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An entry in How To Be Poor

In the previous entry in this series, The Reductionist Trap, I wrote about a possible diet I could eat that would seem to be sustainable and practical, given my circumstances and the broader world at large. As I noted in that post, I believe such a diet could be resilient, both in the world as it is today and, quite possibly, in the world as I expect it to exist over the coming years--that is, with reduced available energy and resources and lower purchasing power for most involved. In today's post, I want to speak in greater depth about resiliency, raise the issue of margins, and make an argument for how these concepts can help guide how we structure our lives for a future sporting greater material poverty.

Resiliency is defined as "an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change" and John Michael Greer-- in a post about resiliency that I've referenced before, in this blog's longest, but by no means best, entry--defines it as "the opposite of efficiency." He goes on to write that, "What makes a system resilient is the presence of unused resources, and these are inefficient by definition. A bridge is resilient, for example, if it contains a good deal more steel and concrete than is actually needed to support its normal maximum load; that way, when some outside factor such as a hurricane puts unexpected stresses on the bridge, the previously unnecessary structural strength of all that extra steel and concrete comes into play, and keeps the bridge from falling down."

If I'm correct in the belief that the future is going to sport a good deal less energy and resources--a good deal less wealth for most all of us, in other words--than resiliency is exactly what we need. That future is going to be rife with misfortune and change, a series of shocks to the industrial system, and an altered landscape--figuratively and literally--on which we'll have to make our livings. Jobs will be lost, incomes will drop, food will become more expensive and scarce. Blackouts are more common, and that trend will continue as power companies cannibalize their existing infrastructure. I wouldn't be surprised if rural areas started de-electrifying within the next half century. Road systems will degrade, bridges will collapse or be shut down due to safety concerns, and driving will become less viable in a wide variety of ways. America is in the early stages of decline and faces a rough future in which the general state is one of contraction--thus, the list of these changes could go on and on. Suffice it to say, though, the future is going to be much more rough than the recent past.

To imagine this future in simpler terms, let's consider a piece of lined notebook paper, 8.5 x 11 inches. But let's change it a bit from a standard piece of notebook paper. This one has two inch margins on either side, leaving just four and a half inches of writing area in the middle. Not much room in the core, right? In fact, barely more than in the margins. The core of this paper is industrial society as we expect it to function, complete with high technology and massive energy usage, the waste of natural resources, and the assumption of perpetual growth. Draw a line straight down the middle, top of the paper to bottom, straight as an arrow. That might be something like the Wal-Mart ordering system and supply chain--one of the more efficient structures in today's industrial society, within the confines of how we define efficiency. There's little waste in the sense that products are ordered just in time, from centralized factories, arriving via centralized transport systems, all maximized as much as possible within a computerized system. There are wastes, granted, but they're wastes that we by and large ignore within the context of our industrial assumptions and economic organization.

There's little resiliency to this system. A disruption in the transportation, or in the ability of the factories to function, or in the supply chains that feed the factories, or in the computer system that does the ordering, or in any other number of the system's numerous points of functioning could lead to empty shelves and lost profit. But so long as everything functions according to plan, the shelves stay full and the profits stay high. On our hypothetical piece of paper, a straight line unimpeded is the supply chain functioning properly, and the line ends in massive profits. But this line can only follow one way to that destination, and it's straight as an arrow. Put anything in its way--any disruption to the system, in other words--and it stops. It can't go around. It has no ability to bend, to curve, to find a different way. It only knows the one.

Now, any number of systems reliant on the functioning of the industrial economy can be drawn within the core of this piece of paper. Some must stay straight and will stop if they hit any blockade. Others are more resilient and thus can veer around a bit. They're capable of twisting and turning and finding new ways. But even these are bound by the margins. Those are lines they simply cannot cross, and so they're left with four and a half inches of wiggle room, and a couple of wide and wild, two inch stretches on either side that can't be entered without the system falling to pieces. That's because these margins don't function under the rules of industrial society. Fossil fuels are lacking or nonexistent in these margins, there's no perpetual growth, waste doesn't exist and energy usage per capita is low. High technology functions poorly or is absent altogether. Sun and air and water flow through these margins, but not reserved masses of millions of years of condensed carbon. Labor is provided by humans and animals rather than machines. Food is provided by soil rather than oil and natural gas. The margins do not function as the core does.

Consider, still further, that the margins are widening a bit each year. Accordingly, the core is shrinking--and, accordingly, the available paths for systems and processes dependent on industrial society is shrinking. Every year the margins grow closer, offering a place to live but under the condition of adapting to new rules, new ways of living, new forms of personal and social organization. Within time, these margins are going to squeeze out the core and leave all those people, communities, economies, businesses, machines, and so on that depend absolutely on a functioning industrial society with no place to live. At that point, they'll be forced to either survive in the margins or perish.

If we're to face the future in a coherent and resilient manner, we're going to have to broaden the ways in which we can function in this world. We're going to have to learn to live in the margins. That may not mean living entirely in the margins today or tomorrow, but we have to take our first tentative steps into them and begin the long and challenging process of learning the new ways of living that they require. We're going to have to veer into them at times, familiarize ourselves with the marginal world, and continually increase our comfort there. If we don't do that, we're going to be in a heap of trouble as the core continues to shrink and crowds more and more of us out of an industrial economy based on perpetual growth and increased consumption, and into a contracting economy that demands a dramatic scaling back of our lives.

To engage these margins, we'll need to change our behavior. But to do that, we need first to change our ways of thinking. Many of us have been taught to live in a world of growth, a world of industrialism, a world of massive available resources and energy. Trying to live differently without first changing the way we think is only going to serve to compound an already challenging situation. This is why, in the previous post, I wrote about the need to move away from the sort of reductionist thinking that is employed and common in the industrial world--the core of the paper--and toward a systems thinking that is rooted in the natural functions of ecosystems. The margins, after all, are wild. They're rooted not in machine control and the brute force application of massive amounts of energy, but in the elegant and complex functioning of ecosystems. To make our way in them, we're going to have to learn to think as the margins function, thus providing us the tools to tease out the full implications of our actions--to see the rippling effects of the way we live and to understand what underlying systems support or don't support those ways of living.

As an example, let's consider a wood stove. One has existed in each of the three places I've lived out here on the Oregon coast. It was the source of heat in the yurt I lived in when I first came here in 2011, an option in the old farm house I lived in last year--which also had available the horror that is electric wall heaters--and an option in my current residence, in addition to an electric furnace. Despite the presence of that electric furnace, the wood stove is far and away the primary source of heat in this house. A good question, though, is whether or not it should be.

One way we could consider this question is through a simple, reductionist lens of trying to suss out exactly how much energy is used by the wood stove versus how much by the electric furnace, looking at efficiency ratings of the actual devices, the efficiency rate of conversion of wood and electricity to heat, or perhaps try to determine the cost of a cord of wood in comparison to the cost of an equivalent amount of heat via electricity. Perhaps we might broaden out this reductionist perspective by crunching all these numbers to the best of our ability and then evaluating all of them in conjunction to try to come up with a final determination. We may even bring in yet more variables, such as the cost of the electric furnace versus the wood stove, the amount of energy used in their manufacture, and so on. All of this is good information to consider, but it's only a small piece of the whole system consideration of how to heat your home, and it takes only the dimmest account of resiliency.

What if we instead evaluated the two methods in terms of resiliency, in terms of how straight must be the line that leads to heat? If we do that, then we're talking about a whole host of other considerations. The electric furnace, for instance, deals in a mighty straight line laid down within the core of our hypothetical piece of paper. To create heat, it needs a steady flow of electricity, and that electricity needs to flow at a certain level. As currently designed, our electric furnace would pull that electricity from the centralized energy grid. If the flow of electricity stops, the heat stops. Period. If there's a blackout, the heat stops. Period. If the bill for that electricity becomes to expensive to pay, the heat eventually stops. Period. If we get far enough into contraction and decline that our rural area completely loses access to centralized, grid electricity, then the heat stops. Again, period. And even if we wanted to attempt to replace the grid-sourced electricity with renewable electricity produced on site, it's not likely we could do that. An electric furnace needs a heck of a lot of electricity, in heavy bursts. I don't see any way we could cobble together any combination of solar PVs, small wind turbines, and micro hydro generators--and the necessary battery rack--to make that happen. Not for heat on demand. Especially in the winter out here, which is when we need the heat and when the sun isn't shining. (There's an important connection there, we should note.) In other words, our electric furnace needs the centralized industrial economy and the electric grid it provides to produce heat.

Now let's consider the wood stove. Here we find that the line is not nearly so straight, and even is capable of veering into the margins. Unlike the electric furnace, the wood stove can work with a variety of different types of fuel. First and foremost is wood, of course, but it could produce heat from many different combustible materials. Even if we were to stay with wood, though, the ways that wood can be acquired is far more varied than the electric furnace, which needs to be hooked up to a centralized electric grid to work. Wood can be acquired in ways that are highly dependent on the industrial economy and ways that are far less dependent on it. Depending on where you live, it could even be acquired without help of the industrial economy. Scrap wood can be harvested from the forest floor. A series of sturdy hand tools combined with human (and perhaps animal) labor can take a tree and fell, split, chop, and stack it into a winter's worth of heating. For us in particular, out here on the Oregon coast, access to consistent and reliable electricity is almost certainly going to go away before access to locally grown wood.

Furthermore, a bit of systems thinking leads us to other advantages of the wood stove. As a concentrated source of heat, it not only can be used for heating the home, but for cooking food--and it can do both those things at the same time, with the same heat. Even those wood stoves not made explicitly for cooking provide a hot surface. If you have a cast iron pan and that surface is big enough to balance it on, you can cook food. Still further beyond that, modifying your wood stove to include some kind of wetback system could provide hot water, to boot, providing you three critical functions for the price of one. In the world of permaculture, this is called "stacking functions" and it's a way of making the most out of your resources that's rooted in ecological and systems thinking. The beauty of a wood stove is that--in the simplicity of its design and its lack of high technology, which tends to focus on single tasks--it's capable of supporting multiple functions. An electric furnace, on the other hand, simply can't heat your water or cook your food. It's designed only to heat a house, and it goes about that in a very particular way.

In fact, considering the heating device itself is also a good exercise in systems thinking. Our electric furnace is a single-trick pony, designed to be hooked up to an electric grid, a duct system, and a thermostat. Take any of those pieces away and its functioning is either reduced or eliminated. I know of no way to modify it to do other tasks at the same time as its heating the house (though perhaps that can be done and I just don't know about it!) As well, the electric furnace is dependent on the continued functioning of the heating coil and the blower, or else it simply won't function properly. If one of these breaks down, the furnace must be repaired or replaced, and that likely will require parts out of an industrialized supply chain. A wood stove, on the other hand, strikes me as a much more sturdy device. It is, first and foremost, a heavy metal box. It's not dependent on a number of moving parts, nor is it dependent on a duct system (outside of the chimney) or on a thermostat, outside of the predilections of whichever human is charged with starting a fire. It is a sturdy device, likely to last longer than the electric furnace, and certain repairs may be possible without resort to a long distance supply chain. Its heat can more easily be localized if you want to maximize your fuel by heating less space. Closed doors make for a better barrier than closed air vents, after all. In the starkest of situations, you're likely to have a bit better a time cozying up to a wood stove than to a HVAC vent. (Not to mention, it makes for a more romantic, or haunting, image.)

In short, the wood stove can take a multitude of different paths to the final goal of heat, and can even provide multiple functions upon achieving that goal. The electric furnace knows one path, and its final goal is limited in scope, as well. As such, the wood stove--for many people--is much more resilient a technology for a deindustrializing future than an electric furnace.

This isn't to say the wood stove is a perfect solution, even for those of us who live surrounded by forests. For starters, those forests can go away fast. The number of clear cuts out here are already too numerous to count and, as we go through the long and harsh process of deindustrialization, there's good reason to think that quite a bit of rural land could easily be stripped nearly bare by desperate individuals, desperate communities, and desperate governments. It doesn't have to happen that way, but it might. So even for those of us living amongst the trees, firewood could eventually become more challenging to gain hold of. Furthermore, a good supply of firewood involves quite a lot of labor--either done by humans, animals, machines running on fossil fuels, or some combination of those. A future in which chain saws and diesel-powered splitters are more scarce--either with less of these actual tools around or less access to the fuel to run them--is going to mean that putting away a winter's worth of wood heating is going to be a challenging task. Particularly for those who are older, in poorer health, or simply not used to hard physical labor. But they're not insurmountable, and a good community--and good relations with that community--could go a long way toward getting over that hump.

Similarly, the electric furnace could prove to have more worth in certain situations, such as in an urban environment. While I still wouldn't want to count on it for the long term, there could easily be a day a few decades down the road when a city dweller still has access to the centralized electric grid but couldn't easily get firewood, while a rural dweller might be able to come across a good supply of firewood fairly easily but has lost any connection to a centralized electric grid. In this case, the city dweller is obviously better off with the electric furnace than a wood stove and the rural dweller vice versa. This comes back to one of the basic tenants behind systems thinking: that it has to be rooted in the local context, not in theory. Systems thinking is about dealing with the world as it is. As such, my above example about wood stoves is relevant for me, in my rural home, and likely relevant for a good number of Americans--but it isn't relevant for all. Each person has to engage their own local context--their community, their ecosystem, their personal reality--to come to the most resilient way forward.

A final moment of reflection on this post, though--and particularly that last paragraph--will reveal an important truth. All this talk of wood stoves and electric furnaces is rooted in a basic idea that's very much a product of industrial and reductionist thinking, which is the idea of bending the world to our will. But one inconvenient reality of the future is that we're going to have much less control over our world than we're used to today. We're going to be making do with what we have far more than we're used to. The margins are wild, and they're going to demand more from us than we're going to be able to demand from them. Learning to live well within and accept that reality is a key part of learning to live in the margins, and I'll delve into that in the next entry in How To Be Poor.

(Cross-posted from my blog, Of The Hands.)

Originally posted to aimlessmind on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 04:15 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Good diary. (13+ / 0-)

    These are the kinds of questions and concerns I have been trying to come to terms with over the past several years.  I appreciate your focus on the capacity, individually and collectively, to adapt to changing conditions.  One of the ways I try to frame these questions is to look for options that are win-win because they are advantageous under a wide range of conditions. I believe that your concept of living on the margins is a useful approach.

    I am also interested in what kinds of actions can be taken now that would be helpful if there were a dramatic change in our access to information and resources.  For instance, what kinds of information would be most useful if a community had little or no access to outside resources?  How might that information be stored and accessed?  How much redundancy would be needed?  

    •  Preserving Knowledge (9+ / 0-)

      Thanks for the kind words, and it sounds like you're engaging in the sort of systems thinking I'm advocating for--which is great to hear.

      As to your questions about preserving knowledge, that's a great question, and it's a critical one for the future. I think our access to information and resources will be curtailed as we go through contraction and decline, and our current reserves of knowledge are, unfortunately, largely catalogued in formats with strict expiration dates. I suspect most digitized information will be lost as high technology declines in accordance with the complexity of our society and as the equipment used to read digitized information reaches its expiration date without being replaced with new equipment and updated file formats. Unfortunately, our physical media isn't much better--CDs and DVDs degrade and become unreadable quickly, even if you have equipment to read them, and even our books are mostly printed on high-acid paper that will fall apart in a century or so.

      What would be good to preserve? Organic gardening and the scientific process spring to mind. I think science is overly fetishized in our society and religion overly dismissed--and science commonly treated as a religion--but the basic scientific process is an extremely useful tool, and I think we should preserve it. John Michael Greer actually talks a lot about this over at his blog, The Archdruid Report. (See here for a good summary of the issue.)

      To be honest, I suspect the best bet for preserving knowledge going forward is in the form of living traditions. Organic gardening will survive this way--people will be practicing it literally to stay alive, to provide a portion or most of their own food. As industrial agriculture falls apart, the organic gardening methods that have been so refined in the last few decades will help to pick up the slack and, via necessity, those skills will continue into the future.

      Any other form of knowledge probably needs to be passed down in the same way to have the best chance of survival. Science arose out of amateurs using the scientific process to chase theories--not for money or professional accolades, but out of love and curiosity. Science has since been professionalized to a large degree, but as the grant, corporate and governmental funding for that goes away, it will once again be maintained by amateurs and hobbyists, assuming its maintained at all.

      My best advice, then, is to decide what you think is worth preserving, learn it as well as you can (if you haven't already), practice the skills, advocate for them, and most important of all, pass that knowledge on to other people who are interested. This is how education has happened throughout most of human history--via practice. You're only going to be able to play a small part as one person, but that's the only way any of this will happen, by many, many people playing their own small parts. Figure out what you love, what you think is important, what you believe the future needs to not lose, learn it, and find people who will love it, too, to pass your knowledge and skills on to.

      Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

      by aimlessmind on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 05:05:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  There have been people in many rural areas (10+ / 0-)

      Working on preserving information for decades now. Many of the Boomer liberals have been doing that, trying to preserve seed lines, ways to generate electricity without using the grid, and alternative ways to live their lives.

      Many gave up because they got tired of having no money to do much, but some have been making a bit of a living doing it. The organic farming growth is a direct result of all their hard work learning how to do things sustainably.

      So, I would start talking to/communicating with all the Boomers who are living out in rural areas, who have been doing this for so long. There are many people like that have been experimenting for a long time with alternative ways of doing things. They just need people to actually pay attention to what they have been learning all these decades.

      Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

      by splashy on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 01:50:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, we are the hippies (8+ / 0-)

        that are often the object of derision but we have the key to survival.
        Most of us can build a shelter, grow a garden, collect and purify water- what else do we need, really.

        Getting back to basics.

        The visual impact of imagining the margins this way is mighty powerful and should get everyone thinking about all of the extraneous things we have in our way as we meander thru these margins.

        The one thing that everyone can do right now is to have a veggie garden- in containers on a rooftop, balcony, city lot, community garden space, forest gardens, borrowed backyard.
        The satisfaction one feels far outweighs the energy input and those green beans have never tasted better.

        Aimlessmind, i love your blog.

        •  indeed, and we were right (3+ / 0-)

          about a fair number of things.

          I put a "wetback" stove system (I have never heard that term used, BTW, although it is apt)  together 40 years ago, using 100 yr old tech (the 3/4 inch pipe threads in the ancient rusty chunk of cast iron, hollow,  made to fit in the sidewall of a wood cookstove's firebox, matched the 3/4 inch threads in use to this very day in standard steel plumbing pipe), plumbed to a tank hung off the wall above the stove,  so a natural thermosyphon loop passed the heated water from the firebox insert to the tank,  and was replaced by the cooler water at the bottom of the tank flowing down.  No pump was required.  the tank was plumbed into the house water system.  That was after we had water brought into the house, of course,  as the house had existed a century with no water or electricity.  We got water from the spring in the creek bottom, hand-carried for years.

          A wood cookstove in an active household typically is kept going all day

          Did it produce instant hot water in vast flows like we are used to today? No. But it sure beat the alternative.

          An underlying issue in all of this is highly subjective:  the luxury of getting to "like" something, to live with endless choice, to literally be so decadently wealthy that we see food as an entertainment, rather than the sustenance it has been for humans forever.  That will be hard for many people to let go of, adapt their tastes to what can be produced locally.  No oranges, or (sob) avocados.  Certainly not inexpensive ones like we enjoy now.

          Resiliency must also apply to culture systems of likes and dislikes and to able to adapt one's tastes to what will grow where one is.  Jarred Diamond's Greenland colony is a haunting example of cultural rigidity at its most extreme.  The European colonists didn't "like" what the native climate yielded, fish and seal that the Inuit natives thrived on, and starved to death rather than eat it.  Very possibly, though, their bodies simply didn't have a local set of enzymes and digestive bacteria evolved to help humans digest their food.  And the Inuit may well not have had the lactobacillus strains needed to process a dairy-rich diet like the Europeans tried to impose in an unsuitable ecosystem.

          The implications of "The End of Cheap Energy" just rattle on and on, like my wandering comment.

          don't always believe what you think

          by claude on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 05:40:07 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Spot on (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            claude, veritas curat, flowerfarmer

            Yep, I think one of the biggest elements of this is changing the way we think, the way we've been raised to understand the world. We need to recognize the incredible luxury that we live in and come to grips with the idea of it going away--and what that means for our lives. I've written about that multiple times in this series. (See Our Distorted View and There are No Vegetarians in a Famine for a couple examples, if you care.)

            The off-grid homestead I lived at in 2011 had a wetback system in the main house that they cobbled together. Originally, the piping went on the side of the hot box, like what you had, but that was causing some troubles with keeping the fire burning hot so what they ended up doing was taking copper piping, filling it with sand, coiling it around a thick tree branch, then emptying out the sand and placing that copper pipe coiling directly in the wood stove's chimney. Worked brilliantly! The hot water tank was on the second story, directly above the stove, so thermosiphoning circulated the water. Furthermore, hot water solar panels were hooked up to the same tank, so in the summer, that provided most of the hot water. Between those two, all hot water was provided by solar or the wood stove, and it all happened automatically without need of any pump.

            Granted, there would be occasional times we wouldn't have hot water (damn those cloudy but warm August days!) but we mostly did. And indeed, it would take a while to heat it up in the winter, so you didn't tend to take your shower in the morning--at least not until the wood stove had been going for an hour or two. But you just adjust. I mean, Christ, if we can't make such simple adjustments as that--shifting the timing of our luxuries--then what hope is there?

            Anyway, there are a lot of options for living more resiliently. It's getting past our own blind spots, assumptions, cultural myths, and assumed privileges that are as big an issue as the actual methods of living.

            Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

            by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 06:13:03 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I do admire the clarity with which (3+ / 0-)

              you have presented the premises. A fine diary,  and I shall go visit your blog, as we would seem to be kindred spirits.

              don't always believe what you think

              by claude on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 07:01:25 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Thank you! (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                veritas curat, claude, flowerfarmer

                Clarity is certainly one of the goals. Hope you enjoy the rest of the blog.

                Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

                by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 07:10:42 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I see you mention Peter Berg. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  I was a friend of his for many years,  since 1966.  Did you happen to get down for his memorial gathering in SF in '11?

                  Your white-on-gray layout is hard to read, BTW,  at least for my aging eyes.  Frustrating, because I was enjoying the writing.

                  Pleased to meet you.  Amazing that we've been here this long and never connected.

                  don't always believe what you think

                  by claude on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 09:10:33 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  No (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    I didn't make the memorial gathering. Honestly, I only know him through the interview I read. Great interview, though.

                    Sorry for the hard reading. I'll mull on the possibility of changing the site's layout. Might be a bit of a challenge.

                    You had me looking at your UID--goodness! You've been around quite awhile. I thought I was an old one here. I haven't been all that engage here for years, though. I lurk, but I've lost most my stomach for politics--much of it seems pointless and destructive to me. Still, I like cross posting here because it usually leads to a lot of good comments and conversation, so I've been doing that the last year or so.

                    Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

                    by aimlessmind on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 05:16:35 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

  •  This is something I've had to consider in terms of (8+ / 0-)

    just simple disaster planning. We are poor and live in our own house in the city, and so our planning involves being able to function in rolling blackouts, being able to store water for a few days in case of a break or contamination, sanitary disposal of both waste and manure in case of plumbing failures, having food and alternative heat sources for winter storms that might keep us housebound.

    But if things got worse, I'd go out and live with my parents, who live semi-rurally and already have a garden that produces a lot of food they eat, and make further steps to a less technological way of living there. There's only so far I can go right here, really.

    When you come to find how essential the comfort of a well-kept home is to the bodily strength and good conditions, to a sound mind and spirit, and useful days, you will reverence the good housekeeper as I do above artist or poet, beauty or genius.

    by Alexandra Lynch on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 07:27:34 PM PST

    •  It's hard teasing out all the connections (8+ / 0-)

      I think about it a lot in regards to the rural area I live. On the one hand, I'm already living on a small income and have room to transition to a lower one. I have access to a good amount of local food, could pull off the heating issue--which is only minimally necessary out here, as we have mild winters--have well water where I'm at and know of nearby, drinkable surface water, and could easily set up a humanure system. People around here already have them. Frankly, it's silly not to be doing that out here.

      I'm glad I don't live in a city. That would be a whole other systems approach. Then again, if things really get bad, the city's going to maintain services longer than rural areas. The cities will maintain a certain level of population longer than rural areas. Out here, the collapse of the tourism industry--easily imaginable in the near future--could play some havoc with local towns. How quickly might we lose population if we go through serious economic upheaval, and how would that reverberate through and impact my life? I don't know the answers to all that.

      Then again, there was a thriving dairy community out here over a hundred years ago, when energy and resource usage per capita was dramatically lower and society was far less complex. There's precedent. But also, a future simpler way of life isn't going to just slip back to the past simpler way of life. There will be differences.

      Anyway, I digressed away from your comment. I'm a big proponent of localizing in place, so much as is possible--though a thoughtful and considered move can be very smart. You're right, though--there are some things you won't be able to do in the city that you could in a rural area. Then again, you'll likely have more access to services and more of a community to help you along. And, end of the day, we'll all just have to deal with the reality that shows up. We can plan, and that's important, but our plans will inevitably be only half relevant. We also have to be ready to dance in the winds that come, even though we won't know which way they're blowing until they arrive.

      Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

      by aimlessmind on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 07:49:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary. (10+ / 0-)

    And a great paean to my favorite household item: my woodstove.

    All of the reasons you list are reasons we heat with wood, and have for decades. Additionally, heating with wood is cheaper in our area than any other fuel source, and since we buy it from a local fellow, that money stays in our community. (I used to harvest the wood myself, but that was hard goddamn work!)

    The idea of living in the margins appeals to me greatly. Thank you for writing about it so thoroughly. I'm now going to go read your earlier diaries. Nice work.

    "'club America salutes you' says the girl on the door/we accept all major lies, we love any kind of fraud"--The Cure, "Club America"

    by Wheever on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 09:19:18 PM PST

    •  Thank you! (7+ / 0-)

      I can't deny my bias toward wood stoves. Doesn't mean they don't have draw backs, and they're not for everyone, but man do I love wood heat. I also like the actual effort involved in starting a fire in them rather than just flipping a switch--or not even doing that much, just leaving it to the thermostat.

      Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

      by aimlessmind on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 09:39:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  For a couple of years of extremely low income, (7+ / 0-)

        i spent my summer walks in the woods gathering fallen branches- whatever i could haul back to my house and whatever i could break up without a chainsaw.
        This free fuel provided me with a least half of my needs and this is in New Hampshire.

        Wood stoves are just wonderful.
        The first one was a Jotul but the second was a Vermont Castings Ben Franklin.

        The added pleasure of being able to watch the flames while cooking stew in one pot and hydrating the air with a big pot of boiling water- simple heaven.

        •  Jotul (5+ / 0-)

          I had a Jotul in the yurt I lived in the year before last. It was a model they don't make any more--a small heating and cooking model that they put into production for the Y2k scare. It's a great little stove--seems a shame they stopped making it.

          Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

          by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 07:30:36 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I have wanted a yurt (5+ / 0-)

            from Pacific Yurts in Cottage Grove for about 10 years now.
            While visiting my dad, now 93 and living in Medford, we took a trip up the coast and veered north a bit to visit the factory.
            Standing in that gorgeous 30' model was like coming home- i know that circular space to be right for me.

            They have periodic sales and if the stars align just right, i know i will own one of these minimalist beauties some day.

            •  our neighbor sold his (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              aimlessmind, flowerfarmer

              after a few years.  It didn't hold up well to the wind and sun over time.  A yurt is never intended as a permanent structure.  It is instead a sturdy and elegant portable structure suitable for nomad use,  and subject to high maintenance.  Kind of a step above a teepee in sophistication, just like a teepee is a step up from a wikiup.

              And each of these are dependent and evolved from the particular ecology of their area.  A yurt can be built with much smaller sticks than the tall straight lodgepole saplings needed for teepee poles,  and a wikiup is what gets cobbled together out of mere brush.  Each is an appropriate solution to a given indigenous human environment.

              don't always believe what you think

              by claude on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 07:24:44 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  We have a great hulking monster of a 60s era Sears (4+ / 0-)

            Roebuck wood heater, ugly as sin but takes a 10 inch by 24 inch chunk of wood.  Air tight, bi-metal coil spring thermostat controls an air intake,  just like the classic Ashleys.  57 dollars at the flea market nearly 20 years ago.

            don't always believe what you think

            by claude on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 07:13:08 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Wood heat is great when you're poor. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        veritas curat

        God knows I lived with it long enough.  It's great for emergencies, too.  It sucks as something for wide adoption because of the large amount of particulate pollution it produces -- something anyone who's had a wood stove or fireplace knows when it comes time to dust.  Like, every freaking day.

      •  The word is "elemental". (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        aimlessmind, veritas curat

        fire hand built, stick by stick,  each piece chosen for the immediate need, fire burning, fire.  Where it all started for humans, actually, that harnessing of fire.

        People in modern circumstances can live lives where they never see fire directly unless the ceremoniously enjoy one in a "fireplace".

        don't always believe what you think

        by claude on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 06:56:45 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Soot is the second largest (11+ / 0-)

    greenhouse "gas" currently destroying the world's climate; twice as harmful as previously thought, apparently.

    So wood stoves will have to have very sophisticated filtering, or you're just passing the problems along to the planet.  A great deal of soot offgassing comes from the poorest people cooking and warming themselves in the hardest margins of the planet--what can we do to help them survive without that damage being done, when their resources may amount to pennies a day?

    None of this stuff is straightforward....

    •  One of the down sides (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, wbr, veritas curat, claude

      of the wood stove is indeed the local pollution. Thankfully, they're making pretty efficient ones these days and if you manage the air flow right, you can significantly cut down on the amount of black soot.

      As for the poorest people on the planet, there are some good technologies--rocket stoves come to mind. But the reality is that most of us aren't going to be able to do a thing to impact the lives of people halfway across the globe. Meanwhile, we all live lives that create massive amounts of pollution, contribute to climate change, and destroy local and distant ecosystems. And we control those lives. Time to cut back, dramatically, fast as we can and begin to make the most immediate impacts we can--those rooted in the way we live our own lives.

      Not to mention, a good many of us over the next couple decades are going to be far too consumed with dealing with our own decline to be able to worry much about what people are burning thousands of miles away.

      Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

      by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 07:36:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Most of those people are using (4+ / 0-)
      A great deal of soot offgassing comes from the poorest people cooking and warming themselves....
      inefficient "three-stone" open fires.  Many organizations are improving air pollution, deforestation, and poor people's lives by giving or selling or building them stoves that produce the same amount of heat or cooking with less wood and less soot.  A stove that replaces an open fire doesn't need to have "very sophisticated filtering" to sharply cut soot and other particulates.  It just needs to produce more complete combustion and more efficient use of fuel.  Just because some wood burning produces large amounts of soot and other pollution doesn't mean that all wood burning does.  

      Renewable energy brings national global security.     

      by Calamity Jean on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 11:26:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I heated with wood for several decades (11+ / 0-)

    Used a wood cook stove for about 6 years, wood heat for far longer. We experimented with heating water with the cook stove (worked pretty well), and things like gravity feed water, which works very well if you have enough rise and/or head.

    During that 6 years we lived without any electricity, except toward the end we had one solar panel propped up with a stick attached to one deep cycle marine battery, for a light for a while at night. It worked pretty well, but would have gone longer if we had had LED lights at the time.

    We got by with kerosene lanterns, a poor lighting source - putting out fumes and a very dim light. LEDs with solar panels would be my choice now.

    We quit with the wood heat because we got older and tired of the dirt everywhere, along with a problem with pain in our arms from carrying the wood inside. It's quite messy, and puts smoke into the atmosphere which can, for some, really make breathing difficult. You bring in molds and pollen with wood, so people with asthma will suffer. There is also the issue of whether the wood had poison ivy growing on it, leading to the oils being burned which can lead to breathing problems. All those things contributed to our decision to go with one large propane stove and electric space heaters. The propane is for electric outages (our water heater is propane too) so we can still stay warm.

    I do understand about resilience. That's why we always buy extras of things like hardware when we do anything. We try to always have a supply of things we might need, since it's quite a drive into town. We keep anything that we think might be usable in the future - cloth, hardware, wood, etc.

    For instance, recently we built a two shelf table out of old PVC pipe scraps, our supply of PVC elbows and t's we have a supply of for our plumbing, and corrugated polycarbonate scraps from when we put the roof on the small greenhouse we have. Screws placed in strategic places to hold it all together, and voila, we have a waterproof greenhouse table with clear shelves.

    Make do or do without may become everyone's motto. :-D

    Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 01:44:07 AM PST

  •  Even though I live in a city, Wichita, Kansas, (6+ / 0-)

    I feel I need to get a wood stove.

    Our house was built in 1950,
    and even though trees don't grow by themselves
    in most parts of Kansas,
    except along rivers and creeks and gullies,
    nearly every city and town in Kansas
    is full of trees,
    because folks planted them,
    as soon as the houses and stores and such were built.

    In our yard is one maple tree so massive
    that when a branch broke off,
    it looked like a large tree toppled over.

    There is the rotting trunk of a large tree that did topple,
    and I've cut back many branches,
    and whole trees,
    smaller trees,
    growing wild along the fence lines all around the yard,
    and some in the middle.

    My point is,
    I have a lot of firewood right now,
    waiting for me in the back yard.

    Just a month ago,
    I installed an insulated ceiling,
    so the heat stays in our room fairly well.

    Changing the topic to food,
    my wife wants me to build a chicken coop,
    and raise chickens or ducks,
    this spring.

    We want to grow potatoes and tomatoes,
    and green beans.

    I keep preaching here at Daily Kos,
    as you can see by clicking the link in my sig line,
    I keep preaching contraception,
    so that there will be enough land,
    so we can feed ourselves off the land.

    I think the famines will come,
    and then folks will keep the number of humans down
    to a sustainable number,
    such as 100 million.


    •  Population (4+ / 0-)

      I agree. The population needs to go down, I'm sure dramatically, and few people are really grappling with that reality. It would be nice if we tried to manage that contraction, came to some agreements as a society and a civilization. But there's no sign that will happen. I imagine it will be a much more ragged affair of dropping health standards, lowered life expectation, increased death rate, higher infant mortality and so on.

      I don't know where we'll eventually end up, a couple centuries down the line, but I can't imagine more than a billion people are sustainable on this planet--especially once we've gotten done denuding the lands and destroying much of its productivity.

      We'll see. In the meantime, sounds like a wood stove could be a solid investment for you. Another possibility would be to look into rocket stoves and rocket mass heaters, especially since you have access to some wood but not massive amounts of it. I've become particularly enamored with the rocket stove mass heater. Check it out.

      Oh, and get that poultry and grow those potatoes! Wonderful ideas.

      Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

      by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 07:59:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  in China, such a heated banco is called a "kang" (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the rocket stove (I've cooked on a regular one) mass heater is an elegant low tech variant of the classic Russian grubka and the traditional European masonry stoves.  Flash fires and a labyrinthine exhaust/flue system.  These are suitable in climates where it stays cold all the time, like northern Europe,  but are not something to light up to take the chill off a room quickly.

        Of course, the 800 pound gorilla in the room we haven't mentioned is passive solar mass heating,  which is long established in New Mexico and other high desert climes where there is much winter sun,  but cold cold nights.  With proper design, these buildings only rarely need supplemental heating.  This is a particular field of my construction expertise going back nearly 40 years.  What is required is a grasp of the concept "thermal mass", which can store vast amounts of heat energy and radiate it out slowly to keep heated spaces warm.  Adobe (sun-dried mud block) is particularly well suited for this purpose.  

        Appropriate technology.

        don't always believe what you think

        by claude on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 07:55:51 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Passive solar seems key to me (0+ / 0-)

          It's one of the very best tools we have to work with. It drives me crazy that photovoltaic panels get so much of the attention on the solar side when passive solar can be so much more elegant, simple, and sustainable a solution.

          I need to learn more about passive solar and, in particular, thermal mass. I know of it, of course, and I plan to write a bit about passive solar in the next entry in this series, but my knowledge is limited. (And I don't know if thermal mass is the best tool out here where I live, on the Oregon coast, as we tend to have far more cloudy and cool days than sunny days here.)

          Any tutorial-type links you have to these subjects? I'll do some searches of my own, of course, but if you have any good links off hand, I'd be happy to receive and explore them.

          Also, you clearly know far more about these technologies than I do. I have lots more study to do. It's excellent to read the references. All this stuff seems to be technology that's been out there in some form or another for a long time--we just haven't bothered to pay attention to it for the last some odd decades.

          Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

          by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 08:46:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  My dogs know all about passive solar heating. (0+ / 0-)

          I have two small dogs,
          and I leave them outside,
          all day and all night,
          unless I, not them, get worried.

          They hunker down and sleep
          in the coldest part of the night and early morning.

          They're not worried;
          they know the Kansas sun will warm them right up,
          starting a couple of hours after sunrise,
          when the sun is high enough to work for them,
          and they sleep in the sun,
          very content.

          I read about that kind of thing for homes,
          and Kansas has sunshine most winter day,
          so we could have our house
          doing what the dogs do,
          and if it had some mass,
          as you say,
          that would warm in the sun,
          it should stay warm all night.

          I would need to drastically alter the house we live in,
          or move to a different house.

          But we can find bargain houses here in Wichita.

          •  an existing frame house can be (0+ / 0-)

            lined on the inside with adobe blocks,  which will then serve as insulated thermal mass.  My own home is done this way and it is very effective.

            There are structural issues to contend with if said mass is to be placed on a framed floor.  On a slab there should be no problem with the added weight.

            Water is an excellent reservoir for thermal mass,  having 5 times the specific heat as masonry, but it has issues with leakage and funk growing in it.  Less of a weight issue, though.

            don't always believe what you think

            by claude on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 10:44:13 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  I like your thinking but (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, wbr, veritas curat

    government is already taking away choices that provide resiliency. Consider the ban on new fireplaces, and the burning of wood in certain parts of the U.S. now. We WANT to ban all carbon burning, because if comes down to the scenario of margin survival you are talking about, we will have to male a choice...either we release massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere or we die. This is why our fights must be so thought out and selective. We won't always live this way.

    •  Fireplaces put out a lot of soot and other (4+ / 0-)
      Consider the ban on new fireplaces....
      air-polluting particulates.  Properly designed woodstoves don't.  Think woodstove, not fireplace.  You can get woodstoves that have high-temperature glass doors so that you can still watch the flames.  

      Renewable energy brings national global security.     

      by Calamity Jean on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 10:45:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Government bullshit (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      veritas curat

      is part of what we'll have to deal with. More than, say, fireplaces, one of the biggest issues I've seen people run into is building codes and restrictions about energy sources. If you want to have small scale, on site renewable energies outside of PV panels, it can be challenging to do that on the up and up. And if you want to build a house using natural building methods, it can be challenging to meet code. These things aren't set up for opting out of the system or doing things different or more sustainable, unfortunately.

      That said, I think large scale, centralized government is on the way out, too. It costs too much to maintain, and we won't be able to afford it much longer (I don't really think we can now.) This will become particularly true when we lose our empire; all that tribute pays for quite a lot of bureaucracy!

      Also, we could live without releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. I just don't think we know how, and I think most people aren't interested in the question. And they're certainly not interested in the answers that are rooted in lives lived with dramatically less energy and resources and the concomitant dramatically reduced complexity.

      Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

      by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 05:53:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Reading diaries like this make me glad I'm old (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, claude

    and will probably be dead before any of this happens.

    People have forgotten just how short and brutal life used to be, just how much hard, backbreaking work was involved in simply putting food on the table and clothes on your back, let alone a roof over your head.

    Example:  It takes five people spinning thread to keep 1 person weaving busy.  It takes 5 weavers to keep 1 person sewing busy.  So you have 30 people doing nothing but producing thread and fabric so that 1 person can make clothes all day!

    I noticed the one thing you haven't discussed is disease control - human, animal, plant.  Whole crops can be wiped out by a simple fungus.  Flocks decimated by anthrax.  How long has it been since the US has experienced a good old-fashioned epidemic?  Add in loss of hormonal birth control due to loss of manufacturing ability secondary to energy and supply problems, and once again you'll have women dying in childbirth, or simply being bred to death (having 12-15 pregnancies will do that to you).  Not to mention infant and child mortality skyrocketing, so that out of those 12-15 pregnancies, perhaps 3-5 of those children will reach adulthood since vaccinations will also become problematic.

    I frankly admit that this is a world I do NOT want to live in.   I do the best and the most that I can to help make that world avoidable, but if it comes to pass - well, I'll definitely be reducing the mouths to feed by 1.

    •  I've mentioned in comments (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      veritas curat, Renee

      that I expect public health to take quite a good drop in this country. No doubt we'll get another epidemic at some point. The high tech health care system has an expiration point. We would do well to continue and accelerate the process of building out the community health care system--alternative forms, herbal, midwives, and so on. This certainly isn't my expertise, but I've read enough to feel confident that we could have a decent community health care infrastructure that wouldn't need massive amounts of energy and money to run on. That said, the days of artificially extending life spans is probably coming to an end before too long, we'll be dealing with more antibiotic-resistant super bugs, I imagine infant mortality will steadily climb back up, life spans will drop, there will be more death from preventable disease, alcoholism and drug-related deaths will increase, suicide . . . I know none of that sounds cheery, but it's what I imagine will happen over the coming decades and centuries. That's part of how population contraction plays out.

      I'll be curious to see what happens with the birth rate.

      I have hope that it won't be as horrific as it might, but I wouldn't bet my life on that, either. It'll certainly take lots of hard work, but it doesn't have to be brutal. Scale your life back dramatically, put in place good systems, and form a damn good community, and you can live a decent life without killing yourself. It will involve a good amount of physical labor, though--we'll just have to come to terms with that. It doesn't have to be a bad thing, if you're in halfway decent shape and don't let the ingrained bias against physical labor in our society dominate you. I used to not care much for physical labor; I've since come to love it. It can be a hell of a rejuvenation for those who have spent their lives trapped in the frequent nonsense of industrial civilization.

      It will just be normal for future generations. Some are old enough now that they'll die before the really hard decisions come into play. Some of us will have to deal with those, and it'll be the disconnect between what we grew up expecting and what life actually gave us that will cause so much of the pain. Those who grow up in a declining and contracting world will just know it as normal life, and it'll be easier for them. Not easy, mind you, but at least they won't have to deal so much with those disconnects.

      Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

      by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 05:40:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I've been reading (3+ / 0-)

    a blog called Automatic Earth for a while. Some people might call them gloom and dormers, but they have some pretty good ideas on occasion and are fairly realistic. They put together a compendium of articles on everything from financials, to energy to community recently. People who like this diary might give it a look over.

    "We are monkeys with money and guns". Tom Waits

    by northsylvania on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 10:10:42 AM PST

    •  I've read Automatic Earth on occasion (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      veritas curat, northsylvania

      I'm not a regular reader, but I've seen things I like there. I don't tend to think things will fall apart quite so fast as the writers over there seem to think--if I'm reading them right--but we're more or less on the same wavelength about the underlying troubles, from what I've seen. I agree that those who like this diary will probably enjoy AE.

      The Archdruid Report is really where I poach most of my ideas. John Michael Greer is probably my biggest influence, followed closely by Wendell Berry. If you like this diary, I'm sure you'd enjoy TAR. (Though, fair warning, he can be pretty harsh in words against both liberals and conservatives and, ultimately, he considers himself a Burkian conservative, to the point that he would label himself. Then again, he's also literally a druid. I think plenty here would really enjoy his views, but he would undoubtedly rile a number of kossacks, as well.)

      Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

      by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 05:47:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I read TAE for a while, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      but they lost me when it became clear they were anti-union, which is a place I won't go.

      don't always believe what you think

      by claude on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 08:05:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agree with you on that one. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        You can't take everything they say as gospel, but the whole idea of community building and strengthening networks is valid as is their realistic assessment of the current state of alternative energy. As aimlessmind says, their timeline leaves a lot to be desired.

        "We are monkeys with money and guns". Tom Waits

        by northsylvania on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 03:00:29 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  in general, I find it amusing when Americans (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    veritas curat, claude, aimlessmind

    make so much noise about "living more simply" and "using fewer resources.

    Apparently Americans are blissfully unaware that most of the world is ALREADY living like that, and always has been. Mostly because the US, with its big fat bloated wasteful lazy indolent lifestyle, sucks up most of the world's resources and FORCES others to live on less, whether they like it or not.

    Living on the margins? Most of the world ALREADY lives on the margins, and will probably never get out.

    Not a slam on you, aimless--just an observation about Americans in general and how insulated we are from the reality around us.

    •  Well, of course (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      veritas curat

      That's why I'm writing about this--because I think we need to make the change and will be forced to. America is going to become a third world country in short order. First it will be the loss of our empire and then it will be the loss of industrial civilization. Granted, it won't happen overnight; I imagine the empire will go away in my lifetime and we're already in the beginning stages of the decline of industrial civilization, but it'll probably take a couple centuries until we're back to the complexity of something like a very simple and poor agrarian society.

      But hell, that's why I'm writing about it on my blog, reposting diaries here on Daily Kos, and talking about this in the real world to people who are interested--because it's us who have the long fall in front of us. The good chunk of the world that lives in what we would consider extreme poverty are the ones who are going to go about living their lives more or less how they always have as the rest of us--Americans being first and foremost on the list--run around with our damn hair on fire because we never imagined that we might be forced to live much the same and made no provisions for it.

      If we make some kind of attempt to manage that decline, it will still be hard but not as bad as it could end up going. If we completely deny it's inevitability and continue to think we're immune to the physical realities of this planet, it could get very nasty and a whole hell of a lot of misery that didn't otherwise need to exist could be implemented via our own shortsighted idiocy and desperation.

      And so I work on scaling back my life, learning helpful skills, and doing the necessary psychological grappling with these issues. In the meantime, I do a bit of writing on the side in the small hope that it'll help a few people also come to terms with our current-and-accelerating decline. Perhaps I'll make some tiny, positive impact on the future. Perhaps not. But I'll at least try.

      Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

      by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 05:20:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  oh, Lenny, there is no disputing that. (0+ / 0-)

      But a lot of Americans will not have much choice about the downward-moving standard of living pushing them to the margins.

      The trick here would be to learn to be happy with less, and hopefully, not TOO much less.  I've made quite a lot of progress myself in that regard over the past 45 years.

      It can't hurt to get in some practice before we don't have the choice.

      don't always believe what you think

      by claude on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 08:21:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm coming to appreciate the drawbacks (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    of heating with wood. My grandad used to burn 25 cords a year heating in winter and cooking all year round. He'd go out in the woods with my dad and a crosscut saw, a horse and sled and they'd work their asses off. Year after year. A general estimate is that an acre of forest can produce about a cord of wood per year - sustainably - year after year. They didn't think about sustainability, they just wanted to get the goddamned wood put up for the winter and have a rest. The only reason they still had forest around them was that they lived in a very small town surrounded by lots of trees.

    We burn about 6 cords a year. I call my woodstove "Tree Eater" because I figured that those 6 cords are about equivalent to two 60 to 70 year old firs (second growth, all the old growth was cleared a hundred years ago or so) about 30 - 36" in diameter and a hundred feet tall. That's fifty of those trees in the time we've been burning wood. If everyone in our area used wood like us that'd be about 5 million of those trees every year and a haze of woodsmoke so thick no one could breathe. If everyone here lived like my grandad - that's 20 million trees a year - well, there'd be no trees in no time.

    Humans are pretty good at denuding landscapes - think about the "Cedars of Lebanon," for example, and look at the land there now. I really think burning trees - or anything for that matter - needs to come to an end. Replaced by solar, small-scale hydro and wind and a much smaller population. It can be done.

    muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

    by veritas curat on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 05:20:19 PM PST

    •  Burning nothing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      veritas curat

      I don't know that we have to go to burning nothing, but it sure as hell should be a last resort. The next entry in this series is actually going to take it back farther to the question of having climate control at all. There are times it's needed, sure--but it's far less often than we make it out to be. Before you even consider turning on the furnace or firing up the wood stove or whatever, you should be putting on a sweater, at the very least. Big wool socks. Get under the covers. This notion that we must create a controlled environment for ourselves at all times is insanity.

      But I'll be writing more about that in the next entry. I'm working backwards, essentially.

      On-site renewables are critical, in my mind. Simple microhydro generators and small wind turbines are a great option and passive solar is critical and obvious. Solar PVs are great transition tech, but I don't personally think they'll last all that long. I just don't believe they're viable outside of a fossil fuel-powered industrial infrastructure. But, much as in the same vein as what I wrote in the first paragraph, we're also going to have to recognize that electricity--especially on-demand electricity--is no god given right and there may very well come a time when we have to make do without it. Which we quite obviously can. The human species barely knows electricity as a common resource except in very recent times. If it stops being viable except for occasional, specific circumstances, we'll continue on just fine.

      Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

      by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 06:01:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, personally, I'm a fan of electricity (1+ / 0-)
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        (woah, that was a pun there) and I think lots of the electric motors, in computers for example, are pretty neat and getting better all the time. Amory Lovins has some great ideas about improving the efficiency of electric motors.

        The electricity we use, in our house, comes from hydro, but it's large-scale river-killing hydro. Making the source of the electricity be local and sustainable is, I think, a better way to go than to try and find an alternative to electricity. (Is there such a thing?) If I had an effective solar-powered electric heater I'd be happy running the damn thing all the time in the winter.

        muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

        by veritas curat on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 06:21:09 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Oh, I'm a fan of electricity, too (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          veritas curat

          Don't get me wrong. But I also think we'll use a lot less of it in the future. I don't have any exact prediction on how that will shake out, but I don't have a lot of hope for keeping up a centralized grid--as noted in the diary--so I imagine it'll return to mostly on-site generation.

          The homestead I lived at in 2011 had a couple solar PVs and a microhydro generator. They diverted about a garden hose worth of water out of their creek, ran it down the driveway for a drop of something like 100 feet total, then diverted it into the generator. The water spun a simple turbine which generated a small current of electricity--something like 80 continuous watts.

          In the winter, it was usually our only source of electricity. It's cloudy here in the winter and the sun stopped hitting the land for a couple months every year. But coupled with a battery bank, that microhydro generator allowed us to run a hot plate in the morning for a little bit, boil water in an electric tea kettle, run a toaster, have lights on, keep laptops going. Stuff like that. But we couldn't do any two of the big things (hot plate, toaster, tea kettle) at once. We also couldn't do anything bigger than that, and we couldn't be running those all day. Just a bit.

          And that was fine. Sometimes the power got low and we had to conserve. No tea kettle, no hot plate. We could still cook and boil water, but it had to be with wood and it just wasn't as convenient. We survived just fine.

          I think lights are the most important electric-powered device I'd like to keep. It's nice to have electric lights at night.

          Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

          by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 06:38:25 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'd be very interested in how they ran the (0+ / 0-)

            microhydro generator with just a garden hose and a 100 foot drop. We have a seasonal stream and about a forty foot drop and I figured we didn't have enough flow for any kind of hydro. I've thought about setting up something to store the energy, when it's flowing really strong, in batteries, or cracking water for hydrogen and run a fuel cell electric generation system.  Any links? I'd get one in a second if I knew where.

            muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

            by veritas curat on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 06:58:54 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Sadly, I have limited information (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              veritas curat

              But I could see about inquiring with them and seeing if they had any helpful information to pass on.

              I want to say the generator cost maybe somewhere around $1000, though that might be completely wrong. They diverted the water with just a long piece of plastic piping--not actually a garden hose--but it was about that much water. And, of course, it was a small amount of electricity being generated, but coupled with the batteries, it was enough to get them through winter.

              Not sure about a 40 foot drop--that just might not provide enough. But I couldn't say for sure. I'll try to track down some information for you, but might be a little bit before I get a chance to pick Brian or Ginger's brain (the farm owners.)

              Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

              by aimlessmind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 07:08:40 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

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