse to shut down the electricity transmission grid and essentially fling most of the population back into the middle ages. And if they did this, how would people survive (if at all)? I settled on the idea of taking a few people from different places on the socioeconomic spectrum and tossing them into the maelstrom. Thus we have Art Gwavas, an anarchist prepper who takes over a farm and raids local stores and houses to ensure the survival of his band of followers. Then we have Rose O'Keefe, a young Goth girl astrophysics blogger who gets sucked into a web of intrigue in a fortified London and ends up with some very special powers. There's also a city couple who get caught up in the chaos, the neurotic Prime Minister with a penchant for pills and the—frankly pure evil—political advisor Ignatius Pope, who just does what the voice in his head tells him to. 

It's quite a fast-paced story, with the action being spread between modern day London, Cornwall and Iceland. We also venture forth into post-apocalyptic Britain as we follow the travails of Rose O'Keefe as she turns from a young internet sensation into an old woman living in a hobbit hole where she spends a desperate night penning her life story in the knowledge that dawn will bring with it something wicked. It's probably not a book for younger readers or for people who are easily shocked, as I've been told variously that certain story elements are 'sick' (not in a cool way) and 'disturbing'. That isn't to say it contains gratuitous violence—far from it—but neither does it shy away from some some of the darker aspects of humanity.

If you want to get hold of a copy you can click on the book cover image to the right, or search it up on your regional Amazon site - or book distributor. It is only available in hard copy format at present, although it's possible that an eBook might come out in a year or so (issues with piracy remain).

Anyway, if you do read it I hope you enjoy it. Those who read this site and others like it will be familiar with many of the issues covered in the narrative of Seat of Mars. If it proves to be a success I'll write the second instalment in 2017.

Monday, November 21, 2016

I is for Interesting Times



"May you live in interesting times," says the old Chinese curse. The election of Donald Trump to president of the United States was the starting pistol for interesting times. From now on, not much will remain the same.

On the night of the election I had tried to stay awake to watch the whole thing unfold. Because of the time difference I knew there would be no clear results until early morning, and so I ended up going to bed at about 1am— at which point all the TV pundits were saying it was 'practically impossible' for Trump to win. So I went to be bed, but barely managed three hours of sleep due to fitful dreams. My phone was on the table next to the bed when I awoke, but I couldn't bring myself to turn it on and see all the "First Woman in the Whitehouse" headlines. I put it off and tried to snooze a while longer. Unable to do so I eventually reached over and turned it on with a 'better get this over with' attitude.

That was when I almost fell out of bed in shock.

It was like Brexit all over again. Brexit on steroids. The impossible had suddenly been proved possible. A spell had been broken and the world had been turned on its head. Donald Trump—a giant ego on legs—had pulled off the impossible. He had taken on the arrayed masses of media, celebrities, pundits, received wisdom and social inertia—and beaten them all. Thrashed them, in fact.

The stunned disbelief on social media rapidly turned into white hot anger. I felt a great disturbance in the force—it was as if a million voices cried out in terror; and then there was violence. Protestors rampaging around the streets, setting fire to cars and smashing window. Yes—the great hissy fit had begun.

From my perspective across on the other side of the Atlantic, I had one immediate cause for celebration: my family would not be nuked. Given Clinton's bellicose rhetoric about surrounding China with missiles and 'taking on' Russia, I had every reason to believe that she would willingly start a world war within months of taking office. With Nato forces building up on the border of Russia in numbers not seen since WWII, and the mainstream press squirting out anti-Russian propaganda from every orifice, and with Russia itself drilling its citizens for imminent nuclear war, I felt I had every reason to be concerned—especially as I live close to a couple of likely military targets. But on the morning on October 9th I got my geiger counter, my iodine pills and my copy of US Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Survival Manual, and put them away in my bottom drawer. For now.

But, of course, global nuclear war is a piffling matter for those more concerned with transgender bathrooms and the breaking of glass ceilings for power crazed career politicians. "But what about Pussygate?" scream the angry mob of social justice warriors. To which I would reply that there are plenty of places where presidential fingers don't belong, but frankly I'm more concerned about them being on the big red button.

So, yes, a large bubble has been popped. This is what the apocalypse looks like. The word 'apocalypse' means 'living the veil'. It's a consciousness thing. The apocalypse will happen at the level of human consciousness before it happens (if ever) on the physical plane. The fake doctrine of neoliberalism/neoconservatism/globalisation—that has made the world we see today, has been exposed for what it is. And all of those who happily went along with it feel a deep terror in their bones. They sense, perhaps correctly, that all of the horrors America and the West have unleashed on the world over the last four decades—horrors which they thought were safely locked away in the basement—have been awoken and are starting to walk up the stairs, feet shuffling, hands outstretched. Not even the soothing tones of Barack Obama can convince them to go back down again—they know they are done for.

So who are all these people who are so terrified? They are the ones who have fallen prey to the globalist controlling mindset. For them, it's all a matter of identity politics, victim statuses and the almighty ruling patriarchy. Status is conferred by your relative minority status, delineated along lines of race, gender, sexual orientation etc. By shifting the entire nature of politics into the realm of identity politics the globalist class have quite brilliantly— with the unflinching support of the mainstream media and Hollywood—cast a magic spell that almost succeeded in enslaving the entire world. And because identity politics so enfeebles people, it was easy to divide and conquer them and get them to conform to their idealised state of passive obedience. This idealised state is one where everyone is defined in a very narrow sense, there is no collective grouping outside of one's own little group, and anyone who objects to this state of affairs is called a 'racist' or a 'homophobe' or a whatever. With everyone so caught up in policing one another the globalists have been able to continue their destructive course of war profiteering and handing democratic sovereignty to corporations largely unchallenged.

The power of the spell is broken now, even if the socially-engineered, weak-minded apologists for the power set refuse to believe it. For what they don't realise is that the election of Trump—and Brexit before it—was the anguished howl of a people who had had enough and were unwilling to acquiesce to the madness any longer. In that respect, Brexit and Trump's election will go down as the most important historical events of Western civilisation in the 21st century. If you don't believe me, just wait.

Yet the people still entrapped by this spell believe in maintaining the status quo so vehemently that they are quite unable to function when their overlords are exposed as frauds and fakes. They are fine with their military raining death down on foreign nations so that they can plunder their oil (but don't turn away the refugees), fine with supporting a candidate who takes blood money from a nation that routinely kills gays and stones women for adultery (as long as we have freedom and equality) and fine with starting a nuclear war which would kill millions of innocent people (because Putin said something nasty about gays). They are also the ones who loudly insist that it is racist to be against globalisation, although they always assume that the benefits of globalisation will accrue to themselves, and if you find yourself living in a wasteland of drug addiction, crime and unemployment because of it, well then that's just your own stupid fault and you're probably a racist so there.

These people are all going to be swept away into history's compost bin, and they know it. It would be a good thing if they could be brought round to see reason—after all, some of them are good people and it's not their fault they've been brainwashed. But, alas, in most cases they are too far gone and it is impossible to reason with them. They belong to a superfluous unproductive class for which there will soon be no further need. They are the corporate PR flacks, the media, the overstuffed university faculty members, the fat layers of government who produce nothing but new regulations and rules to penalise everyday people, and the political hangers-on and other assorted medieval court fauna. As the global energy pie shrinks and the very real limits to growth assert themselves, these people will find themselves pushed out of the picture. No longer will they boast on Facebook about not being able to change a lightbulb as though menial, physical, useful skills are for the Untermensch classes—they'll be too busy fighting among themselves about whose fault all this was and forming circular firing squads.

For anyone who thinks they might detect a note of glee here, they'd be right. I would dearly love to see the likes of The Guardian, the Clintons and all the other warmongering, social engineering, psychopathically driven impediments to real human progress tossed into the fiery abyss. But, gratifying as that might be, it doesn't mean everything will then be all sweetness and light. Indeed how do we even know what to expect next? As has become abundantly clear to many people, the world of mass media, talking heads, opinion formers and politicos don't offer us any useful guidelines any longer. That's why the polymathically inclined turn to other areas where they might find better tools for human understanding—and one particularly useful area is the realm of mythology and psychology.


The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung noted the various archetypes manifest in human consciousness, and explained how we relate to these in our lives (although they exist on a subconscious level so usually we don't realise it). Joseph Campbell took this a stage further in his analysis of myths throughout human history, drawing out these archetypal figures to help make sense of such a widely diverse universe of stories. These archetypes are encoded in our minds and have been there from the time of our earliest ancestors. For the most part they lurk there unseen, only revealing themselves in times of need, when they help us to make sense of the world when everyday logic seems to fail us. This, of course, flies in the face of progress and scientism and the other pseudo-religions we like to insist are useful to us, and so many people choose to ignore the lessons of mythology. So it goes.

The archetype that should concern us today is the one they call the Trickster. The Trickster is a magician—someone who can conjure something seemingly impossible out of nothing. Magic, by the way, is the ability to take something from a non-physical realm and bring it forth into the physical one. It is the ability to change human consciousness through act of will. We all do it, usually without realising it, and politicians try to do it more than most of us (check out the Clinton team's disastrous experiments with Spirit Cooking). The Trickster is adept at this, appearing in times when civilisations have become stale and moribund, and when politics seems dead and insipid. The Trickster strides onto the stage and explodes the neat order of things, creating chaos and mayhem and collapse. Trickster is a disruptive intelligence. He laughs as he brings down elites, chuckles as he tosses political grandees into oblivion and cackles with mischief as he throws entire societies into turmoil.

In Norse mythology, Loki took the main Trickster role. Loki wanted to start Ragnarök—an all-encompassing battle that would destroy much of the world and also kill the gods in the process. Pan was also a Trickster—you've heard of 'pandemonium' and 'panic'—as was Shakespeare's Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In Britain we have a real-life Trickster in the form of Nigel Farage, and now in America, we have The Donald. Pretty soon, across much of Europe, each nation will have its very own Trickster running the show.

A note of warning. Those who are tired of the status quo, who are sick of corrupt politicians and exploitative corporations, and who yearn for deep and meaningful change should beware. Because normally we don't get the Trickster we want: we get the Trickster we deserve. It is worth knowing that we ourselves may be tossed into the abyss along all the other detritus: we vanquish our control when we summon forth the Trickster. Because, as Jung once again explains, the type of Trickster we get depends on our own dark Shadow. This Shadow represents our deepest fears: it is everything about us that we have been too afraid to confront. Our Shadow, at a societal level, is represented by all those bodies in the basement I mentioned above. It's all the stuff we have tried to block out, such as the harm we do to the planet, the resource wars our politicians get into on our behalf, factory farming, nuclear weapons technology—all the stuff we chose not to focus on rises up from the collective subconscious and becomes the Trickster beating down our basement door.

What follows is never pretty. When Shiva dances, worlds crumble. But afterwards, when the Trickster has had his fun, he leaves the scene and a time of renewal can occur. For, even after the mayhem of Ragnarök the land rose up from the sea, cleansed and refreshed. 

I'll let Puck have the last word, with his closing speech in A Midsummer Night's Dream

If we shadows have offended,
 Think but this, and all is mended—
 That you have but slumbered here
 While these visions did appear.
 And this weak and idle theme,
 No more yielding but a dream,
 Gentles, do not reprehend.
 If you pardon, we will mend.
 And, as I am an honest Puck,
 If we have unearnèd luck
 Now to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,
 We will make amends ere long.



***

In other news, the latest issue of the post industrial fiction magazine Into the Ruins has just been released. As ever, it features great stories that help us to imagine what might lie on the other side of Ragnarök, so to speak. I myself have a story in this issue called The Fifth Garden. It's about an old man in a dusty and ravished country who plants gardens and restores life to the land, changing human consciousness in the process. You can get your copy here.








Monday, November 7, 2016

H is for Hydrogen Dreams



I can clearly recall one day in 1997 when I was working for a large company in the UK energy sector and one of heads of the Corporate Strategy department came down to give us a talk. He confidently predicted that inside 10 years "almost every car on the planet" would be powered by hydrogen. This sounded a bit fishy to me, and even though I was a corporate flak at the time, something didn't ring true about his claim. I asked him a question: "But where will the hydrogen come from?"

His eyes boggled at the sheer stupidity of such a question. "Where will it come from?" he repeated, his mouth curling into a smile at the corners as if I had made some kind of joke. "Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe! It's everywhere! You yourself are 10% hydrogen!" There was a ripple of laughter around the room and I felt like the stupidest kid in the class. How could I be such a dumbo!?

Now, almost 20 years later, I have yet to see a car powered by hydrogen. But why?

For a start, hydrogen might be abundant, but it is not a primary fuel. It had to be turned into a useable fuel by employing methods that involve using other fuels. Electrolysis is the main method used to extract hydrogen from water, and most electricity is currently produced using fossil fuels.*

Never mind, let's ignore this energy usage for now and continue making hydrogen. Once we have extracted some pure hydrogen from water (or natural gas, as if often the case - but shhh! don't tell anyone!) we will notice that it is incredibly light and fluffy. To get it into a liquid form we'll have to compress it using a compressor. 10,000psi should do it so that it's usable for a car. Of course, it'll need to be stored in a very thick and heavy high pressure tank.

Okay, so now we've arrived at the stage where we've burned up loads of coal, natural gas or even uranium making water into liquid hydrogen fuel. We have compressed it and stuffed it inside a heavy steel tank ready for using. Can we just store it there until we might need to use it? Well, actually this is also problematic as hydrogen has a boiling point of -253C — which is damned cold by most accounts. Anything above this and it will boil off and evaporate. So forget filling up the tank of your nifty "green" hydrogen car and leaving it sitting on the drive for a few days — you need to use up your fuel before it disappears, which it typically does at a rate of 3-4% a day.

Does it still seem so attractive? Leave you car for a couple of weeks while you go on holiday and you'll likely come back to an empty tank.

Anyway, assuming none of the above really bothers us, what about our good friend the Second Law of Thermodynamics — you know, that old Cassandra party-pooper who endlessly repeats that energy is lost at every stage of conversion, increasing entropy as it does so — does he have anything to say about hydrogen powered motoring? Well yes, quite a lot actually. It turns out that using electrolysis to create hydrogen, compressing it and storing it gives it an energy return (EROEI) of about 0.25. Yep, that means we have to put in four units of energy to get one back.

If anyone still thinks this is a good idea go and grab the nearest six-year old and ask them to explain it to you.

But ... assuming you don't care about the energy loss, the burning of fossil fuels to turn natural gas feedstock — sorry, water — into hydrogen, the compression costs, the storage losses and the fact that your hydrogen car weighs twice as much as a normal one due to the giant onboard tank — assuming none of that matters — where are you going to fill it up? According to the US Department of Energy there are 31 stations nationwide where you can fill up your vehicle. Yes, that's 31 that have hydrogen, compared with about 90,000 that have gasoline. As far as I can tell, there are around two in the UK "with another four planned". Yep, the hydrogen future is already here.**

So, for our hydrogen fuelled cars — which will inevitably also feature lithium ion batteries — to be usable to those people who don't live across the road from a hydrogen fuelling station and who like to travel more than 10 miles from their homes, we'll need to retrofit more or less the entire energy infrastructure.

Need I go on ...?

So, here we are, still waiting for the great hydrogen future ("It's everywhere! The only pollution is water vapour! The fossil fuel industry doesn't want this to take off!") It probably has some industrial application that could be useful but if we think that hydrogen is a straight substitute for petrol we're going to be sorely disappointed.

In the meantime, here's a "zero emissions" train that's just hit the tracks in Germany. Apparently it is entirely pollution free and "runs on water" (like Jesus, but faster?***) Want to play a fun game and lose all you friends in the process? Every time one of them posts a link to the train on Facebook, leave a simple reply saying 'BS' and link to this post. It works wonders — I've already lost several friends as a result, and expect to lose more in the future.

But don't mind me, I'm just a dumbo, and I'm 10% hydrogen.


* Yep, I know you can make electrolysis happen using solar PV or other renewables, but please refer to the bit where I mention the Second Law, and also consider the sheer amount of solar PV that would be needed to do so on a large scale to keep us on a happy motoring course and how it might be better employed.

** In my second career as a journalist/editor, we got invited to meet the late Shimon Peres in a darkened hotel room in Copenhagen during the shambolic COP15 conference. Peres wanted to push his 'Better Place' hydrogen/electric car initiative on us. We were not allowed to ask questions, such as whether it would actually work. "Better Place" went bust a couple of years later due to the unwillingness of the Second Law to negotiate, and the plug was pulled on it — as were several articles that reported on its demise such as this one in The Guardian "Better Place: What went wrong for the electric car startup"

*** As a small footnote, there's a personal irony in this. The Jesus Train was built by the company Alstom, for which my father, gods rest his soul, used to be a purchasing director. In his time he negotiated and purchased all the major parts for the first trains to run through the Channel Tunnel, as well as the French high speed TGVs. I actually spent a summer working in Alstom's French train factory when I was 21. My father would have hated all this BS — he's probably turning in his grave right now.







Tuesday, November 1, 2016

G is for Get the Fuck out of Dodge...?

Homelessness is already spiking in cities across the USA

Should disaster strike, being located in a large city is likely to present a number of problems specific to the urban denizen. Due to their concentrated nature, any large scale and ongoing outage in electricity and/or fuel is likely to put the city dweller at a considerable disadvantage to those living in less heavily populated areas. Urbanites often say they feel safer in cities. It's what they know, and often it is where they grew up. And to a certain extent they may be correct: relief efforts during the initial stages of a cataclysm are usually focused on large metropolitan areas where the largest number of people can be serviced via centrally-located distribution points. The shops may all be empty as just-in-time distribution systems enter a state of paralysis but it's a reasonable expectation that there will be an aid agency on hand to give out some food and bottled water to anyone willing to queue up for hours or days. What's more, cities contain much of the most valuable infrastructure in the country, including government offices and centres of finance, so it is likely that much of this will be secured from chaotic elements by the Army.

That was the good news.

The bad news is that due to the concentrated and hyperconnected nature of cities a crucible effect will take place and collapse will be a lot speedier and lethal than in non-urban settings. In a recent report the Pentagon states that by 2030 the world's megacities will be ungovernable hothouses of urban decay filled with rioting youths, collapsing infrastructure and chronic levels of crime. Here's a quote from OffGuardian (link):

"According to a startling Pentagon video obtained by The Intercept, the future of global cities will be an amalgam of the settings of “Escape from New York” and “Robocop” — with dashes of the “Warriors” and “Divergent” thrown in. It will be a world of Robert Kaplan-esque urban hellscapes — brutal and anarchic supercities filled with gangs of youth-gone-wild, a restive underclass, criminal syndicates, and bands of malicious hackers."

In large cities, rich and poor live cheek by jowl, meaning the wealthy and even the reasonably well-off are likely to be easy targets for gangs of looters. Should an economic collapse occur at the same time it is likely that the police, ambulance and fire services will not be paid, meaning they will be less willing to risk their lives by entering 'no go' areas—if they even bother to turn up to work at all. Forced acquisition of housing will also likely occur in this scenario as squatters and the dispossessed exploit the lack of law and order.

Even on a very basic level, surviving in a large city in which the power has been shut down is likely to be very difficult—if not impossible—for most. Without access to land to grow or catch food, city dwellers will find themselves unable to feed themselves in short order. Climate will also be an exacerbating factor, with apartment dwellers in cold regions finding it impossible to heat their living spaces, and those living in very hot regions unable to use air conditioning. Without power, water will not run from taps, and toilets will not flush. Backed up sewage systems will spread disease, as will the exploding rodent population feeding off the mounds of uncollected garbage and unburied bodies. People who have not prepared for such eventualities by gathering food and equipment to help them through such a period of turmoil will be at a considerable disadvantage and may find the psychological pressure alone too much to bear under the circumstances. 

With urban dwellers having invested in very little in social capital it's likely to be a case of 'every man for himself' within a matter of days of disaster striking. And disaster could strike in the form of a natural cataclysm, such as a tornado or a flood, or it could be man-made, such as a grid outage caused by computer hackers, or a nuclear or chemical strike. It could even be something as mundane as a sudden currency devaluation, sending the economy into a tailspin. Furthermore, it is worth bearing in mind that large cities present easy targets for state and non-state terrorists.

Of course, escaping to the countryside will also present its own set of challenges, and it would be wishful thinking to assume that the majority of the urban population could easily move out to grow vegetables and raise chickens. A potential half-way house might be the sprawling suburbs that surround many cities (especially in America). It is not beyond the scope of our imagination to see that many of the houses could be retrofitted to provide better protection against the elements, and the extensive lawns surrounding them turned into food producing spaces. Due to their large size many so-called McMansions could house several families at a time, assuming the materials they are made from hold together, and new localities would form in this way.

Monday, October 24, 2016

F is for Frugality

Being frugal, according to dictionary.com, means being:

economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful.

Living frugally means imposing austerity on yourself in order to have better control over your life. It means wresting control away from the exploitative systems that govern the world we live in. Frugality is not a competitive sport to be boasted about online; it's more of an aspirational art form.

There are endless ways of being frugal without incurring any loss of life quality. In fact, most people report that their lives feel more grounded once they begin practicing frugality.

There are many good reasons for being frugal. In his 1970s book Muddling Towards Frugality, Warren Johnson lays out a whole philosophy regarding living well by focusing on what you need rather than what you want. One of the best reasons, however, is that it might save your life. Living in a state of permanent entitlement is a  psychological achilles heel for many. Watching middle class people lose things they consider themselves entitled to is usually a very sorry spectacle. Frugality, or voluntary simplicity, or voluntary poverty is about jumping off the work-to-consume treadmill and getting onto the (much slower) work-to-live one.

Living frugally does not mean living in poverty. Poverty is a trap that can be impossible to escape from. The systems of our industrialised technocratic psychopathically-designed society are set up to funnel wealth upwards from the masses to a few people at the top. Those caught in the trap often find they have no way of escaping it: they are literally powerless.

Some people have the good fortune to be able to practice frugality before it is thrust upon them by outside forces. If you are one of them you should count your lucky stars. It's no fun going from being comfortably middle class to being without a place to call home and unable to afford even a cup of coffee (as I can attest) but if you get enough practice in you can at least salvage the basics of existence and then fill the upper levels of your hierarchy of needs pyramid with things that are free, or very cheap. These things are free (presently):

- Going for a walk
- Keeping fit
- Singing
- Creating works of art
- Making love
- Meditating
- Talking with friends
- Stroking kittens
- Joining a fight club

We live in a time where, in some ways, it is easy to be frugal. Our societies are awash with cast-off clothes, toys, electronics and materials that nobody wants. 90% of our fossil fuels end up as waste heat, and about half of the all the food we produce ends up in landfill. There is plenty of room for frugality at either end of the scale.

But that window is rapidly closing. Within ten years we're likely to have witnessed the end of industrial civilisation as the EROEI of oil drops below 1. At this point those who do not know how to live very cheaply and simply will be - let's just say - at a considerable disadvantage.

If you want some ideas, have a look at Britain's most frugal pensioner.

Monday, October 3, 2016

E is for EROEI

Understanding EROEI - or Energy Return On Energy Invested - should be on every school curriculum, but isn't. Simply put, it's the amount of energy we as a species can play with. Back in the days when you could poke a hole in the ground and oil would gush out of it skywards, getting hold of plenty of energy was easy. In fact, for every blob of oil you used for locating, drilling and transporting the stuff, you got between 100 and 200 similarly-sized blobs of the same quality back. The way this energy value was expressed was by way of EROEI; thus, sweet onshore crude oil could be said to have an EROEI of 100 to 200. These were the low hanging fruit days that made the 20th century boom.

Once all the low hanging fruit was gone we had to move a bit further up the tree. Oil and coal and natural gas were still abundant but they needed more work to get at. They also needed more processing, transporting and all the rest of it. Because of this, the net energy (i.e. energy return minus energy expenditure) available to us was lower. We invested one blob and got considerably less than 100 back. In other words, the energy we invested in unlocking fossil fuels needed to be higher just to get the same amount back that we were used to, meaning the EROEI was falling.

Of course, fossil fuels aren't the only forms of energy. Nuclear was thought to have a high EROEI, but once you took into consideration the entire process of building the power stations, mining the uranium, decommissioning the plant and storing the waste, the EROEI shrivelled up like dead fish in the sun at Fukushima Beach.

Renewables also have relatively low EROEI values compared to early oil. Note, however, that EROEI has nothing to do with money. Getting EROEI mixed up with EROI (Energy Return on Investment) is a common mistake. One deals with the immutable laws of physics and the other deals with the infinitely manipulable world of finance - and only one of these sets of conditions is negotiable.

So what would be the average EROEI value of oil discovered today? Unfortunately nobody can seem to agree on an exact figure, but you can be sure that it's a lot lower than 200. 20 perhaps. In fact many insist that fracked shale gas and tight oil have such a low EROEI they are only viable as a commercial operation when financed by Wall Street Ponzi schemes. Biofuels, such as ethanol, have disastrously low EROEI numbers - in many cases they are less than 1. When you put more energy into something than you get out of it then it can no longer be regarded as a fuel source. Nevertheless, biofuel volumes are often added to 'total liquids' figures, implying they are an oil substitute when clearly they are not.

People will often say that 'the world is awash with oil' because they see it on the news all the time. They see no reason to think scarcity exists - everywhere they look they see abundance. However, there's a problem with this kind of thinking, and the problem is that our net energy levels are shrinking. Yes, shrinking! We can cover the world in wind turbines, solar panels and fracking wells, and we still can't escape the shrinkage problem. We might be producing, say, ten million barrels of oil per day - which looks great on spreadsheets and in news articles - but what good is that if we are then spending the bulk of it to do more drilling to get at more oil that will have an even lower EROEI value?

Which leads us to the crux of the problem. The modern world was set up to run on high EROEI energy. Take a look around. All those roads, airports, microproccesor factories, mechanised agricultural systems, globalised supply chains and space programmes require a huge throughput of energy. But we are running out of high EROEI energy, and will soon have only low EROEI energy to play with. Which begs the question: at what average level of net energy will the modern world cease to be a viable option? In the past, when high energy fossil fuels were abundant, you could always throw more money and energy at problems and expect them to go away - and usually they did. But this option itself is now going away. What will we do?

Here's a chart showing estimated EROEI values for different energy sources (source unknown).



Proponents of renewable energy will say that we can simply swap out the old system for a new 'clean and green' one. We'll all drive electric cars, live in solar cities and our lifestyles will not be much different to what they are today. This vision ignores many of the other limits to the system, and would still permit the continued destruction of the planet's life support systems, albeit in a more 'green' fashion. That's not to say that renewable energy isn't extremely useful - especially in a locally-distributed way - just to recognise some of its limits.

On the other hand, fossil fuel dinosaurs claim that we should just go all-out for oil and gas and coal. If there's such a thing as EROEI or global warming or acidifying oceans then they don't want to hear it. We should be fracking the living daylight out of the planet, building pipelines and fighting wars to get 'our' oil out of the Middle East. These people are a type of modern day cargo cult and as such, are quite dangerous. Many of them are politicians and leading businessmen.

There's a third category, too. The techno cornucopian optimists insist that a new technological breakthrough is just around the corner that will allow us to live like we do with no interruption to service. Haven't you heard there's a government conspiracy to cover up the availability of free energy? Or that if we can send robots up into space to mine comets for uranium we can have endless energy? Selling dreams is a profitable business, and the most successful of these people have MBAs and hire the best PR staffers. I myself once pretended to be one just for fun and have had several requests for an investment prospectus from people with money.

So what is likely to happen as these groups fight it out amongst each other while, all along, the needle on the global EROEI fuel tank moves into the orange zone? Perhaps it will be like the hand of God slowly turning down the dimmer switch on industrial civilisation. Because the more energy we USE simply to GET energy, the less energy is available for the rest of society to use. And this manifests itself in many different ways, but it all comes down to lower available net energy. Already we are seeing demand destruction and lower energy use as the former consumer classes struggle to be able to afford as many goods and the corresponding energy they use. Heavy goods vehicle traffic levels have fallen over 6% across the UK in the last decade, councils are turning off streetlights at night, and homeless levels in the US are spiking. Sweden is encouraging its citizens to refurbish goods instead of buying new ones, malnutrition in children is becoming common in the developed world and 30-something Britons possess half as much as 30-somethings did only 10 years ago [*See links below]. These are just some signs that the big squeeze is on, and it's getting tighter and tighter with each passing year.


Links to articles:

HGV traffic levels falling across UK
Councils turning off streetlights
Number of homeless people over 50 in US spiking
Sweden encourages goods refurbishing
Malnutrition in UK children
30 something Brits have less than half of 40 somethings at same age
UK hits "Peak stuff"
If you're under 30 - bad luck - you're screwed