Utopia 2184:
Appendix B1:
Notes for the Skilled Reader
Seeking to Investigate Further

These notes constitute a work-in-progress. I am quite liable to expand them as opportunities present themselves or evident needs arise. In particular, I am liable to use these notes some day for spelling out the energy-crash scenario more carefully - documenting, for instance, the reasons why even coal may not save us.

For Chapter the First

... as yet the populace trusted in petroleum transport and grid electricity:

The book-publishing world and the Internet abound in analyses of the energy crisis.

(a) Readers wishing to dig more deeply should start by perusing not government or corporate documents, but impartial university-based primary research. I have so far found one such university source, namely the Uppsala Hydrocarbon Depletion Study Group (UHDSG), with a Web presence at http://www.isv.uu.se/uhdsg/. Anders Sivertsson of UHDSG defended his MSc project, 'The Study of World Oil Resources and the Impact on IPCC Emissions Scenarios', available on the UHDSG Web site, on 2003 September 30. Also notable on that site is a link to a report by UHDSG scientists K. Aleklett and C.J.Campbell, entitled 'The Peak and Decline of World Oil and Gas Production' (additionally available as the print publication Minerals and Energy 18 5 (2003)). I have so far found time to read the paper by Prof. Aleklett and Dr Campbell rather conscientiously and to skim portions of Mr Sivertsson's impressive dissertation. Finally, the UHDSG site is noteworthy for displaying the 'Uppsala Protocol', exhorting national governments to agree on an orderly drawing-down of the remaining fossil-fuel resource. Outside the formal aegis of the universities stands a body of research, including primary research, by authors who are retired from the petroleum industry, or are in some other way disconnected from it, and yet also possess a background in petroleum geology. Two sites opening up a world of writing of this nonacademic type are http://www.dieoff.com (apparently mirrored at http://www.dieoff.org) and http://www.hubbertpeak.com (apparently mirrored, with unimportant, minuscule differences, at http://www.oilcrisis.com). On the specific topic of natural gas, it is useful to consult also a smaller site, http://www.postcarbon.org (the Web presence of the the Post Carbon Institute; a contact person for the Institute is Vancouver-based analyst Julian Darley). Deeply informed by the available impartial primary and close-to-primary research is Richard Heinberg's fine book, The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies (New Society Publishers, 2003). http://www.museletter.com/partys-over.html conveys a foretaste of Prof. Heinberg's work. Another influential book in the same genre is Thom Hartmann's The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: Waking Up to Personal and Global Transformation (published in more than one edition). A free subscription to Dr Hartmann's newsletter 'Waking Up to Personal & Global Transformation' can be had through http://www.thomhartmann.com. With the newsletter comes access to a useful set of online forums.

(b) An intriguing analysis of policy options is 'The Busby Report: UK Survival in the 21st Century', at http://www.after-oil.co.uk.

(c) Readers seeking readable, vivid journalism (and able to tolerate occasional departures from my own strictly pacifist viewpoint) will be delighted by Jim Kunstler's up-to-the-minute commentary at http://www.kunstler.com. Equally useful is Jim Minter's essay, 'Joy Ride to Global Collapse: Reflections on Kunstler's Home from Nowhere', available at http://www.state.fl.us/fdi/edesign/news/9612/joyride.htm.

(d) A promising ecology-and-agriculture author whom I have not yet had opportunity to investigate properly is David Holmgren. His new book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability is profiled at http://www.holmgren.com.au. An intriguing thesis of Mr Holmgren's is that the coming collapse (in his own language, 'energy descent') represents an opportunity for human improvement, and is therefore to be less feared than welcomed.

For Chapter the Second

...tenable even for wretched peoples reduced to making turbine and generator parts with small-workshop tools:

The feasibility of building very small wind-electric systems in a primitive workshop has been demonstrated by groups and individuals around the world. A leading figure in the field is fabricator-teacher-author Hugh Piggott of Scoraig Wind Electric in Scotland, with a Web presence at http://homepages.enterprise.net/hugh0piggott/.

To fix ideas on the very small turbine, assume not a village-scale machine the height of a ten-storey block of flats, but instead a mere carved-wood horizontal-axis turbine, sweeping out a circle 2 metres in diameter. What, now, are the hopes and constraints? Since turbine output is proportional to the cube of windspeed, a machine that performs well on a windy coastal hilltop may prove disappointing in an inland valley. Back-of-the-envelope calculations, to just one significant figure, make the problem clear. With a machine in the two-metre class, one has a reasonable hope of delivering 300 watts into one's rectifier-and-battery-charger system (or, in the conceivable near future, into the one's rectifier and water-electrolyzer), given a stiff 40 km/h wind. Output may be two times this figure, or more, if the system is very well designed and built, or only half this figure, if things have gone really badly. But let us assume 300 watts. We can then, given the cube-of-windspeed law, expect the same setup to deliver a paltry 5 watts in a more gentle 10 km/h breeze.

A further problem is the difficulty in procuring generators that will run at the low revolutions-per-minute that a turbine delivers, even where winds are strong. In particular, experimenters have been disappointed in the performance of salvaged automobile alternators. Hugh Piggott recommends instead custom-building an alternator, with a hand-wired stator, and with permanent magnets embedded in resin disks by way of a rotating assembly.

Some idea of what can be achieved, subject to these two constraints, is conveyed by the demonstration turbine-generator installed in 2002 at the headquarters of the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) near the English town of Rugby. The demonstrated design was produced over a two-year period with funding from the UK Department for International Development, in a partnership comprising the ITDG offices in Sri Lanka and Peru, ITDG UK, and Hugh Piggott. The design is intended to be sufficiently simple for implementation in communities where workshops are primitive, delivering some usable power even where windspeeds are modest.

An interesting North American purveyor of wind-power parts and plans, with expertise also in photovoltaics and micro-waterpower, is Forcefield, in Fort Collins, Colorado. A point of entry to the diversified world of the Forcefield team is its wind-power site, http://www.otherpower.com.

For Chapter the Third

The Internet had evidently been brought back up:

Many with professional or semiprofessional computing interests will ask, 'Is there anything I can do to enhance the robustness of the early-twenty-first-century Internet?' Obviously we do some good by strengthening our local Linux community, just as we do some good for agriculture by buying organic produce. A more radical line of technical development may, however, commend itself to a few people. Communities have for decades found amateur radio helpful in times of trouble, as when hurricanes bring down Florida telephone exchanges. Now, with the Internet a potential point of catastrophic failure, it is wise to strengthen a special amateur community, the world of packet radio.

In packet radio, a Terminal Node Controller (TNC) connects the usual radio transmitting-and-receiving gear to a computer, in many cases a Linux box. The usual protocol for encoding data into packets for the TNC is AX.25. Awkwardly, the technology seems to be at its best with frequencies too high for ionospheric skip, limiting the range of direct communication to at best a few tens of kilometres. There are, of course, relay schemes. Further, I gather that some work has been done also in lower-frequency bands. Transmission speeds even in the highest-frequency bands are poor, one conceivable rate being a paltry 1200 bits per second. That's the speed of an entry-level or midrange home-computer modem around 1986: too slow for sound or graphics, although fine for bulletin boards, and I imagine fine both for text-only Web surfing (in the style of the lynx client) and for mails. I gather that AX.25 somehow makes it possible to exchange even TCP/IP packets, as we know and love them on the fiber-optic-backbone Internet, albeit at 1986 speeds.

We shall perhaps in a time of social breakdown find the conventional Internet silent, and yet also find rudimentary TCP/IP communications surviving on AX.25. Really dedicated ham operators could keep their sets running with photovoltaic panels, over periods of months and years, when more demanding communications institutions become damaged beyond straightforward repair. An AX.25 "Internet" would then serve as a bridging technology, helping the world restore conventional Internet services over the medium term.

Perhaps some kind reader - I imagine a kind of backwoods doomster survivalist-ham, diligently preparing for the worst - will mail me some day, helping me develop these AX.25 suggestions in more adequate engineering detail?

... my celebrated Risotto Club-de-Rome:

Prepare this dish by taking the desired volume of whole-grain rice (a half cup is appropriate for a single adult) and 1.5 times that volume of water. Microwave rice and water in a covered container just long enough to bring the water to 100 degrees Celsius and the rice nearly to the same temperature. (I myself can achieve this state of affairs in five minutes or less, if my water starts at room temperature.) Wrap the covered container in a towel. Place towel and container into a shiny wrapper, such as one of those glittering mirror-finish gift bags currently favoured by the urban moneyed classes of Canada. Since it is the most reflective bodies that make the poorest radiators, the shiny wrapper will minimize radiation of heat. Reduce heat loss still further by insulating the shiny wrapper, say with a sleeping bag, weighed down by books, on the top, with cushions, clothing, or other such fabric on the sides. Keep the insulated container undisturbed for 15 or 20 minutes. It will be found on unpacking that the rice grains, still quite hot, have cooked themselves to perfection, absorbing all the water. Add cold crumbled organic tofu, cold spaghetti sauce (such as is in Canada sold under the 'Ragu' label in glass jars), and organic peanuts. Garnish with a generous grating of organic cheddar. Microwave briefly, so that tofu and sauce become warm to the palate.

Further comments: (i) The mix of amino acids from rice, tofu, peanuts, and cheese surely attains a certain nutritional balance. All the same, it is advisable to follow this entrée with some such dessert as an organic apple. (ii) The insulated-pot, or "retained-heat", method here proposed demonstrates that cooking does not require a constant input of heat. The towel, glittering wrapper, sleeping bag, and cushions ensure that the microwave oven - a contraption that does the work of easily a whole horse - runs for as short a time as possible. Much pleasure is to be had reminding oneself, while munching the concluding apple, that the demonstrated energy economy, being adaptable to culinary conditions in the developing nations, heeds the precepts of http://www.clubofrome.org.