Sunday, June 05, 2005

your new hobby

As a commentator on our shared peak oil consensus reality, I spend a lot of time spinning nouns and verbs on issues that I am not personally involved in, say for example, nuclear power.

This is well and good -- talkin' politics and chatting about the weather.

At last months peak oil awareness meeting in Seattle, organizer Wes suggested our group start think about some group goals including and possibly going beyond awareness.

Continuing that thread, I am thinking that on a personal level everyone needs a "post peak" hobby, something that prepares for contingencies, and is otherwise a satisfying endeavor.

Obviously, if the cornucopian optimists are correct, and a happy confluence of deux-ex-machina and market forces saves our bacon, well, then the hobby stays a hobby, and we can all argue about Social Security in 2020, or whatever.

If things go badly for the global economy, what skills will you need in a future, more localized, community?

Here are some hobbies I am thinking about:
Buying the farm, or, small scale vegetable gardening.
Practical low technology medicine. Pencillin production.
Energy efficient building techniques.

Please put your thoughts in the comments!

If you don't prepare, you'll likely end up as the night soil dipper.


At 6:49 PM, June 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Growing mushrooms.

Many of your polypore types have medicinal value.

At 9:55 PM, June 05, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Peak oil doesn't mean peak anything else; solar systems in production now could replace the energy in all the oil we currently use, and just one successful implementation of the hydrogen from green algae trick could generate nitrogen fertilizer, run all the farm machinery and make alcohol or hydrocarbon fuel for sale.  Go here and start following links.

I'm playing with a cogeneration idea at the moment; I figure that it's going to be useful in some way no matter what happens to the energy situation over the next 5 years, and it's low-tech enough to help if the excrement impacts the rotating impeller.

At 12:23 AM, June 06, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...


I know the energy is out there. Getting it into a useable form in time to save the global economy - that is the real trick.

And I am all for saving the global economy, if not in its most de-humanizing form. I don't think people need to starve or suffer.

Anyways, I've chalked you up for cogeneration.

At 4:16 AM, June 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and just one successful implementation of the hydrogen from green algae trick

Hydrogen is a non-starter. As you admit, "just one successful implementation". But hey, keep swinging, and be sure to take American Tax dollars for the funding of the dead-end idea!

I'd swing by your blog and point out the error of your ways, but you only allow 'blogger' logins, and why should I get a blogger account just to tell you you are wrong?

I'm playing with a cogeneration idea at the moment;

It is a good thing real engineers are implementating co-generation today.
The cost is down from $30,000 to the $5000 range.

At 5:52 AM, June 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know the energy is out there. Getting it into a useable form in time to save the global economy - that is the real trick.

1) 'save the global economy' - while that would be 'nice' from a 'keep the status quo' POV, is the present global system worth saving? Or is the devil we know better than the devil we suspect is around the corner?

2) energy VS time - energy OVER time. Oil from the ground represents solar energy captured long ago, processed long ago, and we put the same 'value' (economic) as solar energy captured "now" in the form of PhotoVoltaics, captured "close to now" in the from of wind/hydro, or captured during a growing season in the form of plants as storage for energy.

The 'problem' for humanity is capturing solar power in the 'now' means a 'low' power density. Lower than 'modern man' is used to, due to the poor pricing model of oil.

"we" can capture and store alot of solar energy. "we" just can't do this for the volume of consumers now on the planet, given the constraint of energy to process the resources needed to capture the energy. People who state 'we'll just grow algae' don't ever seem to want to discuss the power and resources needed to process the materials for holding that algae, nor do they want to talk about the land needed to be dedicated to growing that algae, nor do they wish to address the logistics to move the products to feed the algae or move the dead algae back onto the farm.

For under $1000, I have a battery assist bike and solar panels to charge said bike. Better than a pedal only bike. But its no car. And it lacks the utility of a truck, which can move 1000 lbs of brew-waste 15 miles to a farm plot with little hassle.

At 12:03 PM, June 06, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

You anons need to chill out a little or I'll just disable your ability to post anonymously.

At 4:17 PM, June 06, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

I disabled Anonymous Cowards after the whole bunch of them ignored my polite request to sign their comments.

If their comments aren't even worth an identifying line at the end, why should I pay them any attention or let them litter my blog?

At 10:02 PM, June 06, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

E-P, I agree. Sometimes when I see people flaming other people, I start to get zappy flashbacks to my 1200 baud days. Been there, done that. High school is over.

I won' tolerate it, but I'm leaving anon enabled - for now.

Now, being a "blogger", and occaisonally engaging in vitriolic jeremaids against MSM types, I am sure I am part of the problem.

However, I personally try and avoid ad-hominum attacks against people in the Peak Oil\Energy community, even when I disagree with them.

I like dissent, just keep it reasonable. Blogger accounts are cheap. I haven't gotten a bill yet.

At 11:47 AM, June 07, 2005, Anonymous David Minear said...

A> Pennicilin production is a nice thought but our rampant overuse of antibiotics has left pennicilin worthless. They don't even prescribe it in the 3rd world countries, as all the bacteria are now resistant.

B> Those who feel there is sufficient solar power to keep our great big economy going might be right (I do not happen to be one of them). However, even if we stumble across a miracle and have unlimited energy, we are still doomed. Leibigs Law clearly indicates that a society will collapse as soon as ANY of their required resources is unavailable in sufficient amount. More energy just means we hit global warming sooner. If we avoid global warming we run out of water. If we find huge underground aquifers we run out of food supply. Ultimately, peak oil is not the problem. The problem is that our population has already far surpassed the long term carrying capacity of the earth.

C> Those electric assist bikes are so cool! Got to ride a few at last weekend's Renewable Energy Fair.

At 2:46 PM, June 07, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Oh, there's more than sufficient solar energy to run just about anything we want to run; a kilowatt per square meter on a clear day is a gigawatt per square kilometer and 100 terawatts over the roughly 100,000 square kilometers of the USA currently covered by roofs, pavement and other impervious surfaces.

The problem is conversion, which is slowly being solved.  Solar electricity used to cost dollars per kilowatt-hour, but it now costs on the order of a quarter to thirty cents; developments already out there could probably cut this to ten cents.  Hot-air towers like the one being built in Australia claim cheap conversion using completely different methods.  Some algae have biochemical pathways which let us use them to make hydrogen using high-tech schemes which... deprive them of sulfur and keep them in the dark.

There's an astounding amount of energy out there, the problem is capturing it at a cost that won't break the bank.

"Leibigs Law clearly indicates that a society will collapse as soon as ANY of their required resources is unavailable in sufficient amount."

I don't see how you could apply that to a technological society which can e.g. build something out of steel, aluminum or glass-reinforced plastic.  Aluminum is 8.1% of the Earth's crust, and silicon is 15.2%.  If you have bio-waste to put through thermal depolymerization or a similar process, you've got feedstock for epoxy or polyester resin.  How do you run out of this stuff?  So far as I can see, as long as you have energy you simply can't.

At 9:12 PM, June 07, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

E-P - so what is your take on the timescale for achieving a liquid fuel replacement if we average 2% decline a year in oil production starting in thanksgiving?

On indefinate timsecales, lots of ideas look good. How about the next 20 years?

At 9:33 PM, June 07, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Part of that problem solves itself, as high prices will stop people from adopting new devices or processes which need petroleum.

We could manage 2%/year decline in petroleum usage for a few years just by slashing the miles driven by pickups and SUV's.  Something like a 50% cut in fuel requirements for heavy trucks appears possible with aggressive streamlining.

By 2010 it should be possible to have vehicles based on GO-HEV drivetrains (I bet Toyota's models will have this by MY2007, maybe '06½).  Fuel requirements for these vehicles will be some 70% or more below today's; if we assume that mileage covered by these vehicles replaces the old fleet at a rate of 6.7%/year (new vehicles are driven more than old) we'd expect motor fuel requirements to fall about 4.6% per year.

Will it happen that way?  Probably not, because people are short-sighted and our leaders don't.  But all of that is well within the realm of the possible with today's tech so far as I know, so there is nothing standing in our way except lack of knowledge and failure of will.

At 11:00 PM, June 07, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Demand destruction will loom large, that is for sure. I'm very interested in how our energy budget will be approportioned, given steady decline. Hard to avoid pessimism there. Just driving less won't be enough to get us where we need to go.

If there are twenty different energy infrastructure ideas for the future, which get funded... nuclear? wind? Both? Or, will we actually pour quabillions into updating our highway system, propitiation for cars that may never come?

This isn't the summer of '79

At 5:26 PM, June 08, 2005, Anonymous Lisa said...

I suspect all this technology is doable, the main problem being material expectations and a money system predicated on infinite expontential growth heedless of the actual physical limits to that growth. The demands of compound interest act as a kind of software program or Mosaic Law (take your pick) whereby all actors in the system are forced to pay obeisance, producing, selling and consuming more than necessary in order to simply justify their existence, and punished with expulsion for failure to pay. So, while all these energy alternatives are practicable, as long as the expectations of infinite gluttony and unearned wealth prevail, they will not be sufficient for economic survival.
As for hobbies or occupations, I am tentatively enrolled in a shoemaking class in Port Townsend, and would like also to pursue metalworking.

P.S. "Hello" to David Minear

At 7:08 PM, June 08, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Port Townsend?  Nice town; I browsed some shops there a little while back.  Found an art gallery with a wonderful sculpture that I'd love to have but is both a bit too rich for my blood and too big for my place.

If you're near the Olympics you might get into micro-hydro; lots of potential there.

At 12:24 PM, June 12, 2005, Anonymous Michael said...

Hobbies with a Greater Purpose are good for learning practical skills, but also for raising awareness. For instance - if you do something odd like dig up the ornamental lawn and plant corn instead, the neighbors will invariably ask what the heck it is you're doing... and why.


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