Copyright (c) 2005-2009 Toomas Karmo. Revision history: 20100403T212817Z/version_0002.0000=2.0.0 (radical revision, reflecting my abandonment of conventional commercial activity in the face of the deepening social-cultural emergency); 20060305T023943Z/version_0001.5000=1.5.0 (revised numbers for motorcar power requirements, on the strength of a consultation with an engineer properly informed on cruising power of vehicles; changed, for no profound reason beyond a desire to be politely low-key, "five chances out of six" to "four out of six" in discussing the subjective probability of disaster; made several small changes elsewhere); 20050802T155511Z/version_0001.1100=1.1.1 (added some numbers for ethanol); 20050802T032903Z/version_0001.1000=1.1.0 (added various numbers); 20050801T191433Z/version_0001.0000=1.0.0 (did some polishing); 20050731T053000Z/version_0000.9000 (uploaded a preliminary version). Permission is granted to copy, distribute, and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2, or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation. In the terminology of the License, this document has no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. The definitive machine-readable copy of this document is in the "Literary" section of A copy of the License is included in a hyperlinked section, entitled GNU Free Documentation License, of the machine-readable copy.

Helping to Build
a New Civilization
in the Shell of the Old,
as a Catholic
Scientific-Conservation Worker
in the Crises
of Climate Change
and "Peak Oil":
Principles Guiding My Activities

Since my intellectually fateful summer of 2003, all my project work has been guided by the fear that our civilization in its present form is doomed.

That was the summer I took it as a working hypothesis that we face an eventual widespread urban demise, in which not just a small cabal of glittering militaristic national capitals, but our urban culture everywhere, declines into dereliction.

Suppose, I said, that the hypothesis is true: in that case, what is the most probable cause of demise? Is it global pandemic? Is it nuclear war? Is it terrorism? Working through my self-imposed intellectual exercise, I became more and more of the opinion that the working hypothesis of a demise was indeed itself probable. As for the probable cause: this, I judged, on the strength of some tens of hours of reading, would not be one of the just-mentioned Terrible Trio of disasters. Rather, I judged the most probable cause of the probable demise to be the contraction of the global fossil-fuel supply.

But as of 2009, on the strength of still further reading (notably in Gwynne Dyer's book Climate Wars), I rank climate change and Peak Oil as equally grave threats.

I should explain that when I speak here of probabilities, I have in mind mere subjective assessments of risk, such as one might use in a game of dice or poker. I concede that the chances of pandemic, nuclear war, and massive terrorism are considerable. But I would not, as a matter of subjective probability, be willing to bet at even odds on the proposition that one or more of that Terrible Trio will bring our present overall urban culture to an end by the year 2100. On the other hand, I do believe that if the Terrible Trio is avoided, then there remains a strong likelihood - say, subjectively, thinking of six-sided dice rolling on the casino velvet, more than three chances out of six - that we face demise. This is, I reiterate, to be thought of as a demise inflicted by one or both of two factors, namely, climate change and fossil-fuel shortages.

"Demise" does not here mean that we will all be dead. But it does mean that we throughout the affluent urban North will be reduced to the current sad standards of the war-torn, disease-riddled, typhoon-flooded, drought-stricken, fuel-starved nation-states of the poorer regions in our underprivileged South.

I will leave to others the task of working in detail through climate-change scenarios. Here I make only three rapid points.

(1) Since 2008 or so, a substantial body of climatologist opinion, including pre-eminent authorities in academia and NASA, has held that an atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration in excess of 350 parts per million is dangerous if maintained for longer than a few years. The perceived danger is that such a concentration will after some small number of decades raise the mean global temperature by 2oC over its year-2000 level, and that such a temperature rise will then unlock positive-feedback loops, causing the global warming to accelerate. This body of climatologist opinion holds that under accelerated global warming, we may in the next few centuries experience a rise in mean global temperature on the order of 6oC over the year-2000 level, and that we thereupon face a collapse in agriculture and the destruction through flooding of the world's current great port cities (such as New York, London, Sydney, and Singapore).

(2) The present carbon-dioxide concentration is already well above 350 parts per million.

(3) The prospects for effective coordinated international action on global warming have been dimmed through the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks.

Having sketched, in the briefest terms possible here, a position on climate change, I now proceed to examine, in a little more detail, "Peak Oil".

My conviction that the petroleum supply is fated to contract dangerously I reached (to repeat) in 2003. Events since then, most notably the post-2003 dismembering of Iraqi society, the rise in the price of petroleum, the 2008 global credit crisis, and on the local scene the 2008 pillaging of the David Dunlap Observatory by a financially pressured University of Toronto - this has emerged as Canada's largest heritage-conservation case, and I have come to know the case intimately, as a former DDO employee - have merely bolstered my grim 2003 conviction.

Our fossil-fuels contraction may conceivably start many decades from now. However, in the opinion of the most credible petroleum-geology authorities, the fatal contraction either is starting about now, around 2008 or 2010, or will be starting at some point in the two decades following 2010, as the engineers finally fail in their now-difficult efforts to sustain extraction rates. I will not try to summarize the geological debate here. Readers needing a portal to the Web-based literature can find a good one, with hyperlinks to multiple viewpoints, at

The case for impending disaster is argued by many, as a glance at makes clear. In 2005 and 2006, I particularly singled out James Howard Kunstler, author of the 2005 book The Long Emergency. At present I am inclined to point above all to John Michael Greer, author of the 2008 book The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age and of the 2009 book The Ecotechnic Future. I myself argued the case in the second chapter of my 2003 open-content Web-published Utopia 2184: A Green Manifesto in the Traditions of the Permaculture and Catholic-Worker Movements (in the "Literary" section of this site), when a barrel of petroleum was still trading around 25 USD per barrel. In the northern-hemisphere summer of 2005, the price was around 60 USD. The price rose to around 147 USD in the northern-hemisphere summer of 2008, before collapsing in the 2008 global financial crisis into the 30 USD - 40 USD range, and then recovering somewhat, to the vicinity of 80 USD.

At the moment, I will content myself with an outline sketch of an argument to show that disaster indeed looms, that - to restate my point about "strong likelihood" - it is in gambling-casino terms rational to bet on trouble.

I begin by noting that in many parts of the industrialized world, it is physically difficult to survive without access to a bus or taxi or private motor vehicle. Conditions in Richmond Hill, the Ontario suburb in which I live, are quite typical of North America. Here, a little over 20 km north of the Toronto business core, in a community with an estimated 2008 population of 181,000, the streets are normally devoid of pedestrians, even on dry days in the eight snow-free months of the year. The absence of pedestrians reflects the facts that proceeding from the main public library to the nearest branch of the Royal Bank of Canada entails a walk of a couple of kilometres, that proceeding from the municipal offices to the main public library involves an hour's brisk walking, and that other very basic in-city movements are on the same physical scale challenging. The streets are filled with motorcars, for the most part privately owned, and it is also common to see transport trucks carrying foodstuffs and consumer goods to replenish the shelves of retailers. So heavy is the pressure of vehicular traffic that the principal artery by the municipal offices, the so-called "Highway Seven," carries at least four lanes of traffic in one direction, at least four lanes in the other. And the roughly east-west "Highway Seven" has as its near neighbour (indeed for part of its length has as its strictly adjacent cheek-to-jowl neighbour) the still more massive, and also roughly east-west, "Highway 407". This "407" is an elephantine Autobahn whose construction price could surely have equipped several cities in our Earth's impoverished South with clinics and libraries - nay, with whole hospitals, with a university.

How difficult will it be, as the supply of fossil fuels contracts, to keep the world's fleet of motor vehicles running, on such Autobahnen as we can still afford to keep repaired?

Tomorrow's environmentally engineered private motorcar, built of especially light materials and engineered with a care not known today, might, I speculate, be rated at as little as 100 horsepower, i.e., around 75 kilowatts. (Today's horsepower ratings are higher: 165 horsepower or more for the average new car, according to http://www. Horsepower ratings from the motoring literature refer to power delivered in an emergency, with the pedal pressed to the floor. I have it on reasonably good authority, from a chat with an engineer specializing in vehicles, that a typical cruise, whether on an expressway at high speed or at low speed on a street, nowadays takes on the order of 30 horsepower. We may optimistically speculate that the cruising of tomorrow's lightweight car will take less, say 20 horsepower, i.e., 15 kilowatts. This, then, is part of the engineering challenge: in a town such as Richmond Hill, in which most households find it necessary to run a private motor vehicle, tens of thousands of machines, each drawing 15 kilowatts or more, will have to be fuelled, even as supplies of petroleum and natural gas grow tight.

We are in our final number-crunching compelled largely to discount nonconventional fossil fuels, such as petroleum from the Athabasca tar sands. A 2003 November report by the International Energy Agency predicts that the Athabasca oil-sands production will exceed 5.0 million barrels a day by 2030. That is around (5,000,000/80,000,000) x 100%, or to one significant figure a scant 6%, of today's daily global petroleum consumption, with consumption taken to one significant figure as 80 million barrels. Athabasca output at that level is not enough to transform the whole-Earth energy picture. There are, admittedly, other nonconventional fossil fuel sources, such as the oil shales of Estonia, but the sources are not plentiful, and the nonconventional fossil fuel sources of no single nation rank ahead of Athabasca.

We are likewise compelled to discount liquid or gaseous fuels, such as ethanol, deriving from biomass. The amount of fuel burned in planting, cultivating, harvesting, and processing the ethanol crop is at best only a little less than the quantum of ethanol finally emerging from the fuel-heated boiler and the chilled condenser at the distillery. And if the problem of energy inputs could by some miracle be solved, then what about the underlying problem of crop acreage? Eugene P. Odum tells us on p. 102 of the 1997 edition of his ecology textbook - that is the edition entitled Ecology: A Bridge Between Science and Society - that running the average American motorcar on ethanol for one year requires dedicating to the ethanol crop three hectares, or eight times the cropping area that feeds a human in the poor countries.

I suspect, although I have not examined the numbers, that the same is true of liquid or gaseous fuel from coal and wood. It is, admittedly, true that Hitler's ruthless Germany attained some success in World War II with coal-derived liquids, and that Occupied, "Vichy", France in the same war was able to power at least some road vehicles with some product of wood - perhaps with the same mix of gases that you get when, having lighted a Bunsen burner or alcohol lamp, you proceed to heat wood splinters in a test tube.

Some will urge, in the face of these difficulties for hydrocarbon fuels, a "hydrogen economy". But what will be the source of the pure hydrogen? We cannot hope to procure it, in the requisite quantities, from our fast-depleting natural gas wells. Although we can procure it from electrolysis of water, in facilities energized by nuclear power plants, high-grade uranium ores may face a depletion in the present century analogous to the depletion facing fossil fuels ( Controlled nuclear fusion of light elements, as an alternative to the controlled fission of uranium and similar heavy elements, is a technology far even from the pilot-plant stage.

There remains the prospect of burning hydrogen from electrolysis cells powered by wind-turbine generators. But consider the WindShare-cooperative wind turbine on Toronto's downtown lakeshore, at Exhibition Place. This is a fine village-scale machine, the height of a tall apartment tower, erected at a cost of something like a million dollars, with much burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels were burned first on the factory floor, to support the fabrication of the components, and then were burned in the thirsty engines of cranes and trucks at the erection site. The blades, comparable in size and aerodynamic profile to the wings on a commercial airliner, can be contemplated, turning in their majestic slowness, from a goodly stretch of the lakeshore promenade.

How many fuel-cell cars could this costly turbine power? In a typical month (as I know from consulting an engineer on the project), the average instantaneous output from the generator is 200 kilowatts. Suppose that this turbine becomes part of an eventual "hydrogen economy". Then the million-dollar investment at Exhibition Place can keep an instantaneous average of at most, to one significant figure, (200 kilowatts / (15 kilowatts per motorcar)) = 10 motorcars cruising! And here we really do have to say "at most", since the calculation assumes, contrary to fact, only minor inefficiencies in conversion, as Exhibition Place electric power is conveyed to some future electrolysis depot for the manufacture of hydrogen from water, and as the hydrogen in turn gets stored, then pumped into the motorcar, then burned in an onboard fuel cell with output of electric power to the coils and armatures that cause drive shafts to spin.

A similar conclusion follows from consideration of photovoltaic panels, or "solar farms".

Indeed it is already clear in a general way, without pondering the specifics of the Athabasca tar sands, ethanol, wind power, solar farms, and the like, that trouble looms once our motor-vehicle fleet is converted, under pressure of hydrocarbon-fuel scarcity, to electrical traction, whether the conversion be through hydrogen-burning fuel cells or (this is a further possibility in humanity's modest menu of engineering options) through grid-recharged onboard chemical batteries.

A contemporary Ontario family may draw an instantaneous couple of kilowatts, by way of an average over its 24-hour consumption cycle, as it runs its water heater, its stove, its clothes dryer, its washing machine, its air conditioners, and its other devices. We have already suggested, by way of a concession to the optimists, that when tomorrow's lightweight motorcar is cruising, the power requirement of the drive shaft may be on the order of a mere 15 kilowatts. Suppose our representative household to run one car engine, turning a drive shaft on some street or highway, just 100 minutes a day out of every 24 hours. (People in Toronto commute to work, then drive in their leisure hours, every day of the week, almost every day of the year. Many a family must have the tyres turning on the asphalt, at least on many days out of every month, for quite a lot longer than 100 minutes. But let us be conservative.) That means that the fraction 0.07 (= (100 minutes/(24 x 60 minutes)) of the day is consumed in vehicle driving. Since the car needs 15 kilowatts, the average-instantaneous-electrical-power budget of the family has been boosted by 0.07 x 15 kilowatts, in other words by over a kilowatt, from its circa-2010 average of a couple of kilowatts. To one significant figure, the household electricity power budget has, I reiterate, jumped from two kilowatts to three.

And this revolution in motoring, as we move from fossil fuels to some version or other of electrical traction, be it fuel-cell-driven or battery-driven, will see the Ontario electrical power industry, in recent years beset by terrifying shortfalls (and consequently in recent times of shortage importing power at an exorbitant 0.20 CAD, and more, per kilowatt-hour from jurisdictions themselves facing an energy crisis), making such a hefty addition to its present load? Perhaps we will also soon be seeing an end to malnutrition and illiteracy in the world's poor countries? Perhaps we will all soon be colonizing Mars, and mining the asteroids, and sending humans to the stars, as in those silly 1950s and 1960s books that predicted a technological cornucopia for the year 2000?

It will now be asked: Do not the twin disaster scenarios of Peak Oil and climate change to some extent oppose each other? Will not the Peak Oil fossil-fuel contraction put the brakes onto global warming? In reply, I first reiterate that the current atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration is already in excess of the safety-critical 350 parts-per-million threshold. Second, I remark that under the strain of Peak Oil, governments will be tempted to take a pair of measures that exacerbate global warming: on the one hand omitting to subsidize the sequestration of the carbon released from the burning of fossil fuels (because sequestration equipment itself consumes much fuel), on the other hand burning down the available coal stocks (because as petroleum becomes scarce, coal will help fill a supply gap). Eventually, the wide-scale burning of fossil fuels must cease, with supplies hopelessly tight, but by then the damage to the climate will have been done.

And so we find ourselves driven to the cheerless assessment of one of today's Latin essayists, one Brennus Regan, Americanus, expounding Peak Oil under the title "Apocalypsis Petrolearia" at;wap2.

There was a time, in 2005 or 2006 or so, when I could scarcely decipher the occasional sentence in Brennus's extraordinary essay, in which one seems to hear a stern Cicero, a bleak Augustine, pitilessly dissecting BBC news headlines. Now, however, having invested a bit over 210 hours in a systematic review of Latin, so as to be able to work in a properly Deep-Time, cultural-conservationist spirit, I find Brennus's writing pleasant. His key sentence, indeed, I could construe even before that big 2007-and-2008 Latin review, and I reproduce it here: paulatim grassabitur nova et perpetua Aetas Obscura; "little by little, a new and unending Dark Age will encroach."

Or, to make the point in less latinate terms, we face a Dim Age, of a kind we encounter today in petroleum-starved Havana and electricity-starved Baghdad. Let us look no further out into the future than we now look back upon contemplating the dingy and war-weary Canada of 1945. The Toronto of that near-future time - of, say, 2075 or 2080 or so, when some fraction of today's newborns might still be in the workforce - will be a hot, dusty city of slums, in which most people walk or take a humble electric tram. We may imagine the electricity staying on a few hours a day for the poor, and twenty-four hours a day for their air-conditioned bosses (ensconced as they will be in their gated and guarded communities, in the manner of the occupation-forces Green Zone in Baghdad today). We may imagine squalor, disease, and civil unrest combining in their grim Malthusian reaping, as the less affluent strata in the urban population are reduced to numbers consistent with the biological carrying capacity of the biosphere.

We probably do not face a Spielbergian scenario of sudden breakdown. Rather, we face a slow, steady, inexorable decay. That is what the fall of Rome felt like from the inside, from the dusty and sweltering Roman street. The taxes in those days went up and up, the silver content of the denarius down and down. The Vandals, or the Goths, or the Huns, came and milled around and looted (or, in at any rate one case, at any rate according to the telling of a pro-ecclesial chronicler, got persuaded by the Pope of the day not to loot) and left and came again and left again or alternatively kind of hung around and hung around, and life went on and on, becoming a little less civilized with each passing decade.

Three English-language Internet essayists stand out as discussing the physical particulars of what is coming, diligently spelling out, in the concrete language of foodstuffs or tools or materials, what might be involved in a decay, as distinct from a dramatic Spielbergian crash. From the Catholic Worker movement, we have Robert Waldrop's "Life During the Great Oil and Gas Decline", at From the ranks of the radical back-on-the-land analysts, we have Ran Prieur's "The Slow Crash", at Finally, as a voice from (I believe) neopagan, specifically druidic, theology, we have John Michael Greer's "The Long Road Down: Decline and the Deindustrial Future", at

Although I would urge my readers to spend a half hour going through all three essays, right now (don't put it off, folks), I will herewith quote the three most hard-hitting paragraphs from Greer. (I should remind those among my readers who, like me, are Catholic that truth is truth, wherever we find it, and that we have a duty to enter into dialogue with the neopagan theologians even as we have a duty to emulate our bishops and cardinals in engaging the Schism Christians, the Reformation Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhists, and the other great traditional confessions in dialogue.)

Leave out the deus ex machina of progressive and apocalyptic mythologies, map the results onto a scale of human lifespans, and a likely future emerges. Imagine an American woman born in 1960. She sees the gas lines of the 1970s, the short-term political gimmicks that papered over the crisis in the 1980s and 1990s, and renewed trouble in the following decades. Soaring energy prices, shortages, economic depressions, and resource wars shape the rest of her life. By age 70, she lives in a beleaguered, malfunctioning city where half the population has no reliable access to clean water, electricity, or health care. Shantytowns spread in the shadow of skyscrapers while political and economic leaders keep insisting that things are getting better.

Her great-grandson, born in 2030, manages to avoid the smorgasbord of diseases, the pervasive violence, and the pandemic alcohol and drug abuse that claim half of his generation before age 30. A lucky break gets him into a technical career, safe from military service in endless wars overseas or "pacification actions" against separatist guerrillas at home. His technical knowledge consists mostly of rules of thumb for effective scavenging, cars and refrigerators are luxury items he will never own, his home lacks electricity and central heating, and his health care comes from an old woman whose grandmother was a doctor and who knows something about wound care and herbs. By the time his hair turns gray the squabbling regions that were once the United States have split apart, all remaining fuel and electrical power have been commandeered by the new governments, and coastal cities are being abandoned to the rising oceans.

For his great-granddaughter, born in 2100, the great crises are mostly things of the past. She grows up amid a ring of sparsely populated villages surrounding an abandoned core of rusting skyscrapers visited only by salvage crews who mine them for raw materials. Local wars sputter, the oceans are still rising, and famines and epidemics are a familiar reality, but with global population maybe 15% of what it was in 2000, humanity and nature are moving toward balance. She learns to read and write, a skill most of her neighbors don't have, and a few old books are among her prized possessions, but the days when men walked on the moon are fading into legend. When she and her family finally set out for a village in the countryside, leaving the husk of the old city to the salvage crews, it never occurs to her that her quiet footsteps on a crumbling asphalt road mark the end of a civilization.

Maybe we will have a Green Zone for Toronto's wealthy, as I imagined above, even long after 2100. Maybe, on the other hand, the deep troubles, with Toronto dismantled into villages and cropland in the manner of the Detroit chronicled at, will come even sooner than the turn-of century epoch John Michael Greer envisages in the last of his just-quoted paragraphs. Detailed questions of timing are peripheral. We may indeed expect different cityscapes to decline at different rates, with Detroit and New Orleans and the erstwhile Soviet "closed cities" around Baikonur the wretched pioneers, and with some wisely governed communities holding out in the manner of mediaeval Byzantium. What is central is, rather, this, that the odds in history's casino favour an overall, decade-upon-decade, trend of radical, relentless decline, for most of the world's industrial cities.

What, I now ask, am I to do as a worker in a community whose lights are dimming? I answer that the rational course for me is something obvious and familiar. It is a course already mapped out in our historical record, as the appropriate course for a contemplative and pacifist citizen of fifth- or sixth-century Rome. Like the colleagues of Saint Benedict of Nursia, a founding father of European monasticism, I am to live in my dying culture without interiorizing its sterile values. I am to help in some small way to build "a new society in the shell of the old", as they say in the Catholic Worker movement (in which I try to participate, as time and state of emotional health allow). This means living a life informed and governed on the one hand by Christian contemplation, on the other hand by ideals of Christian public service.

I will not argue for my theological position here, but will merely state, baldly, that I find the natural roots for my contemplation to lie in the same Catholic, and in many ways specifically Benedictine, soil as nourished that great prophet of American decline, the 1930s-to-1980s activist-and-writer Dorothy Day. Dorothy Day was a Benedictine oblate, in other words a lay person in formal affiliation with a monastery. I am myself a candidate for Benedictine oblation, likewise with a formal monastery affiliation (currently to the Archabbey of Saint Vincent, in Pennsylvania; but that may have to change if and when family considerations require me to move, perhaps ten or twenty years from now, from Toronto over to Tartu County in Estonia).

If readers really pressed me to defend a Catholic position, I would extend a line of thought I follow in "Total Catholic Woof", in the "Literary" section of this site. In that essay, I touch on one of the central, and most difficult, Catholic articles of faith, namely, that in the Palestinian backwater of the Roman Empire, around 33 A.D., the Jesus, the Rabbi Jeshua ben Josef, there acclaimed as the Christ physically rose from the dead. Here is what I write in "Total Catholic Woof" after discussing the Gospel narratives, the resurrection account of Paul (who put ink to papyrus a few decades before the Gospel narratives were composed in their present form), and the much-vexed Shroud of Turin:

…I'm not claiming to have actual direct arguments for the proposition that Christ rose bodily. I'm arguing for it not being irrational, illogical, unscientific, to believe Christ rose bodily. My claim is only that if we can with a clean scientific conscience claim Catholicism false, we can also with a clean scientific conscience claim Catholicism true.

I have now said enough, so far as my limited purposes in this present essay go, about my governing aim in Christian contemplation. As far as Christian action is concerned, my task is to help save what can be saved, and most particularly in a sector of our culture that is at present distinctively praiseworthy (because distinctively respectful of objective truth, of facts), namely in natural science. My duty is in some small way to help keep the small and vulnerable lamp of physics burning, perhaps especially with a view to the sub-discipline of astrophysics.

As sacred flames go, the lamp of physics is vulnerable in the extreme, however robust the establishment of publicly funded Big Science may seem when we glance at news stories in the latest New Scientist or Sky and Telescope. Already now, with the true Dim Ages perhaps two human generations away, we encounter amazing depths of public disengagement from science. Let me cite two examples.

(a) Of the tiny handful of young people that stellar spectroscopist Prof. Robert Garrison and I have now and again been mentoring together, fully two have suggested to me that NASA could have faked the moon landings. And I have heard the same from at least one, perhaps two, members of the general public. Much can be forgiven the general public, addled as it is by a diet of television infotainment. Students from the science departments, however, are a more serious matter, since much is given them by their universities, and correspondingly much is expected. If a third science-anchored student comes up with the suggestion of a NASA hoax, I should first remark, politely, that Prof. Garrison is himself an author of a paper on NASA Apollo rock samples, and then politely ask by what concrete mechanisms the student believes so clever a prof got duped.

(b) I keep hearing that there are people who believe the universe to be a mere six thousand years old. Such allegations have even swirled recently, I think without plausible denial from the relevant quarters, around a former Canadian federal party leader. If I were to meet such a person, I would ask, politely, what we are seeing when we examine M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, an easy object for binoculars, with progressively better telescopes. With a sharply imaging ground-based telescope 3 or 5 or 8 metres in diameter, M31 looks like a pancake of occasionally resolved stars rather than a simple gaseous nebula. It indeed looks like a pancake of stars similar to our own Milky Way galaxy. However, a pancake of Milky Way dimensions, and yet of the observed M31 angular extent, has to be so far away that it takes light not six thousand but hundreds of thousands or thousands of thousands of years to reach our eyes. That fuzzy distance conjecture is sharpened to a value of two million light years by apparent-brightness measurements of Cepheid variable stars in M31, whose intrinsic brightnesses the professionals believe they know well from studies of more local Cepheids. And of course there are also compelling reasons for thinking we see in light, and "hear" in radio, objects two thousand or five thousand times further away than M31.

So, as I say, the beacon of science, our current best refuge of dispassionate rationality and disinterested international cooperation, is already, in this early stage of our social crisis, buffeted by the sinister gales of unreason, and it is my duty to help keep it burning. This I have been doing in ways that are for the most part clear from other pages on this site.

I promote the use, on the scientific workstation, of the uniquely deep noncommercial GNU/Linux put out by the Debian Project - as I explain at length in my essay "No-Frills GNU/Linux: Philosophical Foundations", in the "Literary" section of this site.

I have done a fair amount of copyediting for pay, and this work has included two widely adopted high-school physics textbooks and the Canadian Journal of Physics.

If our times were a little less foreboding, I would be a little less of a conservationist and would consider developing a business as an indexer of scientific books. A handful of readers may enjoy reading my thoughts, from December of 2002, on that recondite topic, by clicking here.

Before the 2008 shutdown of the David Dunlap Observatory I did quite a few things in that hauntingly beautiful institution: NASA NStars observing, some telescope operating, some data reduction, some unpaid gardening.

I keep studying physics and the associated maths, as time permits. At the moment, the emphasis in my studies is in part on themes of supreme social importance, electricity and radio.

Physics-and-maths studies take eighteen hours in a good week, and ten in a bad week, as when emotional health declines. Those hourcounts do not include time for tea breaks, washroom breaks, and the like, but include only the actual working hours. I take some pride in the fact that if I have any interruption at all, be it only from a tiny incoming phone call, I halt the time log, in what I understand is the manner of certain expensive lawyers.

Since I try to work carefully and rigorously in my modest, essentially early-undergraduate, programme of private physics review, I suspect I would be a helpful tutor. If you are interested in maximizing your grades, so as to get into a good university from high school, or into a good med school from university, then you and I will not be a very good match. (I become uncomfortable in the presence of careerist ambition.) If, on the other hand, you are in physics for the joy of understanding it, then we may be able to make some arrangement for working together, with your paying me what is fair and my helping you intellectually to the best of my modest abilities.

It goes almost, but not quite, without saying that I am keen to link up with other people in the "intentional community" movement, especially people trying to tie together two or more of the superficially disparate themes of climate change, Peak Oil, Linux computing, the defence of science, and Catholic spirituality. One point of entry to that movement point of entry to that movement is the 2005 (and subsequent) discussion in the fine Steven Lagavulin "Deconsumption" blog. The relevant sections of that blog are locatable by Googling under such search strings as deconsumption intentional community collapse rebirth. Four further points of entry are,,, and These further four, and easily-located theological Web resources analogous to them, may indeed sub specie aeternitate prove to be of overwhelming importance.