Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This Revolution Will Be Televised

"History tells us that at key pivot points on the civilizational timeline, humanity’s zeitgeist is highly explosive and a tiny spark can be, well, revolutionary. There was no spark here, only fire-extinguishing foam. We found ourselves watching an extension of Lost."

Like many, we had our attention drawn by the promotional advertising for the new NBC series, Revolution, and downloaded the online pilot. Like most (judging from the #Revolution twitterstream every Monday night) we have been disappointed. History tells us that at key pivot points on the civilizational timeline, humanity’s zeitgeist is highly explosive and a tiny spark can be, well, revolutionary.

There was no spark here, only fire-extinguishing foam. We found ourselves watching an extension of Lost, one that even featured Lost actors Elizabeth Mitchell and Mark Pellegrino. It also had Breaking Bad’s drug kingpin Giancarlo Esposito in a bad guy role far below his abilities, milking it in a desparate audition for better roles than this.

Once there was an ambitious plan to build 1000 nuclear reactors in North America. Then came Three Mile Island. But was it the TMI meltdown or China Syndrome, the Jack Lemmon - Jane Fonda Hollywood film released while “an area the size of Pennsylvania” was being evacuated that did in the nuke? Our betting is on the latter: the power of media and celebrity to redirect a dominant cultural narrative.

Revolution carried that potential. The brains at Bad Robot and Warner Brothers Television made sure it didn’t come anywhere near. It was filmed on location at the Hard Rock Music Park in Myrtle Beach, SC, written and produced by Eric Kripke, whose previous credits include Boogeyman 1, 2, and 3, Ghostfacers, and 152 episodes of Supernatural for the CW channel. So, instead of some healthy post-petrol collapse advice, we can expect aliens, evil spirits, or shapeshifting demons from the netherworld to appear sooner or later. Maybe Esposito’s Captain Tom Neville is really a reptile.

Folks, the aliens are not coming to save you. Only you can save you.

From C-Realm Podcast Episode 328 (Sept 19, 2012):

KMO: Before I go, I want to play a clip from the new NBC series, Revolution. It sounds like it might hold some appeal for those interested in Peak Oil, transition, and collapse, right? I suppose it might, if you got good and baked before watching it and just took in the expensive post-collapse images in the first few minutes. Thereafter, if you've give half an hour's thought to potential collapse modes and their implications, this show will insult your intelligence at every turn.

It premiered on September 17th, the one-year anniversary of the start of Occupy Wall Street, but that seems to be a coincidence, as the show has nothing to do with opposition to unjust political power in the present. Instead, it introduces us to a handful of characters just prior to a global blackout and picks up 15 years later in a world that bears a strong resemblance to Kevin Costner's film adaptation of the David Brin novel, The Postman.

I plan to record a detailed conversation with Arik Roper in which I will detail all of the things that Revolution got wrong, but most of them come down to the fact that people on TV are very, very pretty, and their prettiness exemplifies the advantages we all enjoy due to electricity and being the master of so many mechanical servants.

The characters in Revolution obviously all still enjoy hot showers, a full range of cosmetics and body-care products. They all seem to have someone to wash their clothes for them, clean up after them, and allow them to live a life very similiar to the life we enjoy now, just without cars and smart phones. We all live better than emperors of old because we are attended night and day by a gaggle of energy slaves.

Revolution had the opportunity to depict what life would be like without those energy slaves, but instead, what we get is a depiction of a group of pampered idiots from today having a pretend adventure in a post-petroleum theme park.

The illustrations in this post were captioned by KMO for The Great Change

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bioenergy, TLUDs, and Our 2012 Stove Camp

"Both Solar Bob and Doc agree that trying to get charcoal-burning cultures like Haiti to give up making and burning charcoal is a lost cause, not worth spending much time on. We are less convinced of the hopelessness of conversion, having the card up our sleeve of eCOOLnomics still to play. Pop Culture can marry Mother Earth. We can make it cool to sequester carbon in the soil. "

Here at the Ecovillage Training Center we just completed our first, hopefully annual, Biochar Stove Camp. And a good time was had by all.

Dr TLUD demo's the Mwoto double chamber gasifier
These stove camps are the brainchild of Paul “Dr. T-LUD” Anderson, a retired geography professor who is spending his remaining active years enjoying as much geography as he can extend into. We, and “Solar Bob” Fairchild, whom Doc recruited to organize this camp, find ourselves kindred spirits in that way. We like to travel and exchange information, and we’re getting older.

Doc got interested in stoves doing mission work in Africa, and started attending stove camps in places like the Aprovecho Institute in Oregon, where he picked up on the gasifier design and its capabilities to produce biochar. Tom Reed, one of the early organizers of the International Biochar Initiative, interested him in the climate benefits of biochar. We saw him at Newcastle for the Biochar, Sustainability and Security in a Changing Climate conference in 2008 and at the U.S. Biochar Conference in Boulder, Colorado in 2010, showing off his namesake TLUD — “Top Loading UpDraft” — biochar-making stoves to, among others, the Secretary of Agriculture and scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Doc just came back from Uganda where last spring he set up a project near Kampala to manufacture TChar stoves, a TLUD kit design he developed collaboratively in CHAB (“Combined Heat and Biochar”) camps such as ours. The Ugandan project is called Awamu Biomass Energy, or ABE for short. Awamu means “together” or “juntos” in Lugandan language. Awamu will set up a shop to cut, bend, drill and assemble the TChar, grow and harvest fuels and make hand-presses for biomass briquettes. It will then wholesale the stoves, presses and briquettes locally. If successful, Awamu would next expand to Bungoma, Kakamega and maybe Nyamira. 

Engineers Without Borders, Micro-Compound-Lever Press / Easy BioPress.
HAND PRESS: The press has a low build cost (about US$18), is easy to build using hand tools, is lightweight at 26 pounds and can create a force far in excess of that required to make a high quality briquette (typically in excess of 4,000 pounds). Briquettes can be produced at a rate of about twelve in ten minutes depending of type of mold used.

After Uganda Doc went to Kenya, then to Haiti, Honduras, back to the States for the Biochar Conference in Sonoma, Uganda again, and home to his Brazilian wife, Noeli, in Bloomfield, Illinois before packing his car with TChars, Toucans, Mwotos, and assorted other kits and tools, and heading here to Tennessee for Labor Day.

An engineer by training, Robert J. Fairchild went off to Ladakh in the early 80s and became one of the key staffers for Helena Norberg-Hodge’s International Society for Ecology and Culture. All over the Tibetian Plateau Solar Bob designed and built solar cookers, water systems, power systems, and home retrofits to save energy and fuel. When he came back and homesteaded near Berea KY, he bought and rebuilt an old hydropower dam. Today he sells into the Kentucky grid, and the system runs itself well enough to let him occasionally travel, installing solar energy systems in distant places (-- he installed our array here in 1995). He has spent the last 3 years working in Haiti with a group of missionaries from Nashville — building the first oil-drum rocket stove in a refugee camp that feeds 300 children daily — and went to Doc’s CHAB camp Massachusetts in 2011 to better understand what to do about charcoal. That’s where he first met Doc. Now he instructs the camps. He is just back from Haiti and has some new ideas he wants to try out having to do with heat exchangers.

Both Solar Bob and Doc agree that trying to get charcoal-burning cultures like Haiti to give up making and burning charcoal is a lost cause, not worth spending much time on. One of Doc’s stoves, designed specifically for Haiti, is a three-stage unit that makes charcoal in the top, gasifying, stage before burning it for cooking in the lower stage, rather like a machine that roasts and grinds coffee beans before steeping them into your cup.

The Whitfield Home Garden Biochar Pellet Stove, undergoing trials in 2012.
Of course, it would be better not to burn the charcoal but instead to grind it fine, run it through the compost pile and then get it into the garden, but that kind of use is a hard sell in Haiti.

We are less convinced of the hopelessness of conversion of charcoal cultures than are Doc and Bob, having the card up our sleeve of eCOOLnomics still to play. Pop Culture can marry Mother Earth. We can make it cool to sequester carbon in the soil.

It might be a long shot, but then considering the alternative is that places like Haiti and Africa become intolerably hot and dry and unable to support life, we think taking that gamble is warranted.

NikiAnne makes a TChar
The biofuels/agribusiness issue always crops up, to abuse a metaphor, but we are of the persuasion that whatever risks that agriculture-for-energy may hold, they are worth the risks if we can reverse climate change and get the atmosphere back to 350 parts per million carbon, or below, on decadal time scales. 

The challenge is that in the rural areas where biomass is available in abundance and can be collected at little or no cost, gasifying stoves are not affordable. Another challenge is having dry fuel in the rainy season. Unfortunately gasifiers are very sensitive to fuel moisture and do not handle fuel well unless it is less than 20% moisture. Making briquettes and pellets from dry grasses and biomass that if left alone would become greenhouse gases is a potential village enterprise that would be sustainable.

This stove charges your laptop off
a USB port that
derives electricity from a
bimetalic heat/cold current generator
We have no delusions about the potential of biofuels. It is hard to improve upon the renewable energy economies of the Greeks and the Romans even today — and they built empires on that kind of energy — but in the end Greek and Roman appetites for energy and consumer goods outgrew their empires’ abilities to enslave and deforest. Today populations are much larger, and better armed, and empires are again running out of far away places to enslave and deforest. They are having to do it at home to their own people and forests.

Part of the prescription for backflow in the carbon cycle is reforestation and afforestation, taking back fields converted to farms and suburbs and returning them to mixed-age, mixed-species food forests. (Other parts of the prescription include biochar, holistic management, mob grazing, keyline, organic no-till, and painting the built environment white or silver). We will hone in on this notion at our next workshop here at the Ecovillage Training Center, Building Food Forests for the 21st Century.

It is our strategy to build a permaculture army to turn this into a garden planet, using ecological services to meet all of our needs, while returning our Mother to the comfortable climate of the Holocene.

The Food Forest workshop starts September 23, runs to October 7, and places are still available. And for those who are in the Northeast, Albert Bates will be appearing on stage each day of the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania from September 21 to 23. 

They are giving away conservation heirloom chicken brood starters as a door prize. Won’t you join us?




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